Ten Top Facts From The Qatar MotoGP Test Lorenzo leads the way, Suzuki is back, and Ducati looks ready to fight.
The final preseason MotoGP test finally came to an end. The bikes will remain in the garages until the opening round of the 2016 MotoGP season that will take place on the same circuit under the floodlights on March 20. This year, there were nine days of official testing for the MotoGP-class riders, first in Malaysia at Sepang, Australia at Phillip Island, and then Qatar. There is no more time to make drastic changes to the machines. The first race will determine the first verdict, but the final test confirmed that Yamaha is still the bike to beat, Honda is struggling more than expected, Ducati made a good step forward, the Suzuki–Vinales was the true revelation of winter testing–is very competitive, while Aprilia debuted its new prototype, but there is still a long development work to do.
The M1 is confirmed to be the most balanced bike on the grid, able to set the pace on all three challenging tracks and in extreme and different temperature conditions. Jorge Lorenzo impressed when going for a single fast lap, and was fast running a race pace on longer runs; he set the fastest time in Malaysia and in Qatar. He is the man to beat. Despite two crashes at Turn 10, Rossi was satisfied with his race pace and he was able to stay toward the front. The nine days of testing didn’t reveal any big issues to solve, and Yamaha appeared to be the bike that has better adapted to the new-for-2016 Michelin tires, and has also found the best setup with the new electronics. With a race simulation done only on the final day, the only doubt can be consistency over race distance, but Yamaha’s engineers are very confident about this point.
Honda is struggling to manage all the technical changes introduced this season: a different engine, the new mandatory electronics software, and the spec Michelin tires. Marquez is still suffering on the corner exits; but despite this fact, #93 still succeeded to reduce the gap to the lead, improving by nearly half a second and finishing the final day in fourth position, .0592 back from reigning world champion Lorenzo. On his long run he was closer to Lorenzo, due to a radical change made on his RC213V. He left Qatar with a big smile. “We have seen the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Marquez at the end of the third and final day. “We went back to having a good feeling on the bike, and even though I crashed I know why it happened. We have improved a lot. We changed the bike completely.” What changed in such a short time? The mystery, if there is one, will be discovered in two weeks time at the opening race.
In his fourth season at Ducati, Andrea Dovizioso reassured the press after the Australian test that the final standing positions didn’t reflect the potential of the Desmosedici GP. “We are working on the details,” he said. “We were not looking for the lap times.” The Qatar test confirmed that Ducati can face the 2016 season among the protagonists. The atmosphere in the garage is very positive and confident, but there is some concern over the mechanical issues that have complicated the lives of the factory riders in all three test sessions. Andrea Iannone and Dovizioso showed a consistent pace and there is also satisfaction when looking at the performance of the satellite riders. With the injured Danilo Petrucci out of the Qatar test, Scott Redding set a superb second place time on the final day at Losail and Hector Barbera was in the top 10.
The duo of Suzuki and Vinales have been the true revelations of the MotoGP preseason. The Qatar test confirmed the good momentum shown at Phillip Island. On top of the timesheets on day two in Australia, Vinales repeated the feat on day two at Qatar and finished third on day three, a half a second from Lorenzo. In 2015, the lack of power was the main problem, now the GSX-RR has made a huge step forward and is closer to Honda and Yamaha in terms of top speed, while the 21-year old Spaniard has gained experience and confidence. The Japanese company based in Hamamatsu brought a fully seamless gearbox and two types of chassis (the 2015 and 2016 version) to test. Vinales is clearly comfortable with the Michelin tires, and the seamless transmission proved beneficial, the results surely give him an extra boost in terms of confidence. He can be among the protagonists, especially in Qatar. His teammate Aleix Espargaro is regaining some feeling with his GSX-RR but was still far off of the pace in 15th (1.609 back).
The new 2016 Aprilia RS-GP made its debut at Losail. Light, compact and with very good handling, the RS-GP is the first true MotoGP bike entirely designed, developed and built by Aprilia. Including the RS-GP engine, a unit characterized by its exclusive narrow V4 architecture. An aggressive engine and chassis development program is underway with updates that will arrive early in the season. At Noale, they are also working on the aerodynamics. When will it join the winglet brigade? “We are working on them,” joked Romano Albesiano, the Aprilia boss. Regarding lap times there is still a considerable gap to the lead (over 2 seconds for both Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista who finished 18th and 21st). The base is good but there is still a lot of work to do. “We will use the first races to do the development,” said Bautista. “I hope to be competitive starting from Jerez.”
The new winglet trend set last year by Ducati has infected Honda and Yamaha, too. The Honda RC213V showed its first set of aerodynamic winglets: tiny little triangles on the side of the fairing pointing down a bit. Tested first by Aoyama, Marc Marquez didn’t feel too much difference. According to him, the winglets aren’t as effective solving the wheeling problem they have on a fast track like Losail. Jorge Lorenzo’s Yamaha was equipped with big wings on the front. Who will be next? The pioneers of the wings, the factory Ducati team, run the winglets only on the front and not on the side, while the Pramac Team rode with the Ducati GP15 only on the sides.
Part of the the purpose of the test was to define which compound Michelins to bring to the race. There were three different compound choices for the rear, and a new front profile that was selected during the Australian test (but a different compound was tested at Losail). The rear was confirmed and approved, and Michelin has selected the two that will be available for the race, while many riders, especially Yamaha’s Lorenzo and Rossi complained about the front. “The front tires started well but considering that the track conditions changed a lot between the first and the third day, lap times changed drastically for some riders,” said Michelin’s Nicolas Goubert. “The hard choice was fine, but we had some degrading issues with the soft, so we will bring a more robust compound for the race.” Also, the final day was filled with crashes. Still too many compared to last year. As Andrea Dovizioso said: “We still had too many crashes in the test and this could be a problem for the tight schedule during a race weekend.” Adaptation to the Michelin tires has become imperative for all the riders.
Despite difficulties shown in the winter tests, don’t rule out Dani Pedrosa for the title chase. The 31-year old factory Honda rider has ridden in 244 GPs, has 51 victories (28 in MotoGP), 141 podium finishes and three world titles (one in 125cc and two in 250cc) under his belt. Only a crown in the premiere class is missing. These are numbers that confirm Pedrosa’s talent, but also a career marked by too many injuries and incidents that prevented him from meeting the final goal. The Spaniard doesn’t start the season as one of the favorites, as he appears a bit off of the pace of Lorenzo, Rossi, and Marquez, but he is the only rider to win races other than those guys in past couple of seasons.
9. Casey Stoner
MotoGP fans that were waiting for a second outing from two-time MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner on the Desmosedici GP were disappointed. A test scheduled by Ducati after the official IRTA test was cancelled because according to the regulations it is not possible to test on the same track 14 days before a Grand Prix. Ducati had calculated 14 days from the Sunday race and not from the very first day of practice. The Aussie will probably test the Desmosedici immediately after the Qatar GP at the Losail track.
10. Danilo Petrucci
The funny Italian rider who proved to be very competitive at Sepang and Phillip Island on his Ducati GP15 is still recovering from surgery following the incident in Australia where he broke the second, third and fourth fingers on his right hand. He will probably miss the opening round. Who will replace him? Once again, MotoGP and Ducati fans who were hoping for the return of Stoner will be disappointed. If necessary, Petrucci will be replaced by Ducati test rider Michele Pirro, who has contributed considerably to the development of the GP15 and the Desmosedici GP.