With the script for FP1 affected by rain throughout the night and limiting the speed that lightweight class riders could find, a fully dry FP2 meant that times were quick to tumble. An unharmed Ayumu Sasaki was back to business after a painful looking crash in the morning and his determination saw him head straight to the top of the timesheets. The Japanese rider had no real competition for top spot until the mini shootout of the final five minutes, which became all the more important when looking at the possibly wet forecast for Saturday.
Despite overnight rain affecting track conditions on Friday morning, there were only faint traces of damp across the surface by the time the premier class started fire – and it was hot. Barely five minutes into the session and Marc Marquez was doing Marc Marquez things, lap one putting him over a second ahead of the rest and lap two seeing him test the limits with yet another splendid save at turn two. Adding to the drama, the world champion was exploring the service road five minutes later, after his machine refused to go any further than turn 6, hindering his usual FP1 routine.
Patches of damp track were still pretty obvious around the circuit by the time the intermediate class took its turn to prepare for battle but the dry line was nice and wide and ready to welcome slick tyres. However, it was not exactly harmless either as Luca Marini demonstrated 15 minutes into the session, when he went down at turn 15.
It was a damp start in Sepang after overnight rain covered the circuit and combined with the beautiful blue skies on Friday morning, it made for a confusing start for the lightweight class. The patchy surface was conducive to a confusing mix of slicks and rain tyres, teams trying to make sense of the manageability of the conditions on either option in case the race replicates this odd recipe.
How quickly things can change. At Phillip Island a week ago, Valentino Rossi was being feted for his 400th Grand Prix start against a background of concern over the nine-time champion's pace. Sitting seventh in the championship with 153 points, behind both Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales and Petronas Yamaha SRT rider Fabio Quartararo, questions were being asked whether it was time for Rossi to retire.
And yet a year ago, at Sepang, Rossi came within four laps of winning the race, or at least taking the race down to the wire with Marc Márquez. The Italian crashed out at Turn 1, washing the front out and handing victory to his arch rival. But the race was as clear a sign as you could get that Rossi was still competitive, still capable of winning races.
Jorge Lorenzo finds himself in a similar situation. At Phillip Island, he had one of the worst races of his career, finishing 66 seconds behind his teammate, the winner Marc Márquez. Lorenzo is on his way out, the media and fans said, he can't ride the Honda. Yet in November last year, at the Jerez test, Lorenzo was fifth fastest overall, a tenth of a second behind his teammate, and 0.160 slower than fastest rider Takaaki Nakagami.
The Frenchman is on his way to Phillip Island with his brand-new Alpinestars LCR Honda leathers. So is this judgement day for Johann Zarco?
Johann Zarco expected to watch MotoGP’s final few races from the comfort of his sofa in the south of France. Now, thanks to Takaaki Nakagami’s troublesome right shoulder injury – sustained at Assen when he got sideswiped by Valentino Rossi – he will spend the last three races sat somewhat less comfortably on the Japanese rider’s 2018-spec LCR Honda.
Before we wonder how Zarco will fare on the RC213V, we should ask why this is necessary. Why is Nakagami going under the knife when the 2019 championship isn’t over?
Today, the Grand Prix Commission officially announced further restrictions on testing for the MotoGP class. Those restrictions were published last month on MotoMatters.com, including the news that the Brno and Valencia tests are to be dropped in 2020, with further reductions in 2021.
The idea is that as the calendar expands from 20 races next year to 22 in 2022, testing is reduced to reduce the workload and stress on the riders and teams. In 2020, there will still be two tests in February, at Sepang and Qatar before the season starts, and Monday tests after the Jerez and Barcelona races.
The Brno test will be dropped, however, as it made for a very short week between the Brno and Spielberg rounds of MotoGP, especially for the crews who have to tear down and build up the hospitalities and garages before and after each race.
Johann Zarco is set to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the final three races of 2019, and race the 2018-spec Honda RC213V for the Idemitsu LCR Honda team. The news was first broken by Oriol Puigdemont of Motorsport.com, and though nobody contacted by MotoMatters.com would comment on the news, it was later confirmed by Zarco to Thomas Baujard of the French publication Moto Journal.
As the MotoGP championship expands to 20 race in 2020, and the prospect of 22 races from 2022, Dorna and IRTA are making a push to reduce the amount of testing in the series. Next year, testing will be much more limited, not just for MotoGP, but for Moto2 as well.
At Misano, the Grand Prix Commission met to discuss testing for Moto2 going forward. There have long been complaints that the current rules allowed rich teams to spend a lot more time testing than poor teams, the lack of rules on testing between the end of the season and the start of the test ban on December 1st meaning that testing was almost unlimited.