Times at 2pm:
One of the most keenly watched figures at the Sepang MotoGP test is the top speed of the Yamahas. That was the reason that Yamaha couldn't compete at a number of circuits. Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo found themselves coming up short against Marc Marquez in a number of races, Marquez using the speed of the Honda to drive past the Yamahas, or stay with them, at crucial points, negating the superior handling of the Yamaha.
So all eyes in Sepang are on the top speed figures of the Yamaha. Have they improved enough to be competitive?
But how important is top speed really? Even Gigi Dall'Igna, MotoGP's unofficial king of horsepower, is aware of the limits power can bring. It is an advantage, but only as an added extra. "It’s important to have the power in the pocket," Dall'Igna said at the launch of Ducati's 2020 MotoGP project. "When you have it in the pocket you can make the decision if you want to use it or not. If you don’t have the horsepower in the pocket then you cannot use that."
Jack Miller is currently fastest as noon approaches at Sepang, the Pramac Ducati rider demonstrating the sheer outright speed of the Desmosedici GP20, clocking a top speed of 338.5 km/h, nearly 7 km/h quicker than Andrea Dovizioso on the factory Ducati.
The first day back after the winter break is always tricky. Bodies are sore after riding a MotoGP bike for the first time. That uses muscles which are impossible to train, and so soreness quickly sets in. Then there are the unforeseen hiccups which always arise when prototype machinery first hits the track. Parts don't quite work as expected, they don't fit as easily and as quickly as hoped, and there is always a nasty surprise lurking somewhere. But then again, that's why you go testing, to iron out the details before racing starts in earnest.
Andrea Dovizioso was just one of many riders hindered by such hiccups. "The first day you have to try a few things and a few things can happen which make you lose time," the Italian said. "You can't follow exactly the plan. That's what happened today. It didn't work a lot but we had to fix a few small problems – nothing bad."
Or it can rain. As it did for an hour in the afternoon, and then again shortly before the end of the test. With the track taking time to dry, that meant the riders lost probably two and a half hours of track time on Friday. But all of these things are just a part of testing, and something everyone has to deal with.
Older is better
Rain disrupted both the middle and the end of the first day of the Sepang test, the riders losing three hours to a damp track. But the busiest riders still managed to record around 60 laps at the track.
Fabio Quartararo ended the day as fastest, just ahead of his Petronas Yamaha teammate Franco Morbidelli. Both riders were on the A-Spec bikes, the evolution of the 2019 machine Morbidelli will be riding in 2020. Alex Rins ended Friday as third fastest on the Suzuki, a quarter of a second behind Quartararo, and a few hundredths ahead of Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda.
The rain brought an enforced extended lunch break to the Sepang circuit. Rain started falling shortly after 2pm, and the track is still taking its time to dry out. As a result, there have been no changes in the times since 2pm.
The Petronas Yamahas continue to top the timesheets, Franco Morbidelli having crept up on teammate Fabio Quartararo at the 2pm mark. Alex Rins is third on the Suzuki, while Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller have jumped up into forurth and fifth respectively.
Maverick Viñales had a small crash at Turn 13, losing the front, but it didn't affect his test program much. The weather is currently holding, other than the usual Malaysian heat, so the riders should get a full day of testing on Friday.
Times at 2pm:
The 2020 MotoGP preseason has gotten underway at Sepang, with bright sun and good track conditions. The track is already very busy as the factories get to work.
The day before the MotoGP test starts at Sepang is not usually so hectic. There have sometimes been launches, but as often as not, it has been a matter of catching up with people you have not seen for a long time, and talking to the few riders scheduled for press debriefs. It is a good way of easing yourself back into the MotoGP season.
Not so this year. Three launches in one day, two of them with the biggest news stories of the off season. The Suzuki launch was interesting; the 2020 livery for the Suzuki Ecstar team is rather fetching in silver and blue, and a homage to the first Grand Prix bike Suzuki ever raced, 60 years ago this year. For more on Suzuki's history, see this outstanding thread on Twitter by Mat Oxley, and if you don't already have his book Stealing Speed, a history of how Suzuki acquired two-stroke technology from the East German MZ factory, you need to buy yourself a copy now.
The start of the 2020 MotoGP season is now just a matter of hours away. The entire MotoGP grid will soon be rolling out at Sepang for the start of the first MotoGP of the year. Notably, it is the entire grid: unlike previous years, nobody has fallen of a motocross bike, minibike, or even a mountain bike and hurt themselves.
There is plenty to get excited about. We will soon be able to get a sense of the work done by the various factories over the winter, who looks like hitting their goals, who has found something extra, who is lagging behind. We will see which of the rookies is off to a strong start, how last year's crop of rookies is progressing, which of the veterans has made a step, either forward or backward, and which of the crop of title candidates is looking sharpest.
Yet a note of caution is advised. By Sunday night, we will have a timesheet showing who was fastest over the three days, and we will have a complete list of every lap posted by each rider (helpfully published by Dorna on the official MotoGP website, unhelpfully, in a format which is not easily extracted for analysis).
Sepang vs the season