So the Sepang test is over, what did we learn from it? As usual, a lot but not a lot. I learned a long time ago not to place too much stock in testing times as I think I have noted before. There are far too many variables at work at tests to make any real, concrete predictions. Here are the times at the end of Day 3, courtesy of motogp.com
Unsurprisingly, Marquez finished every session and the final day on top of the times sheets but not by as big a margin as some have been expecting. The updated gearbox seems to be doing the job as does the revised electronics package, designed to take into account the reduction in fuel capacity this year, down from 21 litres to 20 kicks in. In connection with both those factors let me recommend David Emmet’s brilliant essay on the state of play in that area.
There are numerous aspects of the test that are worthy of comment apart from David’s assessment above. Here are a few.
1. Why is Pedrosa so much slower than Marquez? From memory he never recorded a faster time than MM93 all three days, and he finished nearly 3/4 of a second adrift. Well, testing is when riders and teams try different parts and different combinations so it could be that Pedrosa was being the test “mule” while MM93 was the “hare”, sent out there to show the rest of the teams just what they will have to chase this year. But, Pedrosa IS the senior rider, starting his 9th year at Repsol Honda (oh, and speaking of which, big congratulations to Repsol and Honda on the 20th anniversary of their partnership being formed). In any event, there seems little doubt that Repsol/Honda have shifted their team’s total focus behind the new kid and that Pedrosa, without his mentor and bully-boy, Alberto Puig, in a position of authority within the team, is being increasingly marginalised. Expect this to be his last season at the Big H (more of that later)
2. Why is Lorenzo so much slower than Rossi? (or, to put that another way, why is Rossi so much faster than Lorenzo?) 2 tenths isn’t much, but it’s bragging rights and JL99 won’t like it a bit. Word is that Yamaha have addressed Rossi’s concerns about braking and front-end feel and have rejigged the bike so that it more suits Rossi’s style. The problem is that, if you set up the bike to suit Rossi’s more “point and shot” style, (a la Marquez), you make the bike less friendly for Lorenzo who favours the classic 250-style, classic racing lines of swooping through the corners keeping everything in line. So why have Yamaha seemingly compromised JL99’s chances in favour of the 35 year old Rossi’s? Well, here’s a possibility. Last season and the season before that, Honda dangled the carrot big time, hoping to secure Lorenzo. They failed both times as JL99’s loyalty genes kicked in. It is already being mooted that the Big H has again offered mega-buck to have Lorenzo partner Marquez in 2015 (bye-bye, Dani). Add to this the rumour that Ducati are also flush with cash and would like to have the two-times champion on their books and it gets very interesting indeed. What if JL99 has ALREADY signed a letter of intent with either of these teams for 2015? It’s not beyond the realms. If he HAS and Yamaha have found out about it (it’s pretty hard to keep any sort of secret in this game, let alone one that big), then that might explain why Yamaha are throwing their weight behind Rossi and changing the bike so that it suits him more than Lorenzo. All speculation, of course, but…
3. Yamaha have jumped the queue in the “Open” class. By offering what is basically last year’s bike on a lease-only basis, they have gazzumped Honda who are selling a much lower spec racer to teams who want to compete in the class and the times clearly show that. The talented Aleix Espargaro was fourth fastest on the final day with a time that was less than half a seconds slower than Marquez. The best of the “Open” Hondas was Hayden in 13th place nearly TWO SECONDS behind MM93. HRC officials were looking very unhappy with some even hinting that they may have misread the rules as to what could and couldn’t be done in the class.
4. Ducati? Pretty much the same. Despite the usual PR claptrap about “productive test” and “moving forward” and the usual drivel, Ducati remains mired, down amongst the dead men. Dovi almost a second slower and Cal 1.5 seconds off the pace. I remind you that, being 1 second off the pace means that you finish 28 seconds behind the leader at the end of a 28 lap race, does that sound familiar? Clearly a complete redesign of the bike is necessary. Throw it out and start again with a clean slate, it’s the only way.
5. After being confirmed as Suzuki’s test rider for 2014 (and, hopefully some wild-card appearances) Randy de Puniet was nearly 3 seconds off the pace in the new Suzuki. It seems that remapping the bike to make it more economical (it’s apparently a very thirsty little bugger) has taken the edge off the power. More work required.
6. Spot times vs long run times. Most teams will play it very cagy with times knowing that the other teams are watching as is the media. Some riders will go out with a specific brief to only go really fast in one or two sectors after which the team engineers will evaluate the data without the confusion of other background data. But most teams will try and do a full-race simulation at some stage to see how all the changes that they have made have worked. And it is in this area that Marquez’s domination becomes truly apparent. Comparing his full-race times to the others shows that he would have been between 10 and 15 seconds in front had the simulations all taken place at the same time of the day.
So, the next test is again at Sepang on the last weekend of February. Hopefully the weather will be better than that in Valencia where the Moto2 and Moto3 teams are freezing their nuts off doing their first pre-season testing.
I know she won’t read this, but happy 85th birthday to my mum today.