Hindsight, as they say, is always 20/20, and MotoGP tests following a race usually tend to bear this out. Teams suddenly find the time to try the setup changes they had figured out over the weekend but never quite got round to making to the bike to use in the race.
A case in point was Cal Crutchlow, who had had a moderately successful race on Sunday, coming home on Sunday. Crutchlow himself was far from pleased, however; the team were using a 15mm shorter wheelbase on Crutchlow's M1 than on any of the other Yamahas, intending to try a longer wheelbase during warmup on Sunday. The wet track on Sunday morning put a stop to this, so when Crutchlow got a chance to try the bike on Monday with the longer wheelbase, the fact that he rocketed to the sharp end of the timesheets confirmed two things: One, that the revised setup was working; and two, that Crutchlow could be troubling the front group sooner rather than later. Crutchlow's times on Monday were downright impressive, now all he has to do is ensure the team get the setup right on Sunday, and not on the day after at the test.
Much the same might be said for Jorge Lorenzo. The reigning world champion has been struggling with braking this season, something which Lorenzo has found doubly disappointing because that has traditionally been the strong point throughout his career. So bad had the problem become that when the team arrived at the track on Friday, Lorenzo found himself braking for turn 1 some 40 meters earlier than he had been doing when he won in 2010.
On Monday, Lorenzo's pit crew took what with hindsight would be the obvious step, going back to use some settings that they used last season. The reward was immediate, Lorenzo's confidence in corner entry and carrying corner speed vastly increased, and Lorenzo once again vying at the top of the timesheets.
The man who kept Lorenzo from setting the fastest time was the rider who had been most impressive all weekend, except for a minor mistake in the race on Sunday, which meant he crashed out after just four corners. Anyone doubting Simoncelli's talent and speed need only be shown the timesheets, but his racecraft - or rather, perhaps, his overeagerness - still get the Italian into trouble, Estoril being the second race in a row that Simoncelli has crashed out of.
Asked if he had had a good night's sleep, Simoncelli was frank: "No!" but the results of the test gave the Italian reason to be hopeful. A new clutch to help cure hopping on the rear under braking had helped, and the team had also found an improvement to the front forks which helped the bike over the bumps while leaned over.
But while Simoncelli was fuming at himself, he was still also stewing over Lorenzo's comments about him being dangerous. "I never fought with Lorenzo in all my career, only in Valencia, and now he is saying that I am dangerous," the Italian complained, pointing out that to his mind, it was Lorenzo who was at fault in that incident. Perhaps the comments were because Lorenzo perceived Simoncelli as a threat, the Italian conceded: "Maybe he is trying mind games, but for sure these tactics have no effect on me."
Valentino Rossi was far more forthright in his opinions about the riders complaining about aggressive moves. Rossi conceded that in 250s, Simoncelli had made a few moves "at the limit", but in MotoGP, his moves had not been beyond the pail. The problem, Rossi avowed, lay elsewhere: "For me, the problem is that big part of MotoGP riders now are pussies," Rossi declared. "In the past, this is normal, the riders were more like real men. Now it is more like they are children."
Rossi's remarks raised a few smirks around the assembled media, but most of the attention was focused on progress with the Ducati. Ducati's technical guru Filippo Preziosi had brought a new chassis, a new engine and a modified electronics package with him for the factory Ducati riders to test, and these had shown a clear improvement.
The modified chassis had garnered the most attention, and had worked just as Ducati had hoped it would. The new chassis - actually a small, trapezoidal carbon fiber subframe connecting the engine to the steering head - was providing more feedback, giving both Rossi and Hayden a better sense of what was going on with the front tire. But the big improvement for Rossi was that now when they tried setup changes on the front end, the bike reacted as expected. Both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden have complained in previous years that finding a setup could be like looking for a needle in a haystack, with the way the bike responded to setup changes being completely unpredictable. Sometimes a huge change would make no difference in the feel where a tiny modification would radically alter the bike, while at other tracks the opposite might be true. Some predictability in the way the chassis responds means finding a setup will be much easier in the future, and a big step in the right direction.
The new engine that Ducati brought was another step in the right direction, the engine being more controllable and softer off the bottom of the throttle. The bike is now more like Rossi asked for it to be, Preziosi explained, responding much more smoothly to the throttle. The trouble with new engine specs is that with the limit of 6 engines for the entire season, Ducati cannot introduce a new engine when it suits them. So the new engine spec will likely first see action at Barcelona, depending on the mileage on the current set of engines being used.
There are no such problems with the chassis, and the new subframe will be deployed at the next race at Le Mans. The upgraded electronics package was already being used at Estoril, and further developments will be coming soon.
Though everyone concerned at Ducati was positive about the changes, they were all equally keen to point out that the changes were just "a small step" in the right direction. The consensus, though, was that the direction for development had been found, and there would be plenty more to come in the future.
With the proven speed of the Hondas, the 2011 RC212V having taken victory in two of the three races so far this year, you would suspect that there is little development work to be done on the bike. And frankly, you would be right, though the riders still had a couple of clutches and some forks to test. The state of the Honda - and the fact that riders are never satisfied with what they have - was nicely summed up by Andrea Dovizioso: "We are really close to being OK," Dovizioso said, "We just need to improve the stability." To mere mortals, rather than MotoGP riders, "really close to OK" means the closest thing to a perfect motorcycle that current technology is capable of producing.
The clutch Honda tested received mixed reactions, with Simoncelli and Dovizioso liking the new clutch, while Casey Stoner was less convinced. What Stoner had liked was the 2011 Ohlins forks, which the team had finally got to work on the bike without them chattering. The new forks improved the feel over the bumps, and this in turn had made the bike better in the long corners, where the bumps had badly unsettled the bike during the race.
It was a good thing that Honda had so little to test, however, as two of HRC's factory riders were in no real shape to be putting in the miles. After his victory on Sunday, Dani Pedrosa's shoulder was still stiff and painful, and the Spaniard called it a day at the end of the morning, professing himself to be too injured to provide any useful feedback. Casey Stoner had fared a little better, the Australian's back problem which had arisen during the race still present during the morning, but riding and some exercises had loosened it up and the pain had largely disappeared by the end of the day. Both men will be glad to get some rest for the next few days to try to recover before heading for Le Mans. For Pedrosa, that meant spending a lot of time flat on his back, holding his head in a fixed position to relax the shoulder muscles as much as possible. Having a lie down may sound enticing - especially after a long weekend such as we have just had - but spending the best part of four or five days staring at the ceiling is really not as much fun as it's made out to be.
Upgrades to the bikes and their settings were not the only thing to be tested at Estoril. Bridgestone brought a new tire for the riders to try, meant to be used in 2012 when the 1000s return. The riders immediately fell rapturously in love with the tire, praising its improved feedback and especially the fact that it got up to working temperature much more quickly than the older specs of tires. The pleas for Bridgestone to introduce it this year were loud and many, but the chance of it actually happening is fairly remote.
The next test for the MotoGP class is at Mugello, when the first 1000cc bikes will be rolled out on the track. Any factories wanting to test new parts for their 800cc bikes will have to wait until after Brno in August, when the final 800cc test will take place. By then, though, all eyes will be on the future, when we leave the accursed 800s behind us.