There is a genuine sense of excitement at Valencia. Eight factory riders have either swapped teams or, in the case of KTM, joined a brand new entry. There are four rookies in MotoGP. And even the satellite teams have seen a shake up.
Intrigued to see the riders on their new steeds, I spent the first couple of hours of Tuesday at trackside, trying to gauge the body language of the riders and watch how comfortable they look. The first hours is when the process of adaptation takes place, so there is still a lot to learn for everyone swapping bikes. But it can provide an interesting insight into how the riders are getting on.
Jorge Lorenzo was the second rider out on track, behind Suzuki test rider Takuya Tsuda. On a cold track – ambient temperature of 7°C and overcast – Lorenzo looked cautious on the Ducati, clearly not pushing. Those laps were obviously being used for him to get a feeling for the bike, and to adjust his position on the Desmosedici.
As the sun came out and warmed the track, more riders headed out. In the space of ninety minutes, I got a good look at most of the rookies and the riders changing bikes. Lorenzo's initial discomfort was obviously due to track temperature. On his second run out of the pits, the Spaniard looked much more at ease. By the third run, Lorenzo looked just as he did on the Yamaha, fast, smooth, and dragging elbows through the tight turn 11.
According to Israeli TV reporter Tammy Gorali who spoke to Ducati staff, Lorenzo's feedback was very positive. He was very happy with the way the bike brakes, and with the power of the machine. He felt very comfortable on the bike, and felt able to push. By lunchtime, Lorenzo was half a second off the pace of fastest man Valentino Rossi.
Andrea Iannone looked supremely fast on the Suzuki, the Italian pushing very hard from the outset. The bike was moving around a lot more than when Maverick Viñales was riding it, but the bike was still working well. Iannone was immediately up to speed, adapting to the Suzuki apparently very easy.
That was not the case for Alex Rins. The rookie coming up from Moto2 was looking very uncomfortable, and struggling to make the bike work as he wanted. He was running wider Moto2 lines, carrying corner speed rather than picking the bike up, and braking tentatively into corners.
Reigning Moto2 champion Johann Zarco had no such problems. The Frenchman looked confident on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha M1, picking the bike up out of Turn 5 and Turn 11 to carry speed onto the straights. Both he and his new teammate Jonas Folger looked very comfortable on the bikes, and are lapping within a tenth of a second of each other.
All eyes were on Maverick Viñales, of course. I ran across Wilco Zeelenberg out on track, watching the progress of his new protégé. The Spaniard was adapting very well to the Yamaha M1, though he was still modifying his lines. Viñales is within a couple of tenths of his teammate, and obviously quick.
The other novelty was the 2017 Honda RC213V. Marc Márquez started the day on the old bike, before swapping to the new engine with a revised firing order. The bike clearly sounds a lot different, both at idle in pit lane, and outside on the track. The firing order is now much more similar to the Ducati, the bikes sound almost identical.
The reason for the change is to try to make the power delivery more manageable. That will not be visible from the side of the track, we will have to wait for the feedback from the riders. They speak to the press at the end of the day, when we will get their first reaction.
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