If you want to see the law of unintended consequences in action, just take a look at MotoGP testing. The nature of testing has changed as manufacturers have suffered the consequences of not fully understanding the effects of the engine development freeze during the season.
Honda suffered, Suzuki suffered, and now Yamaha have suffered when they made the wrong choice of engine in preseason testing. They learned the hard way they had to get it right.
This has meant that the Valencia MotoGP test has become first and foremost about getting the engine in the right ballpark, giving the engineers enough data to work out the fine details over the winter. A tight track and cold air temperatures sees engines at their most aggressive, with plenty of horsepower on hand and very little room on track to actually use it.
The addition of Jerez as an official winter test – to be held at the end of next week – makes this even more explicitly an engine test. If the factories bring an engine that is manageable at both Valencia and Jerez, they are in good shape for next season.
As an aside, going to Sepang rather than Jerez to test in the past couple of seasons may be one of the factors that led Yamaha down a blind alley with their engine. Sepang is hot, wide, and fast, sapping power and allowing a MotoGP bike to stretch its legs.
It is the kind of track that can hide an overly aggressive engine, which then can rear its ugly head when the season is underway, the engine spec is frozen, and it’s too late to fix the problem.
Weather or Not to Test
The MotoGP manufacturers may have wanted to test their engines at Valencia, but that needs the weather to cooperate. If it rains throughout a race weekend, that is an inconvenience, but the riders have to race all the same.
Any time lost to the weather during testing cannot be reclaimed, however, a wet track being next to useless for actually developing a motorcycle. In the low grip of wet conditions, it is the rider who forms the limit, not the bike.
So it was a frustrating first day of testing at Valencia on Tuesday. The heavy rain that had lashed the circuit all weekend had left the track wet, despite clear skies on Tuesday morning.
Action didn’t get underway in earnest until shortly before 1pm, and was then brought to a halt by a heavy rain shower at around 3:15pm. On a day when the track was open for 7 hours, to see only a couple of hours of productive track time was not what the factories had hoped for.
Still, testing is testing, and a dry track is a dry track, and everyone got to put in some dry laps. Factories that had brought a new engine to the circuit (in other words, all of them) got a chance to give their new motors a run out.
And as you might expect, the response was mostly positive, despite limited time on the bikes.
The Right Engine
Getting the engine right is probably most important for Yamaha. They have suffered with an aggressive engine and excessive tire wear throughout 2018, some solutions only coming at the end of the season. Both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi tested one new engine spec on Tuesday, keeping a second engine spec ready to be tested on Wednesday.
Both Rossi and Viñales were pleased with the new engine, though Viñales was the more enthusiastic of the pair. “For sure we made a lot of progress,” Viñales told the MotoGP.com live feed.
“I felt good with the bike. We tried one step better engine, and I just felt really good going out. Still we need to set up the acceleration, because the engine is too different from the one we had in the 2018 season. So we need to keep going.”
Where was the new engine better? “Especially on braking,” Viñales said. “Suddenly I took the new engine, the new version, and I felt much better going into the corner. I just felt I stressed the front tire much less and I can keep the corner speed.”
“That is what I need through all the year, to arrive faster to the apex. And yeah, I felt quite good. So already on the first run out I felt I could turn more, and that was the most important thing. Still, the acceleration, we need better drive, because it’s not set up in the correct way.”
The Spaniard was so pleased with the engine that he was almost afraid to test the second engine spec Yamaha had brought to Valencia. “For Yamaha, it’s very important to test the other engine, because we have to feel if the engine braking is the same.”
“So if the engine braking is the same, I will keep running and trying both. But if already I feel the engine brake is less, I will focus on the one I had today, because today I felt really good.”
Valentino Rossi was a little more cautious, though he was also happy with the progress made. “We always suffer about tire degradation so we try to make an engine that is more smooth, more soft to try to stress less the tire. It was not so bad because my lap time was quite good,” the Italian said.
“The engine change also in the engine brake, in the entry. It’s a small help because become more easy to ride and you can be more constant. Also in acceleration it’s more or less the same. We try to have a more soft character to spin less and it’s already a help. But for me it’s not enough.”
“We suffer too much with the rear tire degradation. It’s also true that today the conditions were very bad and the tire normally suffer in these conditions. It looks like already after some laps we slide too much. So we need to continue to work, but it looks like we take a good direction.”
Honda also have a new engine, though it was hard extracting that information from Marc Márquez when he spoke to us in the pouring rain. “It’s different, I will not say how, but of course it’s different,” Márquez said. “We have a different specification on the engine, also a few things on the chassis area but still we have a lot of work to do because it’s a different bike.”
“Still the bike balance we don’t know which one is the best one but since I start with that new bike, I felt a little bit better, so if the base/start point is the same like the current one, this is a good thing. So we were in the same point and now it’s time to improve step by step.”
Márquez also has two development bikes in his garage, along with the standard 2018 machine to serve as a benchmark. But he was also clear where the focus lay. “Engine,” was Márquez’s curt reply.
He also had a new evolution of Honda’s electronic steering damper fitted, though he was noncommittal over whether it helped or not. Work was still needed, he said, and it was hard to pinpoint exactly the difference.
What Can Jorge Do?
All eyes were on Márquez’s new teammate, of course, but Jorge Lorenzo was prevented from speaking to the media. The Spaniard’s times would lead you to believe he was struggling to adapt: Lorenzo ended the day eighteenth fastest, over 1.5 seconds behind Viñales.
But there is some reason for optimism too. Lorenzo improved his time almost every lap on the Honda, cutting a huge amount off his deficit. He is still recovering from wrist surgery, and is both in pain and has signs of weakness. He was slow over the weekend on the Ducati, a sign that he is not operating at full fitness.
Lorenzo had a thumb brake fitted to the Honda RC213V, as well as a tank cover allowing him to use his legs to help brace himself for braking. Whether the thumb brake helped is open to question. The Honda doesn’t need the rear brake to be used to help turn the bike, it turns quite well of its own accord.
Franco Morbidelli described the way the Honda worked quite well, when he compared it to his new bike, the Petronas Yamaha M1. The Honda was not more physical than the Yamaha, but the Yamaha did everything a lot more smoothly, Morbidelli said. “Everything that happens on the bike happens more smoothly, because of the size of the bike,” the Italian told us.
“The dimensions are completely different. As I said my previous bike [the Marc VDS Honda RC213V] was quite rough, it was quite reactive. Not nervous, though you might see it from the television as a bit nervous. But the right word is reactive because everything that happens, it happens fast.”
On the Pace
Morbidelli was impressive on the Yamaha. On his first outing on the bike, he was just a quarter of a second slower than Valentino Rossi, and two thirds of a second behind Maverick Viñales.
He was using a kind of ‘hybrid bike’ as he described it, using a chassis previously used by Johann Zarco and a 2018 engine from the factory Movistar Yamaha team. We wondered just how good Morbidelli might be on a bike that is easier to ride. So far, we think the answer is ‘quite good’.
Pecco Bagnaia is another rider who impressed straight off the bat. The Italian rookie jumps into the Pramac Ducati team, where he is riding a GP18 under the tutelage of Cristian Gabarrini, using a setup based roughly on Jorge Lorenzo’s, modified based on the Bagnaia’s own description of his riding style.
Bagnaia ended the first day as eleventh fastest, just under a second slower than Maverick Viñales. To put that in perspective, Marc Márquez ended just over a second slower than Dani Pedrosa on his MotoGP debut at the Valencia test. The Italian had mainly concerned himself with adapting to the bike, rather than trying to figure out how to change the bike to suit his needs.
“I understand and learned that in MotoGP you have to work more, so much more,” Bagnaia commented. “There are a lot of parameters to see. I understand how to brake more and also to wait to open the gas. In MotoGP if you open the gas too early you lose a lot of time. It’s completely different to Moto2.”
His Pramac Ducati teammate got his hands on a GP19 for the first time, and was blown away at just how good the new bike is. “It’s hard to almost believe it’s only 2 years more advanced than my bike, but man, the changes are crazy,” Miller told us. What did it do better? “Everything,” Miller said.
“Turn, brake, stop, accelerate. It’s smooth. We haven’t even adjusted the settings, this was my first time on the carbon forks, so just trying to get used to everything. It’s a big thing to try to take in. Really happy with the way it’s unfolding at the moment.”
The way the bike turned mid-corner was a big step forward, Miller said, as was the buttery smooth gearbox. But overall, what impressed was just how much easier the bike was to ride fast. “It feels easier,” Miller told us.
“That was the biggest thing, when I came in I said, it’s very light, very easy, especially through the fast change of directions here, through Turns 8, 9, 10, 11. Through there it really picked the line.”
“Especially this morning, even though there were still some wet patches out there and I was trying to stay away from the white lines, I found myself going onto the white lines on the inside because of how well it was turning. So I’m really excited for tomorrow and keen to get back out there.”
In the factory team, there wasn’t much to test, Andrea Dovizioso preferring to spend his time getting a feeling for the old bike before muddying his thoughts with some new parts to test. Testing for the factory team begins in earnest on Wednesday, when they expect to make more changes.