The final day of testing at Valencia was a repeat of the first day: a lot of crashes on the Michelin tires, the factory Hondas, Yamahas and Ducatis working on the brand new spec electronics, the satellite bikes and the Suzukis working on their own 2015 electronics. For the Suzukis, that was not such a problem. The new electronics were likely to be an improvement on their own electronics, both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro said, so missing out now was not such a problem. Suzuki have another test planned at Sepang at the end November, at which they plan to switch the 2016 unified software. With two days of Michelin testing under the belt, testing the spec software should be easier.
Choosing to wait until Sepang could be a smart strategy. There, with more time and test riders to help, Suzuki will have the resources to make quicker progress with the spec software. Honda, but especially Yamaha, showed that progress was possible, both Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi saying that their second day on the spec electronics had been much better than the first day. "Yesterday, the thing was it was just a check out of the system to understand how they work in which corner, but the power was not done to have the best performance," Jorge Lorenzo said. "We work on that for the next morning and I felt it was much better and I improved during all the day quite a bit." Valentino Rossi agreed. "From yesterday to today already the situation improved a lot. It is still not at the same level for sure, but it looks like we can improve I think quite quickly."
There was still room for improvement, however. "Especially the anti-wheelie is quite inconsistent sometimes," Lorenzo said. "I would like to have more anti-wheelie. And it doesn't give you the same support as the old version, it's quite free, it slides more, it's more inconsistent, the bike is moving more. In these three areas I would like to improve."
It is unlikely that Lorenzo's requests will be fulfilled completely, as there are no plans at the moment to radically expand functionality of the spec electronics. That does not mean there can be no improvements: Dorna head of technology Corrado Cecchinelli estimated that the teams are only using around 10% of the potential of the current system, with much more available as teams figured out the software and optimized all of the functions available. With time and work, he expected to see major steps forward.
"That is easier for Yamaha than for Honda," Dani Pedrosa said. "It’s the first time Honda has another manufacturer making electronics on our bike. It’s the first time for our technicians and riders." Both Honda riders complained that the system was very inconsistent for them, with the power delivery being a little unpredictable. The system was so radically different to the in-house software used by Honda throughout their history, that it was taking their engineers a while to figure it out. Yamaha and Ducati, on the other hand, have always had their electronics supplied by Magneti Marelli, so even though they wrote their own ECU software, the systems were very familiar.
Honda may have been struggling with the electronics, but that did not stop them from being the fastest men on the day. Dani Pedrosa led for a lot of the session, deposed later in the afternoon by Marc Márquez, both men down in the low 1'31s, Marc Márquez and Maverick Viñales both crashing as they pushed to go even faster, trying to crack the 1'30 barrier. Despite the speed, the Hondas were still trying to figure out the new electronics, as well as testing a 2016 spec engine. HRC had told us earlier in the day that they had tried to improve the power delivery, but neither Marc Márquez nor Dani Pedrosa were particularly convinced. Testing with the new software made it hard to assess the engine properly, they said, though Márquez hinted that it was still a little too aggressive.
Honda head to Jerez at the end of the month, for three more days of testing. They will give the new engine another try there, with that test possibly holding the key to Honda's performance in 2016. If both Pedrosa and Márquez sign off on an engine which turns out to be too powerful when it comes to the first race in Qatar, they will be stuck with it for a whole year again, with few chances to improve the bike. That is a serious concern for HRC, but whether Honda can resist the temptation to chase horsepower remains to be seen.
Honda held a press conference again Wednesday, and once again, they refused to produce the data which they had promised in the press release issued after Sepang. They did not want to "pour fuel on the fire" of the Márquez/Rossi situation, they said, and had been asked by Dorna and the FIM not to do anything to make the situation worse. Releasing the data from Márquez' Sepang crash would have done exactly that, reigniting the controversy which has raged for the past two weeks.
The root cause of the problem was the press release issued in the aftermath of the Sepang race. HRC had wanted to stick to the facts of the incident, paddock rumor suggests, and only point out that racing should be done fairly, and that Márquez should have been treated with greater respect in the press conference. Unfortunately, it was not only HRC who had a hand in the press conference, the gossips say. Márquez' entourage, and especially the group around Emilio Alzamora, had insisted that the press release contained a reference to a kick by Valentino Rossi. Including that allegation necessitated backing it up with data, hence the offer. It was not a position HRC were particularly pleased with, the gossips say.
To an extent, HRC were saved by the revelation that Casey Stoner is to join Ducati as a test rider for 2016. Normally, the loss of their superstar test rider would be a PR body blow for Honda, but now, with the media spotlight still on Valentino Rossi's allegations that Marc Márquez had helped Jorge Lorenzo, and neither Honda nor Yamaha happy about the situation, they were happy with the distraction. The media spotlight is easy to entice towards pastures new, and Casey Stoner coming back to Ducati is exactly the kind of story the media love. Even Ducati helped play their part, Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti coming to the media center to issue such a vague and non-specific denial that he might just as well have admitted it. In their press conference, Honda also spoke about it as if it had already happened, but without officially confirming it. After weeks of three names hogging the limelight, it was nice to talk about something else for a change.
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