The last test of the preseason is something of a moment of truth for the MotoGP factories. From the tropical heat of Malaysia and Thailand, the paddock heads to the Arabian peninsula, and cool desert evenings of the Losail International Circuit in Qatar. Air temperatures start in the mid 20s°C rather than the mid 30s°C, and drop into the high teens heading into the evening. That temperature difference means that air density is a couple of percent higher at Qatar. That in turn means more oxygen going into the engine, and better combustion efficiency.
Translating all that from vague engineering platitudes into real-world racing, colder air means more power all the way through the rev range. Engines run better, pick up more aggressively, and pull harder flat out in the cool Qatari evenings than in Sepang's punishing tropical heat. An engine that seemed docile in Sepang suddenly feels aggressive at Losail. An engine which was just about manageable in Thailand is a barely controllable beast in Qatar. And with just two weeks to go before the start of the 2018 MotoGP season, it's too late to fix the problem. Riders are left wrestling a wild bull for the rest of the year.
That, in a nutshell, is the story of Honda's past couple of seasons. Engines which seemed OK at Sepang suddenly turned out to be much tougher to handle at Qatar, and as a consequence, the tighter European tracks, racing on days when air temperatures struggled to get out of the teens. It was the story of Suzuki last year, who woefully misjudged their engine at the beginning of the season, a decision made more difficult by have two new riders on the bike.
Will it happen again? The Qatar test should at least provide a pointer or two to just where each of the factories stand with their engines. Though riders may try to be noncommittal about their engines, not wanting to tip their hands ahead of the upcoming seasons, there may perhaps be clues in their words, or perhaps the consistency of the different riders on the same bike. Testing isn't racing, of course, and the proof of the pudding only comes on Sundays in MotoGP. But we might get a hint.