So much happened at the MotoGP test at Valencia that it is hard to take it all in and cover it in one go. Time offers a little bit of hindsight and perspective, and a chance to digest everything that came at you so fast over the two days at Valencia. So here are a few notes and thoughts looking back.
It is attractive to judge performance in testing just by casting a cursory glance at the timesheets and drawing conclusions from that. But the headline times tell very little of the story. A more complete analysis means examining every lap, and seeing the kind of consistency and speed each rider can maintain. It is all very well posting a 1'30.0, but if every other lap is a 1'32, then the actual pace is not particularly good.
So I extracted the laps of four of the main title contenders for 2017 from the analysis PDF files on the MotoGP.com website, placed them into a spreadsheet and sorted them from fastest to slowest. Discarding the properly slow laps (slower than around 1'34.5) allowed some clear patterns to emerge from the two days, especially once charted visually. I selected Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez as the two most significant riders to stay with their teams, and Jorge Lorenzo and Maverick Viñales as the two most important riders to be switching factories.
Of the four, Viñales emerges as very strong, both in terms of best lap and race pace. He posted the best time on both days, and was consistently fast as well. Compared to the others, he was stronger on Tuesday than on Wednesday, but that probably has more to do with his program versus the others than anything else. It is unclear how much of his time Viñales spent on the 2016 and 2017 Yamaha M1 – I asked Wilco Zeelenberg this question, but he told me that was confidential information, and the two bikes are visually almost identical – but it is likely he focused mainly on the old bike, rather than working on new parts or set up.
That is not the case for the other three. Márquez spent the first day turning the Honda RC213V upside down to test various bike geometries, while also testing the bike in three different configurations – 2016 bike, 2016 chassis with 2017 engine, and 2017 engine. Rossi spent his time evaluating the 2017 engine – or rather, an evolutionary step halfway between this year's bike and next year's – and Lorenzo rode the GP16 for most of the first day, before jumping on the GP17 for the second day.
Running the numbers
Though Viñales looks impressive, it is Marc Márquez whose pace jumps off the page once you dive into it. On Tuesday, Márquez and Viñales looked evenly matched. Viñales did a total of 35 laps between 1'30 and 1'32, while Márquez posted 33 laps at the same pace. Rossi had 24 laps at that pace, and Lorenzo posted 26 laps under the 1'33 mark.
But it is on Wednesday that Márquez shows his hand. Jorge Lorenzo posted 29 sub-1'33s and Valentino Rossi did 37 sub-1'33s. Maverick Viñales posted 39 laps at that pace, but it was Marc Márquez who really ground it out. 55 times Marc Márquez posted a lap quicker than 1'33, 17 of which were in the 1'30 bracket. Comparing the average pace of the laps under 1'32, Lorenzo is a tenth quicker than Rossi, while Viñales is two tenths quicker than Lorenzo. But it is Márquez who is quickest of all, two tenths quicker than Viñales on the Yamaha, and nearly half a second quicker on average than Rossi. The tables below show the total number of laps and the average pace.
1'30s & 1'31s
It is only once you put the numbers into chart form that the real pattern emerges. Charting the lap times for each rider ranked from fastest to slowest gives a clear picture of the pace set in testing. On Tuesday, Viñales and Márquez are evenly matched, posting a lot of fast laps. Similarly, Lorenzo and Rossi are roughly equally fast, with all four riders setting very close headline times.
On Wednesday, Márquez sets the pace. He is a fraction slower than Viñales in outright speed, but his consistency is outstanding. Viñales has a few fast laps, then a lot more in the 1'31s. Once again, Lorenzo and Rossi are evenly matched, though this time, it is Lorenzo with fewer laps at a fast pace.
What does it all mean? After just two days of testing, any conclusions we draw are unlikely to hold up until Qatar. Marc Márquez is clearly quick, and given the consistency of his pace on the 2017 engine, the Honda looks easier to manage. Maverick Viñales is as quick as any of the other four aliens, and has no trouble maintaining his pace. Jorge Lorenzo is already at the same level as Valentino Rossi after just two days on the Ducati. But Qatar is still four months away, and the factories have the whole winter to get to work.
It is worth bearing those charts in mind when listening to what the riders had to say after the test. Reading between the lines of their public statements, nobody was happy (they never are: despite constant improvements, the bikes are always terrible, because they are always being ridden at their very limit). Marc Márquez hinted at Honda not having done enough work on the engine, and it still not managing to accelerate manageably and smoothly. Valentino Rossi didn't quite express the disappointment he obviously felt at the lack of acceleration from his Yamaha M1. Though Lorenzo was not allowed to speak, Andrea Dovizioso told us Ducati still need to improve the turning of the GP17 mid corner.
A sign of the situation at Honda is the fact that the Repsol Honda team decided against traveling to Jerez for the private test booked for next week. The official line is that Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa got through their full program of testing, and so heading to Jerez has little point. An alternative way of interpreting that is that Márquez and Pedrosa don't see the point in testing an engine which isn't good enough. Better to let HRC work over the winter, and use private test days early in 2017 to test the final engine.
The one rider who seemed genuinely happy was Jorge Lorenzo. The Spaniard looked relaxed and was smiling, chatting with Casey Stoner, who is acting as an advisor to Ducati and Lorenzo. Lorenzo was banned from speaking to the media, but sources with knowledge of Lorenzo's mood reported he was relaxed, and felt able to breathe freely now that he was free of the constant tension of the Movistar Yamaha garage. It is not just the "blue bike" that Lorenzo is fast on, the source said. No wonder Yamaha did not want to allow Lorenzo to participate in Ducati's private test at Jerez.
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