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So testing is done and dusted – at Qatar, quite literally, once the wind picks up – and the pile of parts each factory brought has been sifted through, approved, or discarded. The factories are as ready as they are ever going to be for the first race in Qatar, at which point the real work starts. Testing will only tell you so much; it is only in the race that the last, most crucial bits of data are revealed: how bikes behave in the slipstream; how aggressive racing lines treat tires in comparison to fast qualifying and testing lines; whether all those fancy new holeshot devices will help anyone to get into the Turn 1 ahead of the pack. Only during the race do factories and riders find out whether the strategy they have chosen to pursue will actually work.
So after three days of the Qatar test, what have we learned? In these notes:
Honda, from catastrophe to optimism courtesy of old bodywork
The 2019 MotoGP season was a long, hard road for Aprilia. The hiring of Massimo Rivola as CEO of Aprilia meant that the development of the RS-GP came to a standstill while he first straightened out Aprilia's organization, and allowing Romano Albesiano to concentrate on building a brand new machine, with a 90° V4 engine, from the ground up.
It was a major gamble. Aprilia was throwing away four years of development in MotoGP, and starting almost from scratch again. The Noale factory had a lot of new data to go on, but they had to make the right choices in so many areas that it would be easy to find themselves chasing down a blind alley.
The gamble seems to have paid off handsomely. Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia test rider Bradley Smith were wildly enthusiastic about the new RS-GP. "I didn't really expect that with a bike as new as this, that I would be as competitive as I am," Espargaro said. "Even with 20 laps on the tires, I can do 1'59s, it's unbelievable how fast I was. I think that with this RS-GP, the bike is a lot more close to the podium."
Yesterday, we answered the first batch of questions from Subscribers which they had after the first Sepang test. Those questions covered subjects such as Ducati's development direction, KTM's new chassis, whether Aprilia is willing to spend enough to succeed, what KTM does about Jorge Martin, and what Alex Rins might achieve in 2020.
Today we answer some more questions, including the following:
- Jack Miller – what is he capable of?
- Jorge Lorenzo's race pace
- Dani Pedrosa's contribution to KTM
- Can Suzuki succeed without the big budget of other factories?
So here we go with more of your questions:
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The Sepang MotoGP test answered a few of the questions which had been raised over the winter break, since the end of testing at Jerez in November. You can read my preliminary conclusions, reached directly after the test, here, as a primer.
Though the Sepang test answered some questions, it raised many more for some of you. Last weekend, I asked MotoMatters.com subscribers to submit their questions for me to try to answer. I received a lot of questions, 27 in total, and so many that I will have to split the answers into several parts.
So below are the answers to the following questions:
The Sepang MotoGP test ended a week ago, and we have already published a bunch of articles on what we saw at the test. But now it's time to open up the floor to you, our subscribers. Do you have any questions about what went down at the Sepang test, or what we learned? Want to know about a particular rider or bike?
One of the big talking points from last week's Sepang MotoGP test was the performance of the new Michelin rear tire. The new construction tire, first tested at the Barcelona test in June 2019, met with widespread praise. The new rear had more grip, both on the edge of the tire, and in the traction area, the slightly fatter part of the tire which riders use just as they pick up the bike on exit.
The new tire was popular with everyone, although some riders believed it benefited the bikes which use a lot of corner speed, like Yamaha and Suzuki, more than the point-and-squirt bikes like the Honda and Ducati. Riders who carried a lot of corner speed could immediately use the additional edge grip. Riders who needed to pick up the bike and drive out of corners felt they needed more time to understand how to get the most out of the tire.
The Yamaha riders were overwhelmingly positive about the new rear Michelin. "Since the first lap I did on those tires in Montmelo last year, I felt really good," Maverick Viñales said. "Also for the way I pick up the bike, it's quite good."
Monster Energy Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi agreed, but pointed out that the new Michelins benefited everybody. "The tires from Michelin are better," the Italian said. "This is good but unfortunately the tire from Michelin are for everybody. So we make the step but also the other guys."
Franco Morbidelli described the tire as filling in the holes where the Yamaha lacked drive and grip in 2019. "The new tire gives more grip and it fills our emptiness with grip that we had last year, so that's positive for us. This tire performs better so edge grip and drive grip."
If anybody tells you it is easy to make modern day Superbikes truly competitive with fixed tech rules that are identical for every bike, smile warmly and move on to a more stimulating, reality-based conversation. Possibly the single most difficult thing to do is make sure the final on-track performance of what started out as commercial products in the market place, all with their own unique marketing USPs and familial DNA helices, is to design the final tech rules. After all, some donor bikes are still relatively cheap and low-tech and some are sold right on the forty grand limit for eligible WorldSBK machines, complete with an electronics suite fit to control the International Space Station. Or even a design concept that is MotoGP-driven, rather than coming with an extended warranty requirement in the original engineering brief.
Enter a plethora of performance rules for WorldSBK, which extend to cost-capped parts and approved racing parts, which can include concession parts, as one profound balancing rule element if your bike qualifies. But all of these operate under the catch-all of the ultimate balancing rule - Maximum Rev Limits.
There, I capitalised the initial letters, to show how significant this one can be.
What can you learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? A lot, and not a lot. The balance of power on the MotoGP grid already seems to have shifted, for all sorts of reasons. The construction used on the 2020 rear Michelin tire is having a major impact on the performance of the bikes, with more grip available in all conditions, and more durability. But because the tire has changed, it will take at least the first part of the season for the factories and riders to figure out how to get the most out of the tire. That means we are likely in for a fair few surprises throughout the year. This could be like 2016 again, some inside Michelin believe.
That doesn't mean that we can share the championship spoils out among the bikes which are ahead at the Sepang test already. The test raised more questions than it answered. It's not so much that factories and riders were sandbagging, more that so much is new this year that most factories are closer to the beginning of their development project than the end. Add in the complication of Marc Márquez coming off his second shoulder surgery in two seasons – and Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the same boat – and there are more unknowns than knowns. The balance is likely to shift several times though the 2020 season. Which is good for fans, though it tends to annoy the manufacturers.