With so many MotoGP regulars either racing in or attending the Superprestigio in Barcelona, it was inevitable that a fair amount of gossip and rumor would end up circulating. It was the first chance for some of the media to talk to riders who had been testing down in Southern Spain, while the presence of Ducati's MotoGP bosses Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi, attending as guests of Troy Bayliss, added real weight to the debate.
I spoke briefly to Ciabatti on Saturday, asking about progress with the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 and how Michelin testing had gone. Ciabatti was optimistic about the GP15, but confirmed that it was still not certain exactly when the bike would make its first appearance on track. It may not be ready for the first Sepang test in February, with the second Sepang a more likely place for the bike to be rolled out. "We think it's important for the bike to be completely ready," Ciabatti said. It was better for Ducati to roll out a bike ready to take on testing, than rush to try to get a bike going at Sepang 1, and find problems that would have been easier to deal with if discovered on the dyno.
Ciabatti did reveal a few details of what the GP15 will look like. "The shape is very similar to the GP14.2," Ciabatti said. "The tail is different, and the exhaust is different." The biggest difference, however, is the physical size of the bike. The GP15 will be a much smaller bike than the GP14.2, continuing in the direction the GP14.2 started, which was narrower at the waist of the bike. "The GP15 looks like a GP14.2 which has been washed at too high a temperature and shrunk in the wash," Ciabatti joked.
Ciabatti would not be drawn on how the tests with Michelin had gone, at Jerez at the end of November, beyond vague assurances that Ducati was happy. The contractual situation between Bridgestone and Michelin leaves all of the factories and the riders in a bind. They are not allowed to make statements comparing the two tire manufacturers while Bridgestone still has the official MotoGP contract, a contract they paid a lot of money for. This creates a difficult situation, as comparisons are exactly what journalists will want to ask about once the official MotoGP riders get their first taste of the tires at the second Sepang test at the end of February. It is a situation which will need to be addressed before testing starts in earnest.
Ciabatti was not the only person to keep silent on the issue. Anyone else with any experience of the tires was similarly reticent on the issue. Trying to read body language and gossip among the MotoGP regulars, the Michelins appeared to have retained the feel of the tire, for which they are famous, though the front may not quite have the performance of the Bridgestone front. Extrapolating based on minimal information, that suggests that riders should be able to find the limit more easily with the front Michelin, but that limit is not quite at the level of the Bridgestone. This, I should stress, is based more on reading tea leaves and trying to read between the lines, rather than any actual basis in fact. The truth will start to emerge at the second Sepang test.
French youngster Fabio Quartararo was also at the Superprestigio, though solely as a spectator rather than a competitor. Rumors concerning the youngster's lap times at the Valencia test abounded among the media, with suggestions that he lapped under the lap record at the test, and that this was the reason Honda had not wanted to publish the youngster's lap times. However convoluted and ridiculous the process has been by which Quartararo has been allowed into Moto3, despite being technically underage, and a new rule created specifically to allow him to race, his talent seems to be beyond doubt. Quartararo could be good enough to win races in his first season in Moto3, something which is virtually unheard of. The Frenchman has been widely tipped as the man to beat Marquez, and the rumors at the Superprestigio will only feed the hype. Perhaps Quartararo's biggest test will be learning to deal with the media attention and the weight of expectation.