So what are we to make of the times posted after the second day of testing at Sepang? The order in which the four 2013 aliens finished was roughly as expected: Dani Pedrosa just edging Jorge Lorenzo, with Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi close behind. But did this tell the whole story? Were the times down to a single fast lap by one rider, while the others were grinding out race simulations? Or is the order in which the top four finished an accurate reflection of what we can expect for the 2013 season? Is this just a testing anomaly, or is this a preview of the 2013 Championship standings at the end of the year?
Predicting the championship is a little premature on the basis of just a single day's testing, but there is still sufficient data to start trying to interpret what it all means. Thanks to the fact that the full timesheets of every lap are now available on the MotoGP.com website, we can start to dig into the numbers, and see what patterns emerge.
Just as a reminder, here is how the top four finished:
All four front runners posted times under the existing race lap record, 2:02.108, set in 2007 by Casey Stoner, back in the days of tires specially built to suit the needs of each bike. In fact, the top nine got under the race lap record, including MotoGP rookie Bradley Smith, while Nicky Hayden missed out by two thousandths of a second in 10th. Clearly, all of the riders are now up to speed, though no one has really gone chasing a super-fast time, at least not if their media statements are to be believed.
To compare the times of the top four - they are clearly ahead of the rest of the pack, though Cal Crutchlow and Stefan Bradl are not a million miles off the pace - we would really like to take an average, but given the disparity in some of the lap times, we need to establish a baseline. By using only the laps posted under the lap record, we eliminate most of the interference generated by riders posting slow laps as they test a particular part or setting. So we have taken all of the laps set by Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez and Valentino Rossi, and excluded all of the times which were slower than the race lap record. That still leaves a fairly impressive tally: of the 37 laps completed by Dani Pedrosa, 9 were under the lap record of 2'02.108. Jorge Lorenzo was racking up the testing miles, posting 52 laps of which 22 were under the lap record. Marc Marquez ran 34 laps, of which 14 were at lap record pace, while Valentino Rossi was also pounding out the laps, completing 45, of which 21 were under the lap record.
Pedrosa, Lorenzo and Marquez all posted a few laps under the 2:01 mark, but all four men posted a number of laps in the 2:01s. By separating out those laps into 0.1 second intervals, a better picture emerges of how fast each rider actually is. Below is the tally, divided out by tenths (but with only a total for times in the 2:00).
|Total laps under lap record||9||22||14||21|
Having separated out the lap times into tenths, we can start to think about race pace. With so few laps, it is hard to separate laps into segments of 0.2 seconds difference, so instead, we have split it out into "2:00s", "low 2:01s" from 2:00 to 2:00.4, and "high 2:01s", from 2:01.5 to 2:01.9. Doing that confirms the initial impression from just looking at the real raw times. Pedrosa and Lorenzo are clearly operating in the faster half of the 2:01s - and in Pedrosa's case, he has a third of his laps inside of 2:00s - with Pedrosa running under 2:01.5 77% of the time, closely followed by Lorenzo, who spends 73% of his fast laps in the low 2:01s and the 2:00s.
Both Marquez and Rossi are a little slower. Near equal on time spent in the low 2:01s (Marquez has 35.7% to Rossi's 33.3%), with Marquez making the difference because of the two sub-2:01s he posted. Rossi, the Italian told the media, would have posted a 2:00 lap as well, but he made a mistake on his flying lap and lost a couple of tenths. The two men spend more time in the bottom half of the 2:01s, Marquez posting 43% of his laps there, Rossi 62%.
|% laps in 2:00s||33.3%||13.6%||14.3%||0.0%|
|% low 2:01s laps||44.4%||59.1%||35.7%||33.3%|
|% high 2:01s laps||11.1%||27.3%||42.9%||61.9%|
Taking the average time of their laps under the record produces the same picture: Pedrosa and Lorenzo are close, Pedrosa averaging 2:01.205, with Lorenzo less than a tenths of a second slower on average. Marquez is still third fastest on average, nearly three tenths behind Pedrosa, while Rossi remains in fourth spot, under four tenths off the pace of Pedrosa, and three tenths behind his Yamaha teammate.
|Average lap under record||2:01.205||2:01.299||2:01.502||2:01.588|
What conclusions can we draw from this data? Well, the amount of data available is small, and the methods used to examine it are crude, but a pattern still seems to come clear. Given the relative consistency of lap times posted, it does not look too much like any particular rider went chasing a fast lap. That is as might be expected: the final day of the Sepang test is the traditional time for that particular pursuit, often right at the end of the day, when the track has had a full day's action on it and the tropical temperatures start to drop and enter the perfect operating range of tires, bikes, and their human operators. These are laps posted while testing, not while chasing fast times.
What about sandbagging? Is anyone holding back, in the hope of springing a surprise once racing starts again? This remains a possibility, and without access to the sector times - which are not made available at tests - it is impossible to judge. Going by the spread of lap times set, and the rhythm of the laps set by riders, it is hard to see anything which looks like sandbagging. This, it seems, is actually the pace which each of the four men are capable of. At the moment, at least.
That does not mean that the championship is over, however, and that the results are set in stone. There is plenty of work still to be done. Pedrosa has only just finished working on the balance of the Honda RC213V, testing the weight distribution of the bike with the three extra kg weight added for the 2013 season, and has yet to get properly started on looking for a real setup. Lorenzo and Rossi have spent the past two days evaluating new chassis and engine options, but there is so far still no sign of the seamless gearbox Yamaha is expected to roll out at some point, which should give them an extra tenths of a second or so and close the gap on Honda. Marc Marquez is still a rookie, and adapting his old Moto2 lines to cope with the demands of racing a 1000cc MotoGP machine with twice the horsepower. Marquez was focused on lapping consistently, rather than as fast as possible, and there is clearly more to come.
The top four positions may be a fair reflection of the state of play in MotoGP at the first test in Sepang. But there is still a long way to go to the end of the season. There is a long way to go even until the start of the season. But so far, it all looks very promising.