Scouring through the timesheets after the second day of the MotoGP test at Phillip Island, and reading through everything the riders have said, a picture emerges, not just of what happened on Thursday, but also how history has affected them. Seeing Marc Márquez' workload, his approach, the things he is working on, and it is hard not to think back to his past three seasons in MotoGP. The lessons learned in each of those seasons color everything he is working at Phillip Island, and give us a glimpse of his objective for 2017.
On Thursday, Márquez put in 107 laps around Phillip Island. That is 20% more than most of his rivals, and nearly double the amount which some of them rode. Asked if he was playing games in suggesting the 2017 Honda RC213V was not ready, Márquez was curt. "I don’t play games, because if I'm ready I would not make 107 laps! Because my hands are destroyed."
Why put in so many laps? A look at the past three seasons offers an insight. In 2014, Márquez destroyed the field in the first part of the season, winning ten races in a row, and a total of thirteen. For a man with a thirst for victory matched perhaps only by Valentino Rossi, this was an ecstatic period. It also lured him into a false sense of security, the bike suffering as a result. This was not helped by Honda's insistence on building a bike as powerful as possible, with no view of making it easy to use.
2015 was a watershed year for Márquez. He crashed out of so many races trying to win them that he threw away any chance of defending his title. He put the lessons learned into 2016, and won the title last year by learning to settle for points. Sometimes, after the race, you could see from the expression on his face that not winning races had caused him something approaching physical pain.
Learning the lessons of history
Scouring the timesheets and reading between the lines of everything he says, Márquez looks to be creating a synthesis of the past three years, in the hope of recreating the sweet taste of success he savored in 2014. He is doing everything he can to ensure that he starts 2017 with a bike capable of winning, so he doesn't have to suffer through too many finishes just off the podium. He is leaving no stone unturned, working on every detail.
On Thursday, he laid out his plans fairly explicitly. "Always I say it depends on the tools you have, if you have a good tool you can attack from the beginning. If you don't feel comfortable, you need to wait a little bit, but we will see." Márquez is working on creating a tool capable of winning.
Márquez' pace was fearsome. Of the 107 laps he put in – perhaps one of the reasons he rode so much was because Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa was sick in the morning, and he wanted to pick up the slack – 44 of them, or 41%, were in the 1'29s. Nearly two thirds of his total laps were either 1'29s or 1'30s. Had he shown the same pace in the race last October, he would have won by something approaching half a minute.
Those pesky kids
But Márquez was still not the fastest rider on track. Maverick Viñales was back at the top of the timesheets – making it five out of the seven days of official testing so far – and with a pace that was even more terrifying than that of the Repsol Honda rider. Not only was his fastest lap nearly half a second quicker than Márquez', but he also managed eight laps under Márquez' best. Five of those laps were in the 1'28s, a genuinely quick pace.
Márquez let slip just how dangerous he believed Viñales to be. "Maverick today was the fastest one. Not only one lap; also his pace was really good. But we are working. Today I'm really happy. I did what was in the plan. So in the preseason sometimes it's good to just concentrate on your box and try your things." The last part of that sentence signals concern.
Viñales is also growing in confidence. "What I can say is the bike is great, the team has a lot of experience and are working and the bike is there, so the rider needs to ride fast and consistent," he said. "When I feel like this it means you can win and it is only motivation to work hard and try to push yourself really high. For me it is better because I know that I am working for one objective, the one that I dream of, so for sure I will be more motivated."
Lessons from the master
Viñales followed Rossi for a while, picking up tricks from the wily old veteran. "I see some things and in sector four he is really fast and I see some lines that I take profit," he said. He had done the same with Márquez and Crutchlow, looking to see what he could learn, to use their experience.
One thing the Movistar Yamaha rider learned is that the bike is strong on corner exit. "What I see is that we have a really good acceleration and we are stronger, but Honda is constant all the time on the lap times; Marc is constant all the time and we need to work hard on that part. Marc is constant but the others are not so constant." Viñales downplays his own consistency here, but there can be no doubt that he is keenly aware of Márquez' pace.
If Thursday was another good day for Márquez and Viñales, it was another bad day for Jorge Lorenzo. There were the first signs of self doubt in the Spaniard, after his move to Ducati. Lorenzo was fifteenth fastest, and had distinctly modest race pace. He could not get comfortable on the bike, nor find the right way to ride it. "For sure, something is still not right and we didn’t discover. We need to discover something to enter faster in the corners, to open more throttle and generally go faster in the corner speed."
Above all, Lorenzo was perplexed by the fact that Alvaro Bautista was faster than both him and Andrea Dovizioso, despite being on an older Ducati. "Bautista, theoretically, has a worse bike but he’s able to be faster than me. We have to understand where we can find this time to be closer to his pace and especially to his fast lap." The biggest difference was in the middle of the corner, where Bautista was able to carry corner speed but Lorenzo wasn't.
Is it time for Lorenzo to panic? There are still four full days of testing to the start of the season, and eighteen races is a long season. The Ducati might feel different once the factory starts using its aerodynamics package, and Lorenzo might get some confidence back in the front end. Above all, Lorenzo still has time to figure out how to change his riding style, to brake later and deeper, and get the Desmosedici to turn in a different way. But with each passing test day he is off the pace, there is more reason to be concerned.
Aprilia and Suzuki unveiled their aero packages, new fairings meant to comply with the 2017 regulations. Suzuki's solution was similar to Yamaha's, though located higher up on the bike: a duct with a winglet in the middle, put in to create downforce. Aprilia's new fairing took a different approach, with the fairing itself actually doing the work. A smaller cover is placed over a deep duct in the fairing itself, with the internal shape creating the downforce.
Obviously, it is easy to concentrate on the big names, with Márquez and Viñales setting themselves up as the (very early) favorites for the title. But with several riders putting in long runs, the timesheets threw up some very interesting results. Cal Crutchlow had strong pace, but given the LCR Honda won two races in 2016, this should not come as a surprise. Valentino Rossi worked on race pace, though he struggled in the afternoon to get the bike to work. The set up direction they chose turned out not to work as they had hoped, so his pace was not as he had hoped.
As Jorge Lorenzo had alluded to, Alvaro Bautista was quick once again, as well as being consistently fast. Bautista put in a long run consisting of a long string of 1'30s with a smattering of 1'29s thrown in. This is the third test where Bautista has shown his pace, and he looks like being one of the few satellite Ducatis who isn't struggling.
Watch out for Zarco
Above all, the rookies impressed on Thursday. Especially the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders: Jonas Folger was the fastest of the two, but Johann Zarco showed incredible race pace, once you dig into the timesheets. The Frenchman did three longish runs, two of which were full of 1'30 laps. It was above all his consistency which impressed, as the table below shows. If you take the average of each rider's best 27 laps (race distance at Phillip Island), it is Zarco who is fourth quickest, and a fraction quicker than Valentino Rossi.
|Rider||Total laps||Average best 27||1'28s||%||1'29s||%||1'30s||%||Total||%|
Zarco had learned a lot from watching Maverick Viñales, benefiting from being able to see his fellow Yamaha rider's data. "It’s great to also have Viñales as a reference because he’s going really fast. He’s sliding a lot with the bike. I’m not the kind of rider who wants to slide but he can show that even when you slide you can be fast."
His plan for Friday was to take it easy, and keep focusing on making progress. "I don’t want to do too much because the confidence is also coming back. I want to use this test to grow up as a rider. As I said, Viñales is sliding a lot and he’s going fast here. It’s maybe the time for me to understand things. I want that. If I don’t understand it tomorrow, it’s not a disaster because I know that confidence is coming."
It's only testing, and there are four more days to go, but 2017 is shaping up to be an intriguing season in MotoGP.
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