If there’s one thing 2020 preseason has taught us to expect, it’s some serious speed from Yamaha and Suzuki. At the close of testing before the first race weekend of the year it was Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) getting into the 1m53s with a 1m53.858 to head the pile. And Franco Morbidelli (Petronas Yamaha SRT) wasn’t too far behind, just 0.033s in arrears, with Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) in third a couple of tenths back. Fourth? Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT), as the in-line fours came out on top in the desert.
At Yamaha, the Day 3 time-sheets made for good reading and even more so overall, as Quartararo was third fastest in the combined standings. Viñales has looked like the man with the threatening race pace with Quartararo extremely close to him, Morbidelli has been consistently quick and Valentino Rossi (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) seems happy and fast despite not being quite as far up the order (P12 overall). The ‘Doctor’ rarely is before race day, however…
Maverick Vinales – P1
“Today has been a really good day for us because we have been working with very used tyres, especially when the conditions were difficult. We were trying to adapt ourselves when the conditions weren‘t good. I tried my best with used tyres because sometimes in the race you get a kind of difficult feeling. So, I tried to understand what I have to do when the condition is not good on the track. I‘m very happy, the team has been working in a really good way. Six days of testing, and I feel good with the bike. I feel the bike is there, and now we need to continue working, because there‘s a good progression but it‘s still not enough. Honestly, I enjoyed these last three days on the bike so much. For sure it‘s going to be a long week, so I can‘t wait for next Friday and especially Sunday on the grid.”
Valentino Rossi – P12
“First of all, it is incredible because also today we have fifteen riders within maybe half a second. It‘s like Moto2, so this is very good for the championship, the fans, and the races, because it looks like there‘s a good balance between the different riders and bikes. Today we are a little bit worried, not so much about the position – unfortunately I crashed with the second tyre and I think I could have improved the lap time – but more about the pace. We tried to make some long runs, but we had some problems with the tyres very similar to last year, so it looks like, that after some laps, unfortunately I have to slow down and this is not good news. But now the tests are finished we will see during the race weekends. In the races it‘s always different.”
It wasn’t all perfect reading for Yamahe though. Quartararo suffered a technical issue on Sunday and on Monday, and Rossi crashed on Day 3 – rider ok. Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team Director Massimo Meregalli was pleased with the progress made with improved grip and on acceleration, saying the 2020 package “is very competitive.”
Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team Director Massimo Meregalli
“Overall, we are very satisfied with the work done over the last three days. This test was crucial to make sure we are in a competitive condition before we return here within two weeks for the Qatar GP. We‘ve seen both our riders make good steps and we managed to finish the entire 2020 testing programme, so we feel ready to start racing. Maverick is looking really strong. Of course, it‘s a nice confidence boost to have him in first place in the timesheets, but it‘s mostly his race pace that we are pleased with. Valentino suffered a small crash, which is easily done when the humidity increases and the temperatures go down, especially since he was pushing. Luckily, he was uninjured and could continue riding. Over the next week we will analyse his data and focus on improving his tyre life. Anyway, he is not far from the top, so we expect him to be in contention at the front. All in all, we feel eager to start the season!”
Quartararo said his race simulation on Day 3 was very pleasing, pretty much every lap was in the 1:54s and the Frenchman didn’t go for a proper time attack – the 20-year-old going as far as saying “there’s margin for more”. That bodes very well for the 2019 Rookie of the Year.
“It has been a positive final test in Qatar, before the first round in less than two weeks at the same circuit. Franco and Fabio are getting more comfortable on their respective machines and have simulated many different situations for the race. It looks tight at the top of the standings, especially the top-six, but we are confident that our boys will be there come the Qatar race.”
Wilco Zeelenberg – SRT Yamaha Team Manager
“The winter test is now finished and I can say that we did what we needed to do and both guys were in the top three, second and third, in this test overall. I’m very pleased with the result and of course we know it’s a test, but it’s important to have the speed and to do all the things that we did. It was also very important to have the right feeling for the race simulation. I’m very pleased with both riders’ results: Fabio was clearly fast like last year but now Franco has made a step up and also proven how quick he is with a top three result. Yamaha promised us two good spec bikes and clearly they have given us this. We are now looking forward to the race next week.”
Franco Morbidelli – P2
“It was a positive test for us overall. We closed the gap to the top little by little and today the pace was really good. The hot lap was also very good, so I’m happy about that. We will take the positives and try to improve even more and make a good job in the race, which is the most important thing. I’m very happy about this pre-season and I think that we have a good feeling straight away from Sepang. I felt more comfortable with the bike, maybe because I know it better, and here in Qatar we made progress and we just have to keep on going like this.”
Fabio Quartararo – P4
“We did a race simulation and the pace was really good so I’m very happy, the pace was in the 1min 54secs for almost all of the simulation. We didn’t do a real time attack but we are still quite fast, less than two tenths behind the other guys. I think we can improve this as I made a mistake on my fast lap. For the GP weekend I want to improve the fast lap as we know it is normally our speciality but today we didn’t do it. I know we can do it for the first round though and I’m really happy about the job we did today.”
The main job for Team Suzuki Ecstar, meanwhile, was to continue comparing the standard and new chassis, nothing radically new was on the GSX-RRs of Rins and Joan Mir as they focused on the finer details: adjustments in setup and gathering data for the race. Mir was sixth on Day 3 and the combined timesheets. Along with Yamaha, Suzuki look arguably in the best shape ahead of the Qatar GP with both the Sepang and Qatar Tests proving very good for the Hamamatsu factory. Rins confirmed he is “so happy” with the work done over the three days at Losail International Circuit – and Mir echoed his thoughts too.
Ken Kawauchi – Suzuki Technical Manager
“It was a good test, both riders have finished the winter testing on good form, and they’ve done very well. We were able to confirm important things to do with the engine spec. and the chassis and now everything is in place for us to start racing with this package. I’m really looking forward to the first round!”
Davide Brivio – Team Manager
“The testing has gone well, and we feel positive because we followed our plan to create and confirm the final package – but the true test will be when we start racing! Now we can homologate the parts that we’ve confirmed and begin preparing for the start of the season. Both our riders have shown really good pace, so we’re happy with that, especially as it was only testing. Both Alex and Joan are feeling relaxed and well prepared.”
Alex Rins – P4
“I’m so happy; I was first on day one, second on day two, and third on day three! Sincerely, we tested everything we needed to, and the team worked so well. We’ve taken a step forward compared with last year and I feel confident, at least for the first race. I like to take things step-by-step, so I’m not thinking long term at the moment, but I’m certainly ready for FP1 in less than two weeks! The Top 15 riders are really close, so I think it will be an exciting Grand Prix.”
Joan Mir – P6
“It’s been a successful test; I improved my lap times and my pace each day and I feel really happy with the bike. Now we just have to continue like this because everything is going in the right direction. We’re really close to the top guys and we have strong pace, but in the race it can be a different story. The Team have done an incredible job, so let’s see what happens!”
Breaking the domination in the top five was a job for Jack Miller (Pramac Racing) on Day 3. The Australian was the top Ducati in fifth, 0.247 off the top, and said he completed a couple of time attacks and two longer runs. The number 43 is “quietly confident” heading into the opening weekend of the season, and clocked the fastest-ever top speed at Losail, a ridiculous 355 km/h…
Jack Miller – P5
“It was a good day, we did 2 long runs and the second one was better, where I improved my race pace. With the medium tires my feeling was much better, we can still improve a lot and I am confident that before GP we will find the answers we are looking for.”
In the Bologna factory camp, Danilo Petrucci (Ducati Team) was sporting new front aero on one of his bikes, while his other GP20 had the older aero fitted. The Italian said he was pleased with his 22-lap race simulation on Day 3, but the one-lap pace still needs work ahead of the Grand Prix. Team-mate Andrea Dovizioso was still trying the new swingarm.
Ducati Team Manager Davide Tardozzi said the engine is working very well but corner speed – especially on maximum lean angle at the apex – still needs work. In addition, Tardozzi said they are experiencing some issues adapting to Michelin’s new rear tyre.
After finishing P6 on Day 2, Johann Zarco (Reale Avintia Racing) didn’t improve his time as the Frenchman finished P14 overall, two places ahead of Petrucci, with Dovizioso – who was happy with his long run pace – P10 and Francesco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) P11. Tito Rabat (Reale Avintia Racing) was just 0.040 off Petrucci’s time.
Andrea Dovizioso – P10
“I am really satisfied with the work done today. We were able to try different setups that helped us understand that we still have some room left for improvement. The most positive aspect of today was the race simulation. With used tyres, I was able to cover the race distance without problems. On top of that, I did a few laps behind Danilo, which helped me to understand how to manage better the tyres. My race pace is good, and I am sure that if we can be fast as the front guys, then we will be able to fight for the top positions during the race weekend”.
Pecco Bagnaia – P11
“It was a test where we improved a lot, in particularly about race pace, I’m sorry for the time attack today, because I found traffic in my best lap. What makes me happy and confident is the race simulation. For sure we can improve, but after this test I have a clear idea about the race approach and I have more confidence with my bike.”
Johann Zarco – P14
“It has been a good test. Compared to Malaysia I had a better control of the bike and when the tyres are new, I can get a good lap time. The third day I cannot improve the second day time because I’ve been working in other things, sometimes we have small problems that don’t help us to continue with the plan that we have. I’m happy with the test and I can’t wait for the first race.”
Danilo Petrucci – P16
“I am happy about this final day of testing here in Qatar. We tried to manage our last session well without focusing on lap times and giving priority to the long run. We were able to cover the same distance as the race and to remove the doubts that we still had. Now we need to work well during the race weekend to be able to secure a good starting position for the race. As we were fast during the race simulation, I am sure that we will be able to be competitive also in the race”.
Tito Rabat – P17
“It was a positive test. It will be a hard-fought championship as we are all in the same second. On the one hand, satisfied with the time, we have to improve lap by lap. We have to stay calm and keep working day by day as we are doing. I begin to have ideas about the structure of how to drive this Ducati to go fast. Now to recover and go back to Qatar at full speed for the race.”
It was a busy and intriguing day for reigning Champions Honda as Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) started with three bikes in his garage, one of those being Takaaki Nakagami’s (LCR Honda Idemitsu) 2019 RC213V. Marquez was seventh overall, Nakagami less than a tenth off.
Marc Marquez – P7
“After the first two days I was a little worried in all honesty as we were struggling to understand how to improve where we needed to. But today we have made a big breakthrough and now we understand what we need to do, I’m really pleased with what we have done. I was able to be really consistent and I was happy with my rhythm. I have to say a big thank you to Honda, the engineers and my mechanics because they have worked a lot this test and the results are showing for us. We have a direction to follow when we return here for the race.”
Takaaki Nakagami – P8
“I’m really happy with these three days of testing, we have been improving every single day. The lap time is good and close to the top – only three-tenths away from the fastest. We’ve seen quite an improvement, and I’m happy with the feeling on the bike. With the new tyres for this year, from the second day to the last we have made improvements when they are well used. The physical condition of my right shoulder has also improved significantly, and I’m happy about how it feels because I’m in less pain. At the end of the day I still have energy, so this is a good sign. We still have one week left, and we will try and recover even more before the start of the season, but we will be ready for Qatar. I really appreciate the LCR Honda Idemitsu Team’s efforts throughout testing. Not only are they having to work through the night for tests here, but they have lots of work to do in the daytime also. All the mechanics have done a great job. I’m really happy and hopefully we can show our potential over the race weekend.”
Nakagami’s team-mate Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) completed 70 laps as HRC went in search of finding improvements on the final day in Qatar, with the Japanese giants testing things “from two or three years ago” according to Repsol Honda Team Manager Alberto Puig. Crutchlow said he was happy with his pace, but over one or two laps the number 35 is struggling with stopping the bike and grip with the new tyre.
Cal Crutchlow – P18
“Today was a very difficult day because of the injuries I suffered in yesterday’s crash. My arm is still very swollen and there is a big haematoma on the elbow. So to do 70 laps today, I’m not sure there are many others who would have been able to do that. My team work really hard, as we all do, but then it’s down to me to tough it out and just get on with the job at hand. Overall, we managed to get through a lot of things this evening, some positive and some negative. We just need to keep working on those negatives by giving HRC all the feedback and information we’ve collected here, so that they can improve the bike for the first race next week.”
Premier class rookie Alex Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) completed another 47 laps as the Spaniard admitted it was a difficult test for himself and the team, but the reigning Moto2 World Champion was reasonably confident that he has a decent pace for the race weekend.
Alex Marquez – P21
“Today again I was feeling better physically, and the first 30 laps were quite good. We didn’t really have a chance to do a proper time attack today as we were busy with other things and I am still not physically at my best. We were strong in Sepang and here we haven’t been as close as I would have liked to the rest of the field. Thanks to our work this test my team think they have some solutions for the GP next week, I am pleased with this. Now I’ll return home to prepare in the best way possible for my first MotoGP race.”
One of the riders of the test based on time-sheets alone has to be Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rookie Brad Binder, however. The South African slammed in a mighty impressive 1m54.283 on Day 3 to leave him ninth on the combined and Day 3 times, just 0.425s from Viñales’ pacesetting lap. As his team-mate Pol Espargaro explained earlier in the test, KTM didn’t have anything new to try on Day 3 as they don’t want to start getting lost. Working for the race was the Austrian factory’s objective as it seems their initial 2020 base is pretty much sorted, however there was a slight blip for Espargaro on the final day as he crashed unhurt at Turn 2. Over in the Red Bull KTM Tech 3 camp, Miguel Oliveira and premier class rookie Iker Lecuona finished P19 and P20, but the gaps were only 1.150s and 1.443s respectively.
Pol Espargaro – P15
“A good day but not such a great ending. We worked well and got some good info with a lot of things but then got a bit lost and it affected us going for a time attack. We made a couple of mistakes and had some issues and then I lost the front on Turn 2 which meant we could not have the happy end we wanted. Overall it has been a great test though and I feel very ready for the race weekend and that’s the most important thing. Brad did very well with a good lap at the right time and that shows we can be there.”
Brad Binder – P9
“I was quite surprised to be honest. I felt comfortable and we made some changes today that helped me a lot and sorted many of my issues. I put in a new set of tyres and ‘bam!’ the lap-time came. The bike was good. I felt way more comfortable to get it stopped, turned quicker and also get on the throttle earlier. Once we figured that part out then it was a lot easier to put a fast lap together but it was still quite difficult to do 22 of them, so I have a long way to go! We made some good steps these three days and the team has been awesome. I’m looking forward to continuing at the GP.”
Miguel Oliveira – P19
“For sure, the last day was much better than the first two days, at least the lap time progression was there. We couldn’t really use the soft tyre to make a lap time and we mainly focused on the medium tyre to find a race pace, which is right now much better than half of the riders in front of us. This is quite scary, but also positive in a way. Of course, we need to start the race a bit further in front. We have some ideas to work on the race weekend. Testing is always a bit tricky because many riders do a quick lap time and they don’t really have a pace, so in real conditions, you can really see, who is faster and who is not. So, I hope in less than two weeks’ time, we can figure out a way, that we can extract a good lap time.”
Iker Lecuona – P20
“Overall, I felt good today, apart from a minor crash we had this morning. When I came back to the track in the afternoon, the wind had picked up quite a lot, which is a completely new situation for me. We also tried the new Michelin tyre, which I still need to understand further. When I see the three complete days of test here then I can say that I’m satisfied, although there are still things to improve.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager
“We still had a lot on the list after Sepang and we managed to get through it here, so the team and the riders did a great job. The focus was to work hard on the bikes to find the final configuration for the race weekend. Generally, we are happy and it is important that all four riders are fit for the start of the season. I think there is clear proof that we made a step with the bike from 2019 to 2020. The lap-time from Brad was very impressive by a rookie but we have been looking at the longer outings and he did well there also. Pol didn’t go for a super-fast time today but we are not worried about his performance at all. The Tech3 guys made some good steps and, as we have seen in the past, lap-times are not always the priorities at winter tests.”
Sebastian Risse, Technical Coordinator MotoGP
“From a technical point of view we are ready. We managed to do most of the large items on our test schedule in Sepang and we know Losail is quite special in terms of the conditions and the way it changes with day sessions and night races and so on. So, we focussed on race distance and knowing the tyres specs better and for this place in particular: this all worked out quite well. You have to look behind the list of times when you are here. I think we are quite well-prepared but we did struggle a bit with Pol today to make the ultimate lap-time; however we know what we have to look for and what we need to do so we are confident.”
Hervé Poncharal – Red Bull KTM Tech3 Team Manager
“The final MotoGP test is over, which is exciting news because that means next time we are on track, it will be for round one, which is what everybody has been waiting for since end of the Valencia race. I believe the Red Bull KTM Tech3 team has had some productive winter tests, six days in Sepang and another three days here in Qatar. We knew that the Losail International Circuit was going to be more difficult than what we experienced in Malaysia, that this circuit is a tough one for us and although the final positions are not looking great tonight, the gap to the leaders is a lot smaller than last year. I can’t say that we are 100 percent happy, but I believe we gathered a lot of useful data. I trust Miguel, Iker and the whole Tech3 crew to find some solutions to get a few tenths, that will take us further towards the front. MotoGP itself is definitely a lot more competitive than it used to be in the past. We have 18 riders within a second, which is showing how close everything is and how small improvements can make you jump a few positions. As usual and always, I want to see the glass half full and not half empty, so we give ourselves a few days of rest, a few days of thinking, a few days of finding some good ideas and we’ll be back in Qatar and hopefully where we would like to be, which is in top 10/top 12 positions.”
Aprilia Racing Technical Director Romano Albesiano confirmed their sole purpose was to decide on the engine spec’ they’ll use for the season. At the end of play, Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) finished P13 on the timesheets, just over half-a-second off Viñales, with test rider Bradley Smith completing a further 55 laps on Monday as Aprilia continue to gather crucial data on their brand new RS-GP. Espargaro said he showed a strong pace on race simulation, lapping in mid-1m54s for plenty of laps was good news for the number 41. A busy test for both riders means Aprilia have a lot of analysing to do before the Qatar GP…
Aleix Espargaro – P13
“These were three intense days. We did not turn a lot of laps, but we did a lot of work, also taking into account the inevitable hiccoughs that come with the youth of the RS-GP. Overall, we confirmed the potential that had already been seen in Malaysia on this track as well. Especially today in the race simulation: I was able to maintain a good pace. In fact, the feeling improved lap after lap. Now we’ll need to do a good job analysing the data over the next ten days and make the right choices, putting together a package that will allow us to be competitive already in the first race weekend. Aprilia wants it, I want it and I am confident that we will succeed.”
Bradley Smith – P22
“We did a good job. We concentrated first on testing functionality and then on a few development ideas, not only short-term, but also to give the engineers a direction for the evolutions in the coming months. On a completely new bike, every lap is as precious as gold. The first race on the calendar is just around the corner, and we need to speed up the growth process to have a good base to start from. In terms of the ride, I am pleased with the progress made concerning the pace, whereas I am still lacking a bit of confidence when it comes to doing a flying lap. That is not the most important thing right now, though.”
Yamaha and Suzuki have emerged as early Qatar GP favourites, with Honda seeming to have plenty of work to do ahead of Round 1. However, a Grand Prix weekend is a different kettle of fish and we will find out on judgement day – Sunday 8th March – as to how competitive each rider and team really are. The top 18 were split by less than a second, so let’s bring on Friday 6th March when the 2020 MotoGP World Championship gets underway!
MCNEWS.COM.AU is a specialist on-line resource that provides motorcycle news for motorcyclists. MCNews covers all areas of interest for the motorcycling public including news, reviews and comprehensive racing coverage.