Analysis

Your Questions Answered: Sepang Test Q&A, Part 1 - Honda, Ducati, KTM, Aprilia, 2020 Surprises, And More

The Sepang MotoGP test answered a few of the questions which had been raised over the winter break, since the end of testing at Jerez in November. You can read my preliminary conclusions, reached directly after the test, here, as a primer.

Though the Sepang test answered some questions, it raised many more for some of you. Last weekend, I asked MotoMatters.com subscribers to submit their questions for me to try to answer. I received a lot of questions, 27 in total, and so many that I will have to split the answers into several parts.

So below are the answers to the following questions:

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MotoGP Silly Season Grinds To A Halt: What Next For Ducati?

It had promised to be a spectacular Silly Season in MotoGP this year. With all 22 rider contracts up for renewal at the end of this season, several long months of hard bargaining was expected, resulting in a major shakeup of the grid. Few seats were expected to be left untouched.

Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP20 at the Sepang MotoGP test

Yamaha dealt the first body blow to any major grid shakeup, moving quickly to extend Maverick Viñales' contract through 2022, then moving rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo to race alongside him in the Monster Energy Yamaha team. Valentino Rossi was promised full factory support from Yamaha in a satellite team if he decided to continue racing after 2020 instead of retiring.

Yamaha's hand had been forced by Ducati. The Italian factory had made an aggressive play for both Viñales and Quartararo, and Yamaha had brought the decision on their future plans forward to early January. Yamaha decided to go with youth over experience, and Ducati was left empty-handed.

Next stop Hamamatsu

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Analyzing WorldSBK's 2020 Rev Limits: Tenor, Soprano, Castrato?

If anybody tells you it is easy to make modern day Superbikes truly competitive with fixed tech rules that are identical for every bike, smile warmly and move on to a more stimulating, reality-based conversation. Possibly the single most difficult thing to do is make sure the final on-track performance of what started out as commercial products in the market place, all with their own unique marketing USPs and familial DNA helices, is to design the final tech rules. After all, some donor bikes are still relatively cheap and low-tech and some are sold right on the forty grand limit for eligible WorldSBK machines, complete with an electronics suite fit to control the International Space Station. Or even a design concept that is MotoGP-driven, rather than coming with an extended warranty requirement in the original engineering brief.

Enter a plethora of performance rules for WorldSBK, which extend to cost-capped parts and approved racing parts, which can include concession parts, as one profound balancing rule element if your bike qualifies. But all of these operate under the catch-all of the ultimate balancing rule - Maximum Rev Limits.

There, I capitalised the initial letters, to show how significant this one can be.

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Sepang MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: The Tightest Field Ever, New Tires, Suzuki Smells, Yamaha's Revival, And More

What can you learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? A lot, and not a lot. The balance of power on the MotoGP grid already seems to have shifted, for all sorts of reasons. The construction used on the 2020 rear Michelin tire is having a major impact on the performance of the bikes, with more grip available in all conditions, and more durability. But because the tire has changed, it will take at least the first part of the season for the factories and riders to figure out how to get the most out of the tire. That means we are likely in for a fair few surprises throughout the year. This could be like 2016 again, some inside Michelin believe.

That doesn't mean that we can share the championship spoils out among the bikes which are ahead at the Sepang test already. The test raised more questions than it answered. It's not so much that factories and riders were sandbagging, more that so much is new this year that most factories are closer to the beginning of their development project than the end. Add in the complication of Marc Márquez coming off his second shoulder surgery in two seasons – and Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the same boat – and there are more unknowns than knowns. The balance is likely to shift several times though the 2020 season. Which is good for fans, though it tends to annoy the manufacturers.

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Sepang MotoGP Test Saturday Notes: Speed And Tires Help Yamaha And Suzuki, And Marquez Chasing Power, Not Handling

It is becoming a familiar pattern. Whenever MotoGP bikes gather for a timed session, Fabio Quartararo usually finds a way to get his name to the top of the list. Usually by using the cunning strategy of riding his motorcycle that little bit faster than anyone else. It happened with increasing frequency during the 2019 season. It happened again on the first day of the Sepang test in 2020. And it was no different on the second day.

It didn't look that way at the start of Quartararo's first day on the Factory Spec Yamaha M1. (As I explained to MotoMatters.com subscribers on Thursday, there are now two different specifications of Yamaha M1 – the Factory Spec ridden by Quartararo, Maverick Viñales, and Valentino Rossi; and the A Spec, ridden by Franco Morbidelli.) For most of the day, Quartararo's name was some way down the timesheets. But at the end of the day, as track temperatures dropped back into the zone where grip makes a reappearance, Quartararo banged out a lap faster than the rest, leapfrogging past Jack Miller to finish the day as fastest.

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Sepang Test Notes: How Much Does Top Speed Matter?

One of the most keenly watched figures at the Sepang MotoGP test is the top speed of the Yamahas. That was the reason that Yamaha couldn't compete at a number of circuits. Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found themselves coming up short against Marc Marquez in a number of races, Marquez using the speed of the Honda to drive past the Yamahas, or stay with them, at crucial points, negating the superior handling of the Yamaha.

So all eyes in Sepang are on the top speed figures of the Yamaha. Have they improved enough to be competitive?

But how important is top speed really? Even Gigi Dall'Igna, MotoGP's unofficial king of horsepower, is aware of the limits power can bring. It is an advantage, but only as an added extra. "It’s important to have the power in the pocket," Dall'Igna said at the launch of Ducati's 2020 MotoGP project. "When you have it in the pocket you can make the decision if you want to use it or not. If you don’t have the horsepower in the pocket then you cannot use that."

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Sepang MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: There Is More Than One Way To Go Fast

The first day back after the winter break is always tricky. Bodies are sore after riding a MotoGP bike for the first time. That uses muscles which are impossible to train, and so soreness quickly sets in. Then there are the unforeseen hiccups which always arise when prototype machinery first hits the track. Parts don't quite work as expected, they don't fit as easily and as quickly as hoped, and there is always a nasty surprise lurking somewhere. But then again, that's why you go testing, to iron out the details before racing starts in earnest.

Andrea Dovizioso was just one of many riders hindered by such hiccups. "The first day you have to try a few things and a few things can happen which make you lose time," the Italian said. "You can't follow exactly the plan. That's what happened today. It didn't work a lot but we had to fix a few small problems – nothing bad."

Or it can rain. As it did for an hour in the afternoon, and then again shortly before the end of the test. With the track taking time to dry, that meant the riders lost probably two and a half hours of track time on Friday. But all of these things are just a part of testing, and something everyone has to deal with.

Older is better

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Sepang MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Suzuki And Yamaha Launches, Different Specs of Yamahas, And A New Calendar For 2021

The day before the MotoGP test starts at Sepang is not usually so hectic. There have sometimes been launches, but as often as not, it has been a matter of catching up with people you have not seen for a long time, and talking to the few riders scheduled for press debriefs. It is a good way of easing yourself back into the MotoGP season.

The 2020 Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP Livery

Not so this year. Three launches in one day, two of them with the biggest news stories of the off season. The Suzuki launch was interesting; the 2020 livery for the Suzuki Ecstar team is rather fetching in silver and blue, and a homage to the first Grand Prix bike Suzuki ever raced, 60 years ago this year. For more on Suzuki's history, see this outstanding thread on Twitter by Mat Oxley, and if you don't already have his book Stealing Speed, a history of how Suzuki acquired two-stroke technology from the East German MZ factory, you need to buy yourself a copy now.

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Sepang MotoGP Test Preview: What Matters Most To Each Factory

The start of the 2020 MotoGP season is now just a matter of hours away. The entire MotoGP grid will soon be rolling out at Sepang for the start of the first MotoGP of the year. Notably, it is the entire grid: unlike previous years, nobody has fallen of a motocross bike, minibike, or even a mountain bike and hurt themselves.

There is plenty to get excited about. We will soon be able to get a sense of the work done by the various factories over the winter, who looks like hitting their goals, who has found something extra, who is lagging behind. We will see which of the rookies is off to a strong start, how last year's crop of rookies is progressing, which of the veterans has made a step, either forward or backward, and which of the crop of title candidates is looking sharpest.

Yet a note of caution is advised. By Sunday night, we will have a timesheet showing who was fastest over the three days, and we will have a complete list of every lap posted by each rider (helpfully published by Dorna on the official MotoGP website, unhelpfully, in a format which is not easily extracted for analysis).

Sepang vs the season

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Your Questions Answered: What Do Yamaha's Big Announcements Mean For 2021 And Beyond?

After the carpet bombshelling done by Yamaha's press department over the past couple of days, it's time to answer your questions. In yesterday's piece looking at Yamaha's choice of Fabio Quartararo over Valentino Rossi, I promised to answer questions for MotoMatters.com subscribers. So below, here are the answers to some of the questions you asked.

Questions answered include:

  • Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia
  • Valentino Rossi – one-man team, two-man VR46 team, or Petronas Yamaha?
  • What happens to Andrea Dovizioso?
  • The likelihood of rider retirements
  • Suzuki, Gresini, Aprilia, and a Suzuki satellite team
  • The chances of Yamaha building a V4
  • Will Repsol leave Honda?

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