Press releases from the factories and teams after the first MotoGP test of 2019 at Sepang:
For fans of technological innovation, the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test had been something of a disappointment. There were very few clearly visible upgrades to the bikes on display on Wednesday, teams using the first day to get themselves accustomed, and focus on checking the engine choices made back at the November tests. There were one or two things going on, but they weren't obviously visible to casual fans.
Thursday was a much better day for MotoGP tech nerds. New parts started to appear, as factories started working their way through the list of parts they have prepared for the 2019 season. Suzuki debuted a new fairing, with a more Yamaha-like aero package, with wider wing surfaces and a slimmer side section.
Alex Rins was positive about the new fairing. "It gave me more support on the front, less wheelie, which is important for the speed. We are faster on the straight because of the fairing – it’s more aerodynamic. The front wheel is more on the floor." That was borne out by his lap times, the Spaniard finishing with the second fastest time of the day, and the second highest number of laps in 1'59, including a run of four in a row. This was pace, rather than just a single quick lap.
Hitting the holeshot
All eyes were on Ducati, however, as a mystery lever appeared on the top of the Desmosedici GP19's (and only the GP19) top triple clamp:
Jorge Lorenzo has had successful surgery to fix his fractured scaphoid, but the surgery means he will miss the Sepang test. The Spaniard had a titanium screw inserted to hold the broken scaphoid together, but the recovery period needed means he will not be fully fit in time for the start of the Sepang test, and Repsol Honda and Lorenzo have decided to skip Sepang and focus on the Qatar test at the end of February.
Despite the surgery, Lorenzo will be present at the launch of the Repsol Honda team in Madrid, to be held on Wednesday, 23rd January.
Lorenzo's accident puts Honda in a difficult situation for Sepang. Marc Marquez is still recovering from major surgery on his left shoulder, to fix a chronic problem of dislocation. Though Marquez' recovery continues apace, he is far from full fitness, and has not been able to train the way he normally would. Cal Crutchlow is still recovering from a massive ankle injury which he suffered at the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island last year. Though he is cycling, he still has some pain while walking, and so his condition is far from 100% for the test.
You would think that after writing about what I got wrong in my predictions last year, I would not be so foolish as to try to make predictions again for the 2019 season. As it turns out, I am that foolish, so here is a list of things I expect to happen in the coming year.
2019 certainly looks very promising for world championship motorcycle racing, in just about every class in both MotoGP and WorldSBK. A range of changes mean the racing should be closer and more competitive. Cutting the MotoGP grid from 24 to 22 bikes, and having the Petronas Yamaha team replace the underfunded Aspar squad, means there are more competitive bikes on the grid.
Ducati will field only GP19s and GP18s, and the GP18 is a much better machine than the GP17. Honda will field three 2019 RC213Vs, and a 2018 bike for Takaaki Nakagami, and the fact that Nakagami was fastest at the Jerez MotoGP test last November suggests that it, too, is good enough to run at the front. Yamaha, likewise, will field three factory-spec bikes, with only rookie Fabio Quartararo on a 2018-spec machine. Suzuki made big steps forward in 2018, and have a more powerful bike for 2019.
It's not just in MotoGP either. In Moto2, the new Triumph engine will change the way riders have to ride the bike, and the introduction of electronics – very limited, but still with more than the old Honda ECU kit had to offer – will give teams more options. Ducati's introduction of the Panigale V4R will make the WorldSBK series a good deal more competitive. And the cream of last year's Moto3 crop moving up to Moto2, to make way for an influx of young talent, will make both classes fascinating and exciting to watch.
So what can we expect from 2019? Here are a few concrete predictions:
1. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Cal Crutchlow is out for the rest of the 2018 season, as well as for the winter tests at Valencia and Jerez. The injury the LCR Honda rider sustained in practice at Phillip Island is so severe that it will take at least until the beginning of next year before Crutchlow will be fit enough to attempt to ride.
Crutchlow sustained a so-called 'Pilon' fracture of the tibia, fibula (the two bones in the lower leg), and talus (the bone which hinges the two leg bones, and joins them to the feet). That fracture (Pilon comes from the French word for pestle) is the result of the foot smashing into the ground, and the three bones being crushed together by the force involved.
Crutchlow had surgery to fix the bones, which involved the use of two plates, eight screws and some artificial bone. The severity of the injury is such that he has had to keep his ankle immobile, and with no weight on it. He hopes to start moving it again soon, and will start cycling again this week. But with a typical recovery period of between six and twelve months, Crutchlow has been forced to miss all testing this year.
The LCR Honda rider is aiming for a return at the Sepang test on February 6th, three months after his surgery. The chances of the Englishman being 100% are slim, but he should be fit and strong enough to manage testing and prepare for 2019.
Below is a statement taken from the LCR Honda press release:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and Michelin after the Malaysian Grand Prix:
Stefan Bradl is to replace Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda at the next round of MotoGP at Sepang, a week from today. As HRC's official test rider, Bradl was the easy choice to take the place of the injured Crutchlow.
Crutchlow was ruled out of Sunday's Australian Grand Prix after a huge crash at Turn 1 during FP2 on Friday. His right leg took a beating in the fall, fracturing his ankle in three places. Crutchlow was flown to Melbourne, where an external cage was placed on his ankle to fix the bones in place while the swelling subsides. Crutchlow is due for further surgery on Thursday to have the bones plated.
That rules Crutchlow out of the race at Sepang, and makes him doubtful for the Valencia race in three weeks' time. A decision on Valencia will not be made until much nearer the event, but it is conceivable that Crutchlow will decide to sit out the race, and focus on being fit for the last test of the year at Jerez at the end of November.
Stefan Bradl will take the place of Cal Crutchlow in the LCR Honda team at Sepang, and if the Englishman is not fit to race at Valencia, then at the final race as well. Bradl would have been present at Valencia anyway, both because of TV duties with the Austrian Servus TV, and for the first post-season test at Valencia on the Tuesday and Wednesday after the race.