Analyzing Sepang MotoGP Winter test 1 . . . Reading between the lines [ Manuel Pecino | Guest Blog ]
If you build a fictitious starting grid with Sepang’s test end results you probably will find one similar in the second part of last season. But fortunately there is some evidence that till the start of the championship things can change. And I say fortunately not because I want Marc stop winning, but because I would like to see the MotoGP competitiveness increased.
The circumstances seen on the field in Sepang allowed to say that cards have not been distributed yet because the technical aspect, a very important factor in category as MotoGP, is still open. Apart from Honda no other manufacturer did arrive in Malaysia in time with their new staff. In the case of Yamaha, for example, riders and technicians are waiting for the arrival of the “real” 2015 M1; the one used in these first tests can be called a preview of what has to come… In Ducati it was not even that. The bikes the two Andrea –Dovizioso and Ianone- rode in Malaysia were one more version of the GP14, in this case named GP14.3.
Meanwhile, in “Honda territory” Marquez and Pedrosa did have their 2015 machines. A situation that allowed both to do the important selection work that defines the direction to follow until the start of the season. From now on, Marc and Dani are supposed to focus in fine tune, in polish and adjust the chosen bikes. Honda starts so with an advantage, but to understand better where is everyone let’s analyze the situation of the five brands officially represented in MotoGP: Honda, Yamaha, Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia.
Honda: An exhibition of power
HRC’s deployment in Sepang was simply spectacular. While the other manufacturers showed up with their homework to be finished, Honda disembark was something like de D Day. Ten bikes, ten, were put on track, spread over the factory team, the official costumer bikes, the Open class bikes and the two test riders, Takahashi and Aoyama. And, of course, all the bikes were 2015 version…
Within this exhibition, the situation of the Team Repsol riders was… was… I don’t know how to explain it. Put yourselves the adjective: in Marquez´ and Pedrosa’s box there were up to seven! bikes to be tested. Yes, you read right… seven. Marc had four different RCV, Dani “only” three.
Marquez had his 2014 RCV, the RCV2015 tested in Valencia last November, an modified version of this bike and an other RCV2015 different from the previous ones, put together by the HRC engineers this winter…Is it or isn’t it spectacular? In Pedrosa’s garage the version missing was the evo of Valencia’s RCV2015.
After completing very intense test schedule, they left Sepang having quiet clear the way to follow. In both cases, the chosen bike was the last one; the Valencia option was completely discharged.
About the characteristics of the new bike, the best thing is to let the riders speak. “Honda is Honda”, pointed Pedrosa with a smile in his face. “A Honda has to be, by the company´ philosophy, the fastest bike on the straight. After that, the start to figure out how to make it turn…”
Precisely it was in this point, the corner entry, where were Marc and Dani worked more. Both ended the test quiet satisfied with the results and both agreed also that for the next test the focus will be on the rear part of their bikes.
Yamaha: waiting for the new seamless
Personally it fascinates me the way Yamaha manages their rivalry with Honda. Cleverly, o may be due experience, they know the can not get into an exchange of blows with the Honda colossus. No, Yamaha doesn’t fight in open field; his war is a guerrilla war. “I know Yamaha already for a long time”, explained to us journalists Valentino Rossi at Sepang. “The Yamaha philosophy is doing small steps on what they already have. They improve little by little in all areas. It is a system, which also allows to step back avoiding so great traumas if the try is mistaken. It is Yamaha’s way and it is OK for me”.
That is to say, while Honda is like a volcano, a force of nature capable to break and rip the existing and start from cero, Yamaha follows the step-by-step strategy…and as history shows, both approaches have given successful results to them.
The 2015 M1 didn’t show big changes. We could describe it as an evolution of the competitive 2014 bike of the second half of the season. Yes, of course there is an up date of the electronic management, and in Sepang Rossi and Lorenzo tested different swingarms and other staff we for sure not know. In general lines the bike’s performance was OK, was competitive, no surprises. And this known performance meant that Jorge and Valentino kept facing in their fight with the Hondas the two/three tenths wall per lap impossible to overcome.
It is a gap well known by the Yamaha engineers, a gap they have been working on along the whole winter. As Tsuji san -chief engineer of Yamaha’s MotoGP project- explained this difference will get neutralized with the arrival of the new seamless gearbox for the second Sepang test. It looks like that in the bench tests the new system cut an average of 2.2 seconds last year’s the race time. If the track reality matches with the indoor tests, Yamaha will give Rossi and Lorenzo the tools they asked for after the tests in Malaysia…Looking forward.
Ducati: waiting for the GP15
On the paper Ducati arrived at Sepang with their thinking more focused on the future GP15 than on the tests. But at the end of the three days practice sessions the atmosphere in the Borgo Panigale squad was full of optimism. And it had sense, because probably Ducati was the one, which took more profit on these tests.
With a last year bike that included some components and electronics we will see on the GP15, they played their cards very smartly. As happened in the second have of past season, Ianone and Dovizioso, especially the first one, managed to squeeze the maximum profit of their explosiveness on one single lap. With a tire the Hondas and the Yamahas were not allowed to use, both were able to get into the battle of the test best lap time. It’s true that in the real world, read a race, the important thing is the rhythm, and in this point the Ducati didn’t improve compared with last year, but being up there at the end of the day gave them the right to appear in the media headlines… Something that is also important.
Regarding the GP15 Gigi Dall’Igna said. “As you can imagine I can’t tell you how the new bike will look like, but let’s say that the engine will be more compact, that the electronics will be evolutioned… It will be a complete new bike compared with the actual one”.
The curiosity to see the new bike is big. Not only between us –journalists- and the fans, but also even for Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Ianone. Knowing this expectation, Ducati will do a curious especial launch in Borgo Panigale before the bike gets even on the track.
Suzuki: looking for reliability
Probably the Suzuki engineers won’t like what I am going to say, but in Sepang Aleix Espargaró and Maverick Viñales were above the performance of the GSX-RR. Seeing Aleix’s name tenth on the final result after riding a bike not less than 20 km/h slower than his rival’s, says how much effort the elder of the Espargaró brothers put in the Sepang test. OK, yes, I agree, it also means that Suzuki’s new MotoGP has big virtues in other areas that compensate the lack of pure performance. Very significant was also Viñales’ 12th place, immediately behind Cal Crutchlow official bike…Without doubt, Suzuki has two very talented and committed young sportsmen riding for them.
Suzuki arrived with a clear motto in Sepang: avoiding to get through the “torture” of seeing their engines stop as happened in Valencia and Jerez in the November tests. Reliability is so their number 1 priority and therefore the engineers have been working intensively during the winter. But inside information admitted that it hasn’t been fixed so far, so there was no other solution than cutting engine performance. No engine broke in Sepang.
Suzuki’s the commitment in his new MotoGP project is total, it was evident in Malaysia. Aleix had up to three bikes in his garage, and after the test he flew direct to Japan to undergo wind tunnel test looking to get a more aerodynamic fairing for him for the next test.
So far both riders are positive towards the actual situation. They understand the developing phase the project is in, and they realize that there is nobody more interested in making the bikes competitive than Suzuki itself. The key to keep this harmony will be the rhythm of progress the engineers will be able to fulfill. Because the rider’s timings rarely match with the one of the technicians. While the first ones are explosive by nature, the second ones are pragmatic by formation… Let’s see how the situation evolves.
Aprilia: hard work to do
Aprilia’s box in Sepang was at the very far end of the long pit lane, from my point of view in the best place to be. There, they were not inconvenienced too much and they could work calmly. With Romano Albesiano heading, Aprilia sent to Sepang a bike crew, showing that his comeback into GP is serious.
In their garage two different bikes: the one seen in the November test, now with pneumatic valves engine, and a complete new bike with new chassis, new swingarm, new airbox, new fuel tank… as said, a brand new bike… But unfortunately it was a complete fiasco. Alvaro Bautista said to me when I asked him about what exactly didn’t work on that bike: “Nothing works, nothing…It doesn’t turn, it doesn’t stop when you brake…It simply doesn’t work… Somebody did design this bike on a theoretic way, how it should be on the rules, but on the real world it is unusable”. It might be said louder, but no clearer… As seen in Sepang, the sensation is that for Aprilia 2015 will be a championship they will race against themselves.