The first day of the first Sepang MotoGP test is always a revealing of secrets. It's not that the factories tell the media everything they are doing, but with everyone on the track, there is nowhere left to hide. The timesheets tell the tale.
The story of the second day is always a little more complex. Initial impressions from the first day are absorbed, the data examined and analyzed, and engineers and mechanics come up with new ideas. That means that riders are working on different ideas and in different directions, some changes work, others don't. Times become much more difficult to assess.
So what did we learn today? A lot. Not so much from the lap times – Jorge Lorenzo is fastest, and looking as good as ever, Andrea Dovizioso is incredibly quick, especially on a new soft tire, and the Hondas have chosen a direction to follow – but more about the underlying state of play. It was a fascinating day, despite the fact that the standing barely changed much after noon.
I went out and stood at track side for an hour, intending to walk all around the circuit using the service road. That proved to be optimistic – despite the fact that it is cooler here than it was last year, the heat quickly becomes brutal. I made it half way round, and given a visceral sense of how punishing riding a MotoGP bike at speed must be. It is really, really tough.
My impressions from watching confirmed some of the things the time sheets showed: the Yamahas are in fantastic shape, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi are a joy to watch. Jack Miller has a lot to learn – as his harmless low side crash in the morning showed – the Australian looking very ragged and trying to force the bike to do things it doesn't want to do. Cal Crutchlow looks better every time he goes out, though he continues to describe the bike as 'difficult to ride'. He is not alone in that, Scott Redding said exactly the same thing (but more of that later). You could see Redding learning lap by lap: on his out lap, he looked uncomfortable, and stiff on the bike, but got better, and faster, each time he came round. By the time he went back into the pits, he looked like a different rider.
The Yamahas continue to be fast, with Jorge Lorenzo saying he felt he was faster than he was in 2013, when he won eight races. While Lorenzo was totally positive about the day, Valentino Rossi ran into chatter, suffering major vibration through the corners. Changing tires helped a little, but did not solve the problem, so the work for the evening was to examine the data and check the clutch and the engine braking settings, in an attempt to fix the problem.
At Repsol Honda, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez have settled on one bike out of the several they had to choose from. Whether both riders chose the same bike is unknown, it is not uncommon for HRC to run two slightly different configurations for each of their factory riders. The description Pedrosa and Márquez gave suggests they are the same: they both praised the front end, but said the rear still needs work. The rear is still spinning too much, and not providing grip. The problem may be down to the engine, which is extremely aggressive, which Marc Márquez said was more aggressive than last year's bike. "Maybe too much," he told us.
This was one of the things which makes the Honda such a difficult bike to ride. Honda always makes aggressive engines, was the consensus among those who should know, and this is just another example of their penchant for horsepower. That much power needs chassis modifications to make it usable, an area in which Cal Crutchlow worked on on Thursday. The LCR team played around with different stiffnesses to help give Crutchlow some grip, the rear wanting to spin up all the time.
Crutchlow ended the day just over a second behind Jorge Lorenzo, and sandwiched between the two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders. Both Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaro had had a very busy day, being given a lot of parts to test at Sepang. It was especially tough on Smith, the Englishman having sprained his ankle very badly while riding motocross. Smith was limping badly off the bike, and in pain on the bike, but persevered, and scored a respectable time given the circumstances.
At Ducati, Andrea Dovizioso is once again happy at both his pace on a soft tire and at his overall pace in race conditions. Having put in 50 laps at a consistent pace was important, the only slight disappointment that he could not get into the 1'59s, falling just short with a lap of 2'00.015. He believed that if it doesn't rain overnight, he should be able to do it.
Yesterday, Dovizioso had told us that the Ducati Desmosedici GP14.3 was almost identical to the GP14.2. His teammate Andrea Iannone let a little more of the cat out of the bag today, saying that the bike is different in both chassis and engine. The chassis has been altered to allow a greater range of adjustment – something which Ducati did twice in 2014 – and that meant Iannone could run the set up he wanted. The engine is also different, though the layout and engine casings look identical. The new engine was smoother, Iannone said, though Dovizioso downplayed this suggestion, saying the difference was marginal. Ducati have been toying with crankshaft weights, to smooth power delivery, and this was probably a further development of this.
Now that there are five factories in MotoGP, as well as some exciting satellite teams and interesting developments among the Open bikes, it has become impossible to get round to talk to all of the riders. It makes it impossible to tell the stories of all of the riders. It becomes difficult to do justice to everything that happens in the paddock, and cover even the most essential information.
So I can only briefly mention subjects which deserve more: Maverick Viñales' outstanding progress on the Suzuki, taking 1.2 seconds off his time from the first day, and getting into the top 15, just six tenths off his teammate. Loris Baz' solid progress, the most improved rider on the second day. The chatter plaguing the new Open Honda RC213V-RS, which both Nicky Hayden and Eugene Laverty are struggling with (though Hayden's wrist is much better than it was last year). Hector Barbera's strong showing on the Avintia Ducati. There are not enough hours in the day, and I need to sleep sometimes. To see how well each rider did on the second day, see the timesheet below comparing improvement between best times.
But there is one more story to tell. Though on the face of it, Scott Redding's lap times are disappointing, nearly 1.9 seconds off Marc Márquez on a bike which is just about identical. I had a long chat with his crew chief Chris Pike, a chat with team manager Michael Bartholemy, and a word with Redding himself. They all said the same thing: the lap times don't tell the whole story, Redding is working differently, with a view to being faster later this year, not at the test. Chris Pike was letting Redding lead, the young Englishman showing an incredible maturity for his age. Redding knows what needs to be done, and is gathering everything around him to make it happen. The team is much more closely knit than at Valencia, working together well, and the atmosphere is excellent. It feels like Redding and the Marc VDS are bursting with potential, but like a tree full of leaf buds, it will take some time before it explodes into its full glory.
So here is a full transcript of what Redding told me this evening. A fascinating insight into the mind of a rider, and how they work, and how they hold long-term objectives in their minds. So remember, when you look for the name of your favorite rider on a results sheet during this test, their best lap is telling you far from the full story.
"It's a difficult bike to ride, so I want to learn how to do it. It's a lot more difficult bike to ride than the Open Honda."
"I don't really know why. I think it's more because the riding ability is higher. We're missing like half a tenth here, a tenth there, there's nowhere where I'm losing half a second. At the beginning of the week, I was losing half a second in one corner. But if I focus on that corner, now I'm the same if not sometimes faster. But that's everywhere. So I'm trying to learn a bit here, a bit there. Obviously with the track conditions changing, with the heat, it's difficult to know, I can only go by what I'm seeing on the data, whether it's better or not. And like today, we tried to put a lap time in at the end, but it was still a bit warm and it didn't quite come, so I'm a bit disappointed with that."
"But the progress I'm happy with. I'm not running much electronics, just throttle-to-hand so I know what power I have. And I feel quite good with not so much on it, to be honest. It's just the learning for me, a new tire goes in, I try for a lap time, after that I'm learning, learning, learning. New tire, try for a lap time, learning, learning, learning. We're not changing set up so much. Tomorrow we're going to try a little bit, try and help with turning a little bit. But we've just put the suspension in more or less from Valencia, and went out and we haven't really changed it since."
What are you trying to learn?
"Just trying to learn the style. The riding style is quite a lot different. What I found, trying to go faster with this bike, you go slower. I'm counting in my head: 'wait ... go. Wait ... go,' and I'm trying not to hang off the bike so much like I was last year, trying to bring that in a little bit. It seems to be working alright, it's not too bad. Then it's just braking character, how you brake, if you keep the rear down you get it stopped faster, also it can change the way you turn into the corner. And then you see Marc, and he's sliding in the braking. But the question is why? I know why he's doing it, because his apex is a lot different. The strangest thing to me is that, where the apex should be, it's not. You're coming into a corner, you're not aiming for the kerb, you're not aiming for the apex, you're aiming for two meters later. It's a real strange way about it."
"It's the bike and the power, that's why I'm trying to learn off the best guys. Not learn myself, because it takes a lot of time. Sure, Márquez didn't learn himself, I know for certain he was studying [Casey] Stoner's data day in, day out, to see how he was riding it. So that's what we're trying to do, we're just trying to learn. I'm not worried about lap times so much, OK, it's nice to see where we end up, but my main priorities for this test are: get comfortable on the bike – already comfortable. Have the feeling with the brakes and the forks – I have the feeling. And now it's just learning the bike, learning the bike. Learn, learn, learn, that's all I want to do. Nothing else."
So there's no point expecting a lap time from you this test?
"I'm not interested here or at the next test. Obviously, I want to put a lap time in, every rider does. But like today, it didn't happen, and I was disappointed, but I shouldn't be. I've gone back to my roots: I'm not here for the lap time, I'm here to learn. I might be a little slower now, but in the long run, I'll be faster. It's hard to explain, I'm kind of going for a lap time, but I'm not. A bit here, a bit there. The trouble is, track conditions get hot, the track gets slower, you start getting frustrated, but you've got to just learn. Now my lap time is getting a bit closer, I feel like I'm in with a chance, so I start pushing, and I start stressing, and I shouldn't. I need to take a step back, keep learning, how to turn in with the rear, braking with angle, all these little things make a big difference."
How's it working with the team?
"Amazing, to be honest. Really good. I'm feeling really good, from the first day back, going out of pit lane, it feels really good. The team's working really well together, we're all communicating really well, I'm using all my resources really well, and that's good. I feel happy, and I feel confident, which is the main thing. I feel really how I did two years ago, when I was fighting for the title. Everything's prepared, we've got a plan, not stressed."
"It's hard for Chris [Pike] not to go for a lap time, because he's a crew chief, I know he's struggling with that, but I just said to him, it's OK. Like yesterday, he was stressing, and I put the lap time in at the end, and he was almost like, phew, he did it. But if I didn't, big deal. Here, it's not a problem, but for him, it's about lap time, which I can understand, but he needs to have a bit of faith in me. Which is difficult, because I'm 22 years of age, and he's got a lot of experience, and it's me asking him to have faith in me. It's a bit strange."
"And even myself, today I wanted that lap time, and I shouldn't have, I should have just taken a step back. Kind of my fault. Like I said to the guys, 'I ****ed it'. I tried too hard. I tried to find someone, just to look. Not for my lap time, but just to see what they're doing. I kind of had two or three corners behind guys, and I'm just learning little things, a little bit of line, a little bit of pick up, a little bit of throttle. But no one will let me behind at all. Some guys come past, and they let people behind them, but if it's me, no one. Nowhere. But OK, I'm here to learn."
"I think it's because I may be a bit of a threat in the future. Not yet, but they don't want to show me their tricks, you know? But that's normal I guess, really."
|No||Rider||Bike||Day 1||Day 2||Improvement|
|76||Loris Baz||Forward Yamaha||2:04.163||2:02.842||-1.321|
|17||Karel Abraham||Honda RC213V-RS||2:03.879||2:02.574||-1.305|
|15||Alex De Angelis||Aprilia ART||2:04.673||2:03.399||-1.274|
|25||Maverick Viñales||Suzuki GSX-RR||2:03.164||2:01.916||-1.248|
|8||Hector Barbera||Ducati GP14 Open||2:02.700||2:01.615||-1.085|
|29||Andrea Iannone||Ducati GP14.3||2:01.424||2:00.391||-1.033|
|72||Takumi Takahashi||Honda RC213V Test||2:04.719||2:03.781||-0.938|
|41||Aleix Espargaro||Suzuki GSX-RR||2:02.225||2:01.344||-0.881|
|7||Hiroshi Aoyama||Honda RC213V Test||2:02.560||2:01.772||-0.788|
|35||Cal Crutchlow||Honda RC213V||2:01.713||2:01.058||-0.655|
|38||Bradley Smith||Yamaha M1||2:01.707||2:01.098||-0.609|
|4||Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati GP14.3||2:00.617||2:00.015||-0.602|
|99||Jorge Lorenzo||Yamaha M1||2:00.521||1:59.963||-0.558|
|26||Dani Pedrosa||Honda RC213V||2:00.745||2:00.260||-0.485|
|69||Nicky Hayden||Honda RC213V-RS||2:02.699||2:02.228||-0.471|
|63||Mike Di Meglio||Ducati GP14 Open||2:03.878||2:03.609||-0.269|
|9||Danilo Petrucci||Ducati GP14||2:02.136||2:01.932||-0.204|
|T1||Katsuyuki Nakasuga||Yamaha M1 Test||2:03.092||2:02.914||-0.178|
|50||Eugene Laverty||Honda RC213V-RS||2:03.295||2:03.129||-0.166|
|93||Marc Márquez||Honda RC213V||2:00.262||2:00.146||-0.116|
|45||Scott Redding||Honda RC213V||2:01.917||2:01.844||-0.073|
|6||Stefan Bradl||Forward Yamaha||2:01.556||2:01.484||-0.072|
|44||Pol Espargaro||Yamaha M1||2:00.930||2:00.959||+0.029|
|51||Michele Pirro||Ducati GP14.2||2:01.951||2:02.199||+0.248|
|43||Jack Miller||Honda RC213V-RS||2:02.807||2:03.083||+0.276|
|46||Valentino Rossi||Yamaha M1||2:00.380||2:00.676||+0.296|