In the pursuit of radical cost-cutting measures, testing has been one of the main targets of all parties involved in the MotoGP series. Post-race testing has already been cut back to what many perceive to be the bare minimum, with one-day tests after the Barcelona and Brno MotoGP rounds, but the cuts to winter testing have been nothing short of radical. Instead of six or seven multi-day tests, as was the case in 2007 and 2008, winter tests have been cut back to just three true winter tests, plus testing after the final race of the season at Valencia.
The testing season kicks off on the Tuesday and Wednesday after Valencia - traditionally the time at which riders switching teams get their first shot at their new bikes. There will then be a three-month layoff during which no testing will be done at all, before the teams head out to Malaysia for a couple of two-day sessions, starting on the 4th and 21st of February. Three weeks later, the teams return to Qatar for another two-day test from March 14th, in preparation for the season opener four weeks later.
The new test schedule sees a break with tradition and the end of a pre-season aperitif: Apart from the traditional post-race tests at Valencia, no testing will be done in Europe during the off-season. What this also means is an end to the official IRTA tests in Spain, which had turned into something of a crowd pleaser over the past few years, with upwards of 35,000 fans turning up to watch the single one-hour qualifying session shootout for a BMW M coupe, referred to by the fans as "Grand Prix Zero". As yet, it is unclear whether the shootout for the BMW will take place at the final test at Qatar or not, but all the signs are that this, too, has been consigned to history.
The rationale behind the testing schedule is simple: Transport costs have been reduced to a minimum, requiring only a couple of relocations for the vast mass of equipment that a MotoGP test demands. And having tests at Sepang and Qatar offers the best chance of testing under dry and warm conditions. Of course, the whole point of testing is to put a range of parts through their paces, to try and find the best solution to making the bikes go faster, and so the factory teams in particular will be bringing more parts between tests as they are developed. But there will still be a large amount of equipment that can go into temporary storage and not require to be flown halfway around the world just for a couple of weeks.
In comparison, the Moto2 class has a relatively full testing schedule. The first official test is planned for March 1st-3rd, at the Valencia circuit, followed by two more three-day tests at Jerez, from 6th-8th of March, and then from 27th-29th of that month. With 9 days of testing, the series should get off to a decent start, though the fact that all of the Moto2 class' testing takes place within the space of a month begs the question of how much time that leaves for development.
The restriction of testing raises more questions, about the viability of switching from one motorcycle manufacturer to another. Nicky Hayden is a case in point: his improvement aboard the Ducati GP9 has come immediately after the two mid-season testing sessions at Barcelona and Brno, seeing the Kentucky Kid leaping from sorry backmarker to podium candidate. Yet when asked at Indianapolis whether the lack of winter testing would make it too risky to switch manufacturers, Hayden agreed with Valentino Rossi and Toni Elias that it was still possible, though perhaps a little more difficult.