The moment the bikes fell silent at Valencia, at 5pm on Wednesday, officially marked the end of the beginning. The 2018 season is now well underway, the initial outlines of next year’s bikes being revealed.
There is still a long way to go to Qatar, but the first step has been taken, the first few hundred terabytes of data downloaded to laptops and uploaded to factory servers for analysis.
The new season began in much the same vein as the old season ended: with Marc Márquez fastest, and on a tear.
The Repsol Honda rider was fastest on the second day of the test, and fastest overall, four tenths quicker than his teammate on Wednesday, and a tenth quicker than Maverick Viñales, who had topped the timesheets on Tuesday.
The timesheets had a familiar look to them. The top five overall consisted of the two Repsol Hondas and three Yamahas – the two Movistar factory bikes and Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 machine – followed by a couple of Ducatis, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory bike and Jack Miller on the Pramac machine.
Whether the timesheets will stay like that when Qatar rolls around is another question entirely.
The first day of 2018 raised more questions than answers. Two days after not featuring at all in the race, the Movistar Yamaha riders finished first and fourth.
A satellite Ducati – Jack Miller, on his first outing on the bike – was quicker than the factory riders. The only constants were Marc Márquez and Johann Zarco, who finished in exactly the same positions as they did on Sunday.
Confusion reigns at Yamaha, as they search for the cure to the problems which plagued them all through 2017. There were four bikes in Maverick Viñales’ garage, three in Valentino Rossi’s garage, and two different ones in Johann Zarco’s pit box.
They were testing all sorts of combinations of machinery: a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, and a full 2017 bike for Maverick Viñales; a 2016 bike with 2017 engine, a full 2017 bike, and a 2017 bike with a 2018 engine for Valentino Rossi; and a 2016 bike and a full 2017 bike for Johann Zarco.
The results? Pretty much identical, no matter what bike the riders were on. Viñales and Rossi were fastest on the 2016 bike, Zarco was fastest on the 2017 bike, and Rossi managed to throw the 2018-engined bike up the road after just two laps. The crash looked huge, but Rossi came away relatively unscathed.
The problem was entering a fast right corner with a new cold tire. “Turn ten,” Rossi explained. “Maybe a cold tire. I was already with two and a half laps so I push. I lost the front. I don’t know if I was a little bit off the line or it was cold.” Rossi may have been okay, but the bike was completely totaled.
What had originally been planned as a two-day private test for Ducati grew into something rather larger, with Honda and Aprilia also joining the fray.
At the end of two days, it was Marc Marquez who ended the test as fastest, a couple of tenths quicker than Jorge Lorenzo on the Ducati, while Alvaro Bautista was third fastest on the Aspar bike.
The test at Barcelona gave the riders a chance to test two of the most important changes for the series. First, the new, much shorter chicane being used instead of the F1 chicane, replacing Turn 12 where Luis Salom tragically lost his life during practice last year.
And second, the riders got a chance to test the stiffer front tire (the ’70’) which will be used from Mugello onwards, and will therefore be used in Barcelona during the race.
Jonathan Rea has topped the final World Superbike test of the 2017 preseason, a few days before the season kicks off in earnest at Phillip Island.
The reigning champion was fastest in the morning session, though he had to cede top spot to Marco Melandri in the afternoon. But the Kawasaki man had gone fast enough in the morning to just edge the Ducati of Melandri, and end the test as fastest overall.
Chaz Davies was third fastest, three tenths off the time of his Ducati teammate Melandri, but still ahead of the Kawasaki if Tom Sykes. Xavi Fores made it three Ducatis in the top five, while Leon Camier put the MV Agusta into 6th place, in what is a promising start to the 2017 season.
After three glorious days for MotoGP testing, the weather at Phillip Island has taken a turn for the worse. The first day of the final two-day test for the WorldSBK series ahead of this weekend’s opener was hampered by strong winds and intermittent showers, wreaking havoc on the teams’ testing programs.
The World Supersport series had the best of the weather, the first hour of the morning taking place on a track that was pretty well dry, but the rain hit shortly after that.
Showers continued through the first session for the World Superbike class, but relented in the afternoon, giving the WorldSBK men a little dry track time.
Xavi Forés ended the day on top of the timesheets in the World Superbike class, putting in a couple of quick laps at the very end of the day. The Barni Ducati rider bumped reigning WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea off top spot, the Kawasaki rider holding on to second ahead of Marco Melandri on the factory Ducati.
The second day of testing at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria saw the Ducatis continue to dominate the timesheets, as times continued to tumble.
It was Andrea Iannone’s turn to top the timesheets, the Italian posting a very fast lap to beat his teammate Andrea Dovizioso by nearly half a second.
Test rider Casey Stoner set the third fastest time, though a late fall at the end of the session hampered any further improvement. Stoner put the fall down to using soft tires for the first time in four years.
He was unhurt in the crash, but ran out of time to get back out on track. Stoner has spent all his time testing the GP16 without wings, while the two factory riders tested the bike with wings.
The Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, venue for the Austrian round of MotoGP, appears to be a Ducati track. At the end of the first day of testing for the MotoGP riders in Austria, Andrea Dovizioso topped the timesheets, nearly six tenths clear of his factory Ducati teammate Andrea Iannone.
Scott Redding set the third fastest time of the day, just ahead of official test rider, Casey Stoner. There is persistent paddock gossip that Stoner is using this test to gauge his competitiveness, with a view to racing as a wildcard at the Austrian Grand Prix.
Given Stoner’s long association with Red Bull, and the fact that nobody has raced at the Red Bull Ring (except for Valentino Rossi, who raced a 125 there in 1996 and 1997, and Jack Miller, who raced a 125 there in 2011 in the German IDM championship), it gives him the best chance of being competitive.
Maverick Viñales was the first non-Ducati in fifth place, but he was squeezed in between three more Ducatis, with Hector Barbera, Eugene Laverty and Danilo Petrucci taking slots six through nine.
There are some worried faces in the MotoGP paddock after the second day of the Qatar test. That the Ducati GP15s are fast should come as no surprise, after all, they were fastest on the first day as well.
The trouble is that everyone assumed that the speed of Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone was down to the fact that they can use the soft tire, which is not available to Honda and Yamaha.
Despite the protestations of the two Ducati riders, who had said they spent all day on the medium tire, the same tire which the Hondas and Yamahas had used, Valentino Rossi, among others, had cast aspersions on their claims, suggesting that their fastest laps had been set on the soft tire.
They weren’t. Ducati’s official press release stated explicitly that the two Andreas had not gone anywhere near the soft tire so far, concentrating on improving the GP15 on the medium tire, the tire they will race.
Ducati’s press officer confirmed this explicitly to the Bikesportnews website. And just to check, I trawled through all the photos I could find of the factory Ducati team: through the official Ducati press website, through the official MotoGP.com website, and through a couple of other media sites. Not a single photo did I find of a tire with a white stripe, the sign of the soft tire. They really did use the medium tire.
Did they or didn’t they? That was the question after Ducati dominated the first day of the test at Sepang. Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso spent all day swapping places at the top of the timesheets, Iannone coming out on top at the end.
It was an impressive showing, but MotoGP watchers and Ducati’s rivals were quick to pass judgment: of course the Ducatis were fast, after all, they were allowed to use the soft rear tire, a concession for the Open class teams and factories who have yet to win three races in the dry. That tire is worth six or seven tenths a lap, said Valentino Rossi.
Only they didn’t use the soft tire. At least, that is what Andrea Dovizioso told reporters. He spent all day working on race setup, first on the GP14.3 to set a baseline, and then on the GP15 to work on braking set up and electronics.
Take a glance at the timesheet after the final day and it is easy to draw some simple conclusions from of second Sepang MotoGP test. Marc Márquez reigns supreme, with Jorge Lorenzo is the only rider to get anywhere near to him.
Cal Crutchlow has improved, but at the moment is only fast over a single lap. The Ducati Desmosedici GP15 is fast, but only in the hands of Andrea Iannone. Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa have their work cut out if they are to match their teammates.
Bradley Smith has surpassed his teammate, Pol Espargaro. Suzuki is close, but not quite close enough, while Aprilia is hopelessly lost.
As attractive as those conclusions are, the underlying truth is a lot more complex. Testing is exactly that, testing, and everyone is on different programs, trying different things at different times of the day.
Or as Dani Pedrosa succinctly put it, when asked if he was trying out a new strategy for qualifying during the test, “we were just trying. That’s why we are here.”
Who has the best bike? Is it Honda? Or have they been passed by Yamaha? Did the first MotoGP test of the year at Sepang answer that question? After Monday, we thought the answer was yes.
After Friday, it’s clear that it’s not clear. There is still a long way to go to the start of the season, and the only thing we can be sure of is the fact that this is going to be a fantastic year in MotoGP. When it’s hard to point to who has an advantage, it means the racing is going to be tight.
So how did the balance of power swing from Yamaha to Honda? Yamaha turned up at Sepang with a bike that was ready to go. They had plenty of parts to test, but following the Yamaha philosophy, all of those parts offer just a small, but positive change.
The bike was fast, and got a little bit faster. That meant that Yamaha were quick on the first day, and got a little quicker day by day.
Honda, on the other hand, turned up with four different bikes for Marc Márquez, and three for Dani Pedrosa, and the two Repsol Honda riders spent the first day of the test running back-to-back comparisons.
They had pretty much narrowed down their choice by the end of Wednesday, confirming their impressions on Thursday, then getting on with the job of improving the bike through Thursday and Friday.