Analysis

Mandalika MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Sweeping The Circuit To Start

It was a good day for attention-grabbing headlines at Mandalika. Pol Espargaro ended the day with a scorching lap which took him under the WorldSBK Superpole by four tenths of a second. There were six different manufacturers in the top six. The lead on the first day changed hands time after time in the last couple of hours.

But the headlines don't really mean very much. Times were dropping because the track started off filthy and only really started to clean up in the last hour or so of the day. This is the first outing at Mandalika for MotoGP, so the teams and factories have very little data to go on, with teams working on such basics as figuring out the best gearing for the track.

The track was incredibly dirty, because it is still in the middle of a building site and has not been used since WorldSBK left the circuit back in November of last year. There has been plenty of building work done, the pit complex is much closer to completion than November, but the combination of building work and torrential tropical rains left a lot of dirt and mud on the track.

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Review Part 4: A Radical New Honda, And Careful Progress At KTM

It is always hard to decide which order to write about the manufacturers in after a MotoGP test. It is sometimes obvious, but at a test like Sepang, where there was a surprising amount going on, it is hard to rank the factories in order of importance or significance.

So leaving Honda and KTM until last should not be taken as indicative of anything other than authorial capriciousness. I had to pick an order. This is the order which I picked. It doesn't mean much. Because both Honda and KTM had a lot to test, though in slightly different areas. Honda continued work on their brand new RC213V prototype, which the public got its first glimpse of at Misano. KTM were focused more on the human side, with two rookies to get up to speed in the Tech3 team, and a new team manager brought in to smooth the running of the project.

Honda – Oh brave new world, that has such vehicles in it

The shock of the new is abating when it comes to Honda. We are slowly getting used to the idea that Honda has abandoned its previous design philosophy and has built a radically different machine. Yet the bike which appeared at Sepang had undergone yet more changes since its last outing at the Jerez test.

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Review, Part 3: Aprilia, Suzuki, Yamaha - A Question Of Progress

With Ducati hogging all of the technical limelight with their latest gadget, it is easy to overlook what was going on elsewhere in pit lane at the Sepang MotoGP test. Yet there was plenty of interesting tech on display, some of it working well, other parts not quite so much. So here's a look at what the other MotoGP manufacturers were up to in Malaysia.

Aprilia – lighter, slimmer, but more chatter

Aprilia face a major challenge in 2022. For the past two years, their rivals have been unable to develop their engines, engine design having been frozen during the pandemic. 2022 is the first season where the factories without concessions have been able to bring updated engines. So the Noale factory is about to find out whether it has done enough over the past two years to close the gap and be competitive.

The evidence so far points to them being successful. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales topped the first day of the official test, and finished second and fifth respectively on the second day, Viñales just 0.130 behind Enea Bastianini, and on the same time as fourth-placed Alex Rins.

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Review, Part 2: Ducati's Box Of Tricks

In part one of the Sepang MotoGP test review, I went over some of the more general aspects of the test. The fact that it was difficult to draw hard conclusions from a test which was both short and disrupted by rain. The fact that most manufacturers had brought updated engines, which means there is still a lot of work ahead to calibrate them and extract maximum performance from them. The fact that testing cleans the track and lays a nice thick skin of rubber on the track, creating much more grip than on a race weekend.

That doesn't mean that the test is meaningless. If it was, the manufacturers wouldn't bother, of course. But to understand the state of MotoGP after the Sepang test, we have to take a close look at what each factory was testing in Malaysia, what the riders said worked, what they said didn't work, and what the factories weren't telling us about.

So in the next few articles, I will breakdown everything we learned and what we saw at the Sepang test from each factory. But we start with the factory which ended the test fastest, and which received the most attention.

Ducati – pushing the envelope, again

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Review, Part 1: Trying To Read The Testing Tea Leaves

With the bikes all crated up and shipped to Indonesia, and the entire paddock flown to Mandalika on the island of Lombok (bar those stuck in quarantine in Malaysia after testing positive for Covid-19), there is time to look back at the Sepang MotoGP test. Because this year is so different to previous years in a number of ways, I am breaking it down into two parts. First, some general points that apply to the test itself and across several or all manufacturers, and later in the week, a breakdown manufacturer by manufacturer.

The first and most obvious conclusion which can be drawn from the Sepang test is that it is hard to draw any clear and general conclusions from the Sepang test. There are a number of reasons for that. Firstly, though the temptation is to look at the headline times, they are even more deceptive than ever.

That is in part because the simple classification, the best lap of each rider, ranked, makes for some juicy headlines. Enea Bastianini, a rider starting his second season, riding a bike from last year, slashes over a tenth of a second off the lap record. The Aprilias, long MotoGP's whipping boy, take a 1-2 on the first day, and end the session second and fifth overall, with everyone expressing their admiration for the speed of the RS-GP. The defending MotoGP champion Fabio Quartararo down in seventh. The top eight nearly within two tenths of a second of each other (eighth-placed Marc Marquez is 0.201 behind Bastianini), thirteen riders with half a second, eighteen within a second.

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Saturday Notes: Aero, Engines, And A Mountain Of Work

Shall we declare Aprilia 2022 MotoGP champions, now that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales ended the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test in the top two positions? Obviously not. The Aprilias have already had extra time around Sepang, Maverick Viñales spending two days on track during the shakedown test, Aleix Espargaro one day extra. So they were already up to speed and used to riding a MotoGP bike again.

That doesn't mean that Aprilia's speed isn't real. The 2022 bike is a step forward, in part a result of Aprilia changing course after a disappointing Jerez test back in November. A new chassis improved the handling of the bike, the engine is more refined, and the whole is a lot narrower. "It felt like a Moto2 bike," Espargaro said after he had sat on it for the first time at the Aprilia factory. He had spent a long time in the garage after his team had rebuilt the bike after the shakedown test, where he had been alternating between the old and the new bike.

Making the bike narrower was quite an achievement, with a lot of parts to pack into a small area, but the effort had paid off, Espargaro said. "The difference is huge in last year’s bike in this area. From lap one it helps a lot to throw the bike into the corner. The strongest thing of the bike, the best thing is the turning," he told us.

Back to speed

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Is This How Ducati's New Front Ride-Height Device Works?

The one near certainty coming into the Sepang MotoGP test was that Ducati would have found a new way to push the boundaries of vehicle dynamics. We have seen it before with the wings, with the rear swingarm spoiler, with the holeshot and ride-height devices, and more. The only question for onlookers was what exactly Gigi Dall'Igna and his team of engineers had dreamed up this time. After a tip by French MotoGP tech guru Tom Morsellino, I set out to investigate.

The answer to that looks like it is at the front of the GP22, instead of the rear. Ducati have installed a new holeshot device on the front of the Desmosedici, which appears to double as a front ride-height device. Where the old holeshot device was a simple latch, the new one is much more sophisticated, and looks like it is being used on corner exit, as well as at the start.

First, a quick look at the old holeshot device. Like the units fitted to most of the bikes on the grid, it is relatively simple. There is a catch on the bottom of the fork, and a latch mechanism operated by a cable. The rider loads it by compressing the forks, then rotates a butterfly switch on the top triple clamp to engage it. When the rider brakes for the first corner, the latch releases and the front comes up again.

Walking down pit lane, I took the following photo of the mechanism on Fabio Di Giannantonio's bike. (As it's old tech, mechanics are a lot less paranoid about it.)

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Friday Notes: New (And Old) Liveries, Braking Assistance, And Defending Titles

Pit lane is finally open, if only for some teams – notably Yamaha and Suzuki – to show off their new liveries, and we are starting to get a first look at the new parts some of the factories have to test. The new Yamaha livery is almost indistinguishable from last year's, Yamaha following the "if it ain't broke" philosophy.

Suzuki's is updated, and to my mind improved by having a dash of black to set off the other colors on the bike. The black panel around the race numbers something of a throwback, though historically, white numbers on a black background were used in the 125cc class.

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2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Preview: Making Sense Of All The Changes


Marc Marquez' Honda RC213V at the 2014 Sepang 1 MotoGP test

It is dangerous to draw too many lessons from the results of the Sepang test. In the ten years between 2011 and 2020, the rider who set the fastest time at Sepang has only gone on to win the MotoGP title twice: Casey Stoner in 2011, and Marc Marquez in 2014. (That stat is complicated by the fact that between 2011 and 2015, there used to be two Sepang tests – I've taken the fastest time from both tests in those years.)

Casey Stoner was fastest in 2012 as well, but ended up losing to Jorge Lorenzo that year, after smashing his foot at Indianapolis. Dani Pedrosa was quickest in 2013, but was overshadowed by his rookie teammate Marc Marquez who took the crown at the first attempt. After his dominant year in 2014, Marc Marquez was quickest at both tests in 2015, but notoriously ended up finishing behind the two Yamahas of Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.

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KTM MotoGP Launch: Brad Binder And Miguel Oliveira Look Back At 2021, And Ahead To 2022

While the most interesting parts of the KTM launch had to do with the personnel changes, and the shift of focus from the purely technical to the human (for a full review, see here), factory riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira were still fascinating on the weakness of the 2021 KTM RC16 and what they wanted fixing for 2022.

What the riders were missing above all was some consistency, Miguel Oliveira said. "Through different key moments of the championship I wasn't able to finish the race. Two big examples; Austria race 2 and Misano race 2 where the result could have been quite good."

KTM paid for that lack of consistency down the stretch, leaving too many points on the table and making a championship campaign tough. "The other thing is the pure consistency of the results, finishing the races pays off a lot at the end of the championship. And of course that's of course the main reason why I think consistency must be improved," Oliveira pointed out.

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