The first MotoGP test of the season at Jerez is a tough one for the factories, coming as it does after three flyaway races on three continents, followed by a one-week hop back to Europe. Teams and engineers are all a little bedazzled and befuddled from all the travel, and have not had time to analyze fully all the data from the first four races of the season. It is too early in the season to be drawing firm conclusions, and crew chiefs and engineers have not yet fully exhausted all of their set up ideas for fully exploiting the potential of the package they started the season with.
As a result, they do not have a vast supply of new parts waiting to be tested. The bikes that rolled out of pit lane on Monday were pretty much identical to the bikes raced on Sunday. The only real differences were either hard or impossible to see. Suspension components, rising rate linkages and brake calipers were about as exotic as it got. The one area where slightly bigger changes were being applied was in electronics strategies, with Yamaha and Honda working on engine braking, and Honda trying out a new launch control strategy. That new launch control system did not meet with the approval of Marc Marquez, however, and so will probably not be seen again.
Most of the teams spent their day revisiting things they had tried briefly during practice, but not really had time to evaluate properly. That paid dividends for Movistar Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo and Monster Tech 3's Pol Espargaro, both of whom tried out the softer of the two tire options available. Lorenzo was extremely positive about the soft rear, having finally put a lot of laps into one. They had tested the tire before, Lorenzo told reporters, but felt that the tire dropped too much after three or four laps. With hindsight, they had abandoned it too early, Lorenzo explained, as although the performance dropped off quickly, after that drop it stabilized. The harder rear tire, which Lorenzo had raced, had dropped off less in the early laps, but had continued to deteriorate as the laps accumulated. It was a valuable lesson learned, Lorenzo said, and from now on, they would be going back to the softer tire as their preferred starting point at each race, instead of trying to make the hard tire work.
Pol Espargaro had the same experience, he told the press. They had also concentrated on the harder tire all weekend, but this had been a mistake. When he put the soft tire on to try it out properly, it felt so much better than the hard. Espargaro, too, now has a direction.
All of the Yamaha riders worked on electronics, and especially on engine braking. The aim, Bradley Smith explained, was to maximize the braking from the fat rear tire, which puts much more rubber on the road than the narrower front. It was a delicate balance, as too much would send the bike sideways and unsettle it, something which the Yamaha did not cope with very well, unlike the Honda. Clear improvements had been made, and Smith had tested a stronger rear caliper to try to assist the braking.
Valentino Rossi's focus was on improving acceleration, trying to maximize engine torque out of corners. That was one place where he felt the Yamaha was lacking, and though engine development is frozen, a lot of work is going on in trying to boost power in certain parts of the rev range though electronic mapping strategies. He had also worked on his qualifying pace, putting in a couple of short runs at the end of the day. The aim, he explained, was to try to qualify on the front of the grid, the one point where he felt he was struggling. With Le Mans, Mugello and Barcelona coming up, tracks which suit the Yamaha and where Rossi has gone very well in the past, Rossi is keen to try to take the fight to Marc Marquez. Beating him would be hard: the Honda is a little better than the Yamaha at the moment, but the biggest difference was Marquez himself, Rossi said. There will be tracks where it would be possible to beat the Spaniard, Rossi said. 'We always have to keep trying.'
It wasn't just the Yamahas working on braking, Marc Marquez had also spent some time on that. He had tested a larger rear disk with better cooling, to help him slow down. What use was a rear brake to him, when he spent all his time braking with the rear in the air, one journalist asked. Marquez laughed, but replied that the rear brake was especially important in the fast corners, where corner entry is key. They had also tested suspension and geometry changes at the back of the bike, to help in the same area. All of this had been aimed at fixing the problems Marquez had had at Turn 5 all weekend. It was the one sector of the track where he had lost time to his rivals, and so had been cause for concern. They had learned some important things for other tracks with similar sectors, Marquez said.
Dani Pedrosa had other priorities. Over the past 18 months, Pedrosa and his crew have been changing the bike to make him stronger in the second half of the race, an area where he had been weaker. Those changes had paid off, as he demonstrated clearly at both Argentina and Jerez. That success had come at a price, however, and cost Pedrosa his lightning starts and early pace. He and his team had been working on redressing the balance, sacrificing a little bit of late pace to recover some of the ground lost early on. It was a delicate balancing act, Pedrosa conceded, but he was confident they had achieved at least part of their objective.
The factory Ducati team were absent, having scheduled a private test at Mugello instead. The rumor mill is already running at full steam fueled by speculation on exactly what they will be testing. A radically revised chassis? A new engine? Nobody at Ducati was letting on. Test rider Michele Pirro had nothing radical on show, though the two protuberances on the tail of his GP14 led to speculation once again that they could be inertial dampers, or possibly some form of sensor. Inertial dampers might be used to cancel out some of the rear pumping the Ducati is notorious for, but whether such small dampers would have a sufficiently large effect on a massive weight is open to question. If they make their way onto the Ducati race machines, then we might find out more.
The next test will be after the Barcelona race, and that promises to be far more interesting. The test, in mid-June, could see a raft of genuinely new material turn up. Needless to say, the gearheads are already licking their lips in anticipation.
Test times here.