With pre-season testing for the 2020 MotoGP campaign now wrapped up, Motorsport Week looks back across the six days of official running-held at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia and Losail International Circuit in Qatar-to find the main talking points heading into the first event at the latter venue next weekend.
Yamaha redemption complete?
皇冠体育投注The most obvious-and somewhat unsurprising-observation is the continued breathtaking speed of ’19 rookie sensation Fabio Quartararo.
The Frenchman had a productive winter, penning a deal to join the factory Yamaha team from next year to replace Valentino Rossi, while also receiving a brand new 20-spec M1 with which to campaign with his Petronas SRT satellite outfit this year.
皇冠体育投注He duly went on to dominate the first test at Sepang, leading all three days before also topping the second day in Qatar-Alex Rins and Maverick Vinales the only men to deny him across both tests.
Quartararo’s race simulation-posted on the final day in Qatar- also proved formidable as he lapped consistently in the 1:54s, while every other rider that carried out a comparable run struggled to dip below the 1:55 mark-including team-mate Franco Morbidelli.
Aside from Quartararo though it has to be said Yamaha look particularly strong, the M1 the only motorcycle to break into the 1:53s in Qatar-a feat achieved by both Vinales and Morbidelli-the former just three-tenths down on the pole position time he achieved last year.
Does this mean that Yamaha head into the season expected to dominate?
Of course not-particularly as most of the field was covered by less than a second across both tests-but it has to be said that they collectively look to have the strongest package right now.
Honda’s Qatar struggles
皇冠体育投注On the opposite side of the spectrum though is Honda, which struggled significantly for speed throughout the second test.
皇冠体育投注The RC213V looked decent at Sepang-Cal Crutchlow particularly potent as he posted a pair of top four times across the three days-but things took a turn for the worse Losail.
All four riders struggled with front end feel, forcing HRC to borrow one of Takaaki Nakagami’s ’19 spec machines for Marc Marquez in order to try and get to the bottom of their issues.
This worked, with Marquez and Honda deducing that the newly-designed front wings on their new challenger were in fact taking away the front end feel-with their removal instantly proving an advantage.
Marquez posted the seventh quickest lap-just 0.291 down on Vinales’ final day benchmark- the relived world champion sporting a buoyant figure compared to the first two days.
皇冠体育投注“Yesterday (Sunday) I was quite worried about the situation, both from the physical side and the motorcycle,” said Marquez following the final day.
“But today we took a good step, we now understand many things.
“I was really struggling to feel the bike, I had a strange crash here and also one in Malaysia, but luckily the last hour was really good and now we understand a lot of things.”
皇冠体育投注Marquez has more to worry about than the speed of his Honda though, as his injured shoulder continues to make very slow progress.
He’ll be fine to ride at Qatar next weekend, but whether it will cause him problems in the closing stages of the race is another matter.
Is Aprilia finally a front runner?
皇冠体育投注One of the biggest anticipations of the Sepang test was the performance of Aprilia’s all-new RS-GP, the Italian manufacturer pulling out all the stops to make sure it could finally consistently join the fray towards the sharp end of the grid.
It’s been known for a while the new machine would incorporate a new powertrain similar to the ones used by Ducati and Honda, as well as a freshly-developed chassis twinned with an extensive aerodynamic package.
皇冠体育投注Aprilia needed a rebirth, having struggled to reach the big time since re-joining MotoGP competition ahead of the 2015 season- a handful of sixth places since then its best results in the championship.
皇冠体育投注Lead rider Aleix Espargaro became ever more exasperated last year as Aprilia struggled to develop the previous generation RS-GP, leading to the appointment of ex-F1 man Massimo Rivola to lead the team, while predecessor Romano Albesiano moved across to head the technical department.
皇冠体育投注Happily for Aprilia the rejig seems to have worked, Espargaro praising the new bike at Sepang-even going as far to say he could have fought for the podium had the race been held directly afterwards.
The new RS-GP looked to be particularly strong during race runs, with Espargaro a regular fixture in and around the top ten across all six days of testing.
Bradley Smith-who undertook the bulk of running alongside Espargaro due to the absence of Andrea Iannone as he awaits the result of his doping hearing-struggled to get off the bottom of the table, but it’s likely he’ll close up should he need to deputise for the Italian next weekend.
Suzuki-title challengers at last?
Another organisation that heads into the Qatar grand prix on a wave of confidence is Suzuki, the plucky Japanese marque consistently posting top three times- with at least one of their two race riders featuring on the metaphorical podium in five of the six days across Sepang and Qatar-including a 1-2 on the timesheets on the opening day at Losail.
Alex Rins had a breakthrough ’19 season, scoring two victories on his way to fourth in the riders standings-leading many to predict him as one of the main championship contenders this year.
His form during testing-as well as that of rapidly improving team-mate Joan Mir-looks to promise this very outcome.
皇冠体育投注To be so consistently at the sharp end of the times when the field is covered by the proverbial blanket-even though it’s only testing- points to Suzuki certainly being a greater threat for more wins, with greater consistency the aim of the game if it wants to secure its first MotoGP title since 2000.
What about Ducati and KTM?
The short answer here is that the outlook looks good for both manufacturers.
Ducati has very much taken a quiet approach to testing this year, with its main quartet of riders posting strong times across the six days of running-although it caused a stir with the discovery of a trick new ride-height adjustment system.
皇冠体育投注It was later revealed that Pramac racer Jack Miller had run the system-that allows the rider to lower the rear ride height of the GP20 in order to increase aerodynamic efficiency on the straights before returning to normal before the corners- since the Thailand GP in October.
Strong race simulations from Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso hint at their potential for the new season despite them not lighting up the timing screens, although we’ll likely have to wait until the US GP to see where the GP20 really stacks up against its rivals-the Qatar event always a strong one for the Desmosedici.
皇冠体育投注KTM meanwhile also enjoyed a largely quiet and productive test-aside from a stunning third fastest time from test rider Dani Pedrosa on the second day at Sepang- the updated RC16 also looking good, although their place in the pecking order is tough to ascertain at the moment.
皇冠体育投注A mention must also go to MotoGP rookie Brad Binder, who impressed with a ninth fastest time-less than half-a-second down on Vinales’ scintillating effort-on the final day in Qatar.
The South African is under pressure to prove he deserves his factory KTM berth over Tech 3 man Miguel Oliveria, the sophomore racer passed over for the main seat following the exit of Johann Zarco.
Joahnn Zarco looked to be struggling to adapt to his Avintia-run Ducati GP19 throughout Sepang running and the early part of Qatar, but stormed to an impressive sixth fastest time by close of play on the second day at Losail.
The Frenchman has always been magic in qualifying trim, and he certainly has work to regarding his race pace judging by his race runs-averaging at around a second-per-lap down on Quartararo at Qatar.
皇冠体育投注With a factory Ducati seat potentially going next year though, it’s imperative that Zarco quickly adapts to his machine in order to complete what would be a stunning turnaround, having looked to be destined for a Yamaha testing role after his tumultuous KTM stint just a matter of months ago.
Takaaki Nakagami quietly impressed meanwhile despite not being granted his wish for a current-spec Honda he so craved last year, the Japanese pilot continuing to recover from the shoulder injury that forced him to skip the final three races of his ’19 campaign.
While he took it steady at Sepang-not ending any of the three days within the top 20-he took a large step for Qatar, managing a pair of strong top ten fastest efforts across the final couple of days-significantly outpacing LCR team-mate Crutchlow in the process.
As it is for Zarco, ’20 is an important year for Nakagami as he aims to show Honda what they’re missing by not entrusting him with a new evolution RC213-V.
皇冠体育投注With little over a week remaining until the class of ’20 line-up on the start grid under the lights of the Losail International Circuit for the opening contest of the season many questions remain over the true pecking order we will see throughout the year, but one thing is for sure;
We are in for a truly brilliant season of MotoGP competition.