Everyone knows Honda’s RC213V is no armchair ride. But why? Best man to ask is Takeo Yokoyama, HRC’s technical manager who works with Marc Márquez, Cal Crutchlow and now Alex Márquez
What engineering concepts went into building the 2019 RC213V which dominated last season in the hands of Marc Márquez but sometimes made life difficult for Cal Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo? And what kind of a bike is Honda building for the 2020 MotoGP championship?
If Valencia is an important test, the Jerez test is even more significant. At Valencia, the riders are tired, and the teams know that they cannot burden them too much. The Valencia circuit is also not well suited to test duties, too tight and contorted to give the new bikes a proper workout.
At Jerez, after a few days off to relax and absorb the lessons of Valencia, the teams and riders are back on the track again. The test program for most factories looks to be bigger and more comprehensive than at Valencia.
Maverick Viñales finished the day as fastest, quick and comfortable on the new 2020 prototype of the Yamaha M1. That Viñales had a clear advantage over the rest of the field is plain, but the gaps on the timesheet do not represent the real relative strengths between the riders. A mixture of drizzle and red flags caused by crashes meant that anyone going out on fresh soft rubber was likely to have their attempt at chasing a time stymied by conditions, or forced back into the pits due to a red flag. The teams got plenty of work done, but events conspired to prevent the usual battle of egos which ends each day at the test.
Yamaha: Frame and engine
The point of the post-season test at Valencia is to give the new parts the racing departments have cooked up based on the data collected during the year their first run out. The hope is that the new parts – engines, chassis, electronic packages, etc – will provide improvements, make the bikes faster, and help drop the lap times even further.
There was plenty of good news for the MotoGP factories from the two days of testing at Valencia. Their work has been successful, judging by the initial results at the test. The new engines which have been brought are all quicker, the chassis which have been tested are all an improvement.
The bad news is that all of this applies to just about every manufacturer in MotoGP. Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, Suzuki, KTM, even Aprilia, they have all made steps forward. The trouble is, that if everyone makes a step forward, they all end up still left in the same place.
So who comes out of the Valencia test ahead? It is still way too early to tell. At Valencia, the factories bring their new concepts, in a fairly raw format. Engines need adapting to electronics, chassis need adapting to engines, the setups the factories start the test with are based on data from last year's bikes, and still need tweaking to refine.
What conclusions can we draw from the first day of testing for the 2020 season? Not much, other than a lot of factories have brought a lot of new parts. And it really does feel like a lot of new parts, with new chassis for KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, new engines all round, and a host of other bits and pieces in preparation for the new season. New riders, too, with Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona, and Alex Márquez all moving up to MotoGP for 2020.
It is particularly tempting to jump to early conclusions about the rookies. There is a clear pecking order, an easy way of deciding who is adapting quickly, and who is taking their time. By that measure, Iker Lecuona is the man to beat, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM rider finishing just under 1.5 seconds off the leading gaggle of Yamahas at the test. Brad Binder, in the factory Red Bull KTM team, is just under 2.4 seconds behind quickest rider Fabio Quartararo, while the latest addition to the class, Alex Márquez, was last, 2.7 seconds slower than the Petronas Yamaha rider, and nearly 2.2 seconds slower than his brother Marc.
King of the rookies
In these subscriber notes:
- The dangers of motorcycle racing
- Marc Márquez' remarkable season
- Andrea Dovizioso's remarkable season
- Jack Miller rides again
- Why Danilo Petrucci is staying in factory Ducati
- What riders think of Johann Zarco
- Yamahas lacking grip, with one exception
- Joan Mir on why being a rookie at Suzuki is harder than on a Yamaha
The last race of 2019 was a demonstration of just how dangerous motorcycle racing can be (although footage from the crashes at the Macau Grand Prix puts that into some perspective). The cold, the wind, and to be frank, allowing a rider who should have been black flagged for spewing liquids all over the track on three separate occasions this week to start a race created a host of situations which could have turned out really badly. But we got lucky.
Let's start with Aron Canet. The Moto3 rider had white smoke leaking from his Sterilgarda KTM during FP1 on Friday. He had white smoke leaking from his bike on the sighting lap before the race, which caused him and then Ayumu Sasaki to crash at Turn 6, and the race to be delayed. Despite the problem with Canet's KTM, the Spaniard was allowed to start the race, and more white smoke emerged from the bike, the KTM containing a seemingly endless supply.
This was supposed to be a quiet weekend. Winding down at the last race of the season, with only the most symbolic of prizes still on the line: the team championship; third overall in MotoGP. But the final round of MotoGP at Valencia has exploded into a frenzy of rabid rumor, wild speculation, and bizarre conspiracy theories.
It all started off with Jorge Lorenzo announcing he would be retiring at the end of 2019. Though the rumor had been floating around the paddock since the summer, it still came as a surprise. The rumor mill had calmed down a little since LCR Honda had first announced that Johann Zarco would be stepping in to replace Takaaki Nakagami for the last three races of the season. There had been a lot of talk of whether that meant Honda would sack Lorenzo, or Lorenzo would leave Honda for another team, with no satisfactory outcome.
Lorenzo's retirement was the sort of surprise which you half expect. After an evening of digesting the idea of MotoGP without Jorge Lorenzo, the hive mind of the paddock turned to thoughts of who might replace the Spaniard. On Friday, it didn't seem like it would be settled any time soon, rumor suggesting that Honda would not make a decision before the Jerez test.
Valencia is a fine place to celebrate the end of the MotoGP season. For the vast majority of the paddock it is close to home, at most a couple of hours by airplane, car, or train. It has a fine building in which to host the end of season awards ceremony, the Palacio de Congresos, designed by renowned architect Norman Foster. And it draws a massive crowd, over 100,000 fans turning up on Sunday to watch a race which usually doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, beyond rider pride (and there is little much grander than rider pride).
But it also has its downsides. The track is neatly folded inside a tight little bowl, but at the cost of having a lot of left-hand corners, and only a couple of rights. And with the season at its current length, the race is in mid November, and even when the sun is shining, temperatures can be Baltic, something the winter winds don't do much to help.
Caution is advised in these conditions. With the track temperature in the mid teens, even very soft rubber on the right hand side of the tire is not enough to save you at Turn 4 if you try pushing too hard, too early. As Valentino Rossi found to his cost. In FP1, the Italian entered the first right hander of the circuit a little too fast with a new tire, and found it wasn't quite up to temperature. "Sincerely, I made a mistake, a stupid mistake, because I had the soft front, but I pushed a little bit too much already in the first lap, and I crashed."
It has been a long year in MotoGP. Valencia is full of tired faces, the cold and windy weather a good reflection of the mood of the paddock. The last race of the season should be a festive occasion, but after eighteen races, and the last four overseas, there is little energy or enthusiasm left for the season finale.
Valencia made a fitting backdrop for Jorge Lorenzo's announcement that he would be retiring. It came as a surprise to almost everyone – except for one canny journo who had put a bet back on the Spaniard hanging up his helmet back in August – but it was a move which was widely understood. Spinal and head injuries are the two greatest fears of motorcycle racers, and the fact that Lorenzo came very close to suffering a life-changing injury made it easy to find sympathy for him.
There was respect not just for Lorenzo's choice, but also for the Spaniard's achievements. Until Marc Márquez came along, Lorenzo looked set to go down in history as Spain's greatest ever premier class rider. Even then, he remains the only rider so far to have won a title in the Márquez era. He was a rider whose ability to carry corner speed astounded his rivals, left them befuddled at how he could go so fast through corners without crashing. He leaves MotoGP as the fifth most successful premier class rider, and the sixth most successful rider of all time in all classes.
Hard act to follow