Why go testing on Monday after a race? Even though riders are pretty drained after a full race weekend, riding on Monday provides really useful feedback. First of all, the track is clean and already rubbered in. Weather conditions are usually close enough to race day to provide good comparison. But above all, the riders are already up to speed, so no time is wasted. Johann Zarco put it very nicely: "I enjoy it so much, because you don't lose half day to find the feeling, you already have the feeling," the Frenchman said. "You just wake up, warm the bike up and you are ready, and you can start to work. We did the same today. It's good anyway. Even if you are tired from Sunday, you go on the bike, going over 300 km/h and that's just a nice life!"
What did the factories have to test? Ducati had nothing at all, the factory, Aspar and Avintia teams all packing up and leaving without turning a wheel. Ducati tested here before Mugello, and had tested at Mugello before Le Mans, so they need more time before they have something worth testing again. The earliest the new aerodynamics package can be ready is at the Brno test in August, so that will be their next focus.
Of the teams which did test, all eyes were on Yamaha. The factory Movistar Yamaha team had two new chassis to test, though they only tried the one on Monday. The team is staying on for an extra day on Tuesday, after canceling and moving a previously planned test at Aragon.
Feedback on the chassis was varied. Maverick Viñales was noncommittal, saying the chassis helped, but not in the area they had expected. Valentino Rossi, on the other hand, was extremely enthusiastic, saying the new chassis helped to make the bike turn, something which had been missing with the 2017 chassis.
But Rossi also made the point that the 2017 chassis had been very much Maverick Viñales' choice. "At the end Maverick was fast, and Maverick continue to like it, and Maverick is the guy with more points," Rossi reflected. "So I have to speak more about me. I'm coming from another story. Maverick doesn’t have any history with the Yamaha, coming from Suzuki, and he rides this because he thinks it's the Yamaha. But for me, because I know more the evolution of the bike, I think that with the 2017 version, we lose something."
Two different riders, two contradicting experiences. A sign of the confusion in the Movistar Yamaha garage is that Jonas Folger, of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, was also given a chassis to test. Though it was not clear exactly what chassis this was, his comments made it clear it was closely related to the 2017 chassis. The frame gave the bike more stability in braking, but at the expense of lost agility and turning. Those are comments almost identical to the description of the 2017 frame given by Valentino Rossi. When I asked Rossi if Folger had been given the 2017 chassis to test, Rossi said he had no idea who was testing what. Whether that is ignorance, real or feigned, is another question altogether.
Yamaha also tested a new aerodynamics package with a revised outlet system, a system of grills and holes relocated from the previous fairing. Though the effect and internal structure is very different, the external surface is almost identical. That is the loophole through which all of the manufacturers are driving a coach and horses, and the costs compared to winglets are almost certainly much higher. At least the fairing was worth it, Viñales being pleased with how it went on the ground.
At Honda, there was a good deal less to test. A few minor parts and upgrades, but nothing major to write home about. Cal Crutchlow was once again treated as a test mule, giving the aerodynamic fairing another run out. That proved to be much better at Barcelona than at previous tracks, but it could be just a factor of the nature of the circuit.
What Marc Márquez did test was a hard symmetric front tire from Michelin. The original plan was for a select group to try the tire on Tuesday, but several others also took the tire out for a spin on Monday. Márquez was delighted with it. "Honestly when I tried the symmetric tire the bike was much more stable," he said.
"It helped me quite a lot on the front confidence, over bumps," Márquez said. "If you see this weekend as soon as I pass a small bumps the bike was unstable and then I crash, I lose the front. During the test I was careful, all the way, but then when I put this tire I did one lap slow and then I started to push and I believe - yeah, unlucky that finish the practice - but I start to feel well and everything much more stable. Because sometimes the dual compound, when it's too hot, even if you have two hard rubbers, but it's one connection in the middle of the tire. So this I think makes the tire become unstable. With one compound the tire is much more stable."
The last fifteen minutes or so of the test devolved into a straight up shooting match between Viñales and Márquez. Viñales had been fastest for most of the day, but Márquez picked up the pace in the final minutes. The two riders went for an all out qualifying war at the end of the day, pushing hard to take top honors in the test. In the end, Márquez held Viñales at bay, but the pair had a massive advantage over the others.
Suzuki had a very full testing program, most of which fell on the shoulders of Sylvain Guintoli. Andrea Iannone put in 78 full laps of testing, but it was Guintoli who was doing a lot of the donkey work, it seemed. They had a lot of parts to test, including a new frame and various suspension parts, which helped with some of Iannone's problem with entering the corners.
Aprilia, too, was hard at work. The factory had identified the part which was causing reliability problems, a small component in the pneumatic valve train. They hoped to have a fix for that soon, but not quite yet. Aprilia were also working on electronics, and especially on RTD, or rider torque delivery. That is a fancy phrase to describe the connection between the rider's wrist and the opening of the butterfly throttles.
There was also some talk of the futures of factory riders at both Aprilia and Suzuki. Aprilia boss Romano Albesiano denied having already decided to sack Sam Lowes, though he did admit that he expected Lowes to quickly improve his performance. He made deliberately vague comments suggesting that Aprilia had to start making plans and looking at other riders if they did decided to drop Lowes at some point in the future. It hardly sounded like a ringing endorsement of Lowes' position at the factory.
Davide Brivio offered a more robust, but still not entirely convincing explanation for why Andrea Iannone is to stay with the team. The atmosphere in the team was fine, Brivio enthused, though he remained a fraction halfhearted about the entire situation. Informed rumor suggests that this will be Iannone's last season at Suzuki, before going off to join Aprilia. Iannone is struggling to get to grips with the way to brake on the Suzuki, and the Suzuki team are rumored not to be happy with Iannone, and the way he (and especially his entourage) comports himself inside the team.
You get the feeling that MotoGP Silly Season is about to get underway. It could well turn out to be a good deal more dramatic than expected. But it may take some time to get started properly.
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