2014 MotoGP Sepang 1 Day 1 Round Up: A Fast Rossi, A Fast Open Yamaha, And A Slow Black Honda

It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.

Marc Marquez was fastest – it goes almost without saying – the 2013 world champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage. Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.

Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.

The happiest faces were at Yamaha, though in different garages and on unexpected faces. Valentino Rossi took the second fastest time, had led for a large part of the test, and looked a much happier rider all round. The rapport with new crew chief Silvano Galbusera was good, the atmosphere in the team was good, but above all, a few small changes which Yamaha had made to the YZR-M1 had proven to be significant. Braking stability was better, the revised seamless gearbox and changes to the clutch making the bike behave better on corner entry. Rossi once again exuded confidence, looking like a completely different rider to the one we saw in 2013.

It was not just the changes to the bike, though, Rossi explained. Having spent a year getting back up to speed on the Yamaha after his two years in the Ducati wilderness he now felt comfortable right from the start. Working with Galbusera was no better or worse than with Jeremy Burgess – only 'different', Rossi said – but the change had been a gamble that it would help him find new motivation. It appeared to have worked.

Does this answer the big question which had been posed at the end of last year? Was it Rossi, or was it the bike? It's a little early to say, but suffice to say that those who had written Rossi off may have spoken too soon. I myself was surprised, having thought Rossi's lack of speed was down to age, rather than the bike. Though age may still be a factor, the bike may well prove to be a larger part of the equation than I suspected.

Does fixing the braking issue Rossi had make the bike better suited to him than to Jorge Lorenzo, shifting the balance of power in the factory Yamaha team once again? Not really, though Lorenzo was struggling elsewhere. It is the fuel allowance which was causing Jorge Lorenzo problems, rather than changes to the chassis. To help the bike last race length with 20 instead of 21 liters of fuel, Yamaha's electronics engineers have been devising strategies for saving fuel. Those strategies, Lorenzo complained, had made the bike more nervous when he opened the throttle in the corners.

It was a bigger problem for Lorenzo than it was for Rossi, as Lorenzo carries more lean angle, and even the slightest disturbance or roughness in power delivery can upset the bike, making it harder for Lorenzo to control. Jorge Lorenzo's 'mantequilla' nickname was given for his buttery smooth style, and any hesitation in the throttle makes it almost impossible to keep up that smoothness. Yamaha will find a solution, but it may take them the first half of the season, as they play with strategies and analyze race data. That will give Jorge Lorenzo an uncomfortable few months.

At Ducati, there was a completely new bike to see, with both Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso testing the new bike against the Desmosedici GP13. As with all new bikes, there were teething troubles, meaning that both men put in very few full laps on the GP14. It was better on corner entry, was the consensus, though the understeer remained. Dovizioso declared it a real step forward, though Crutchlow was yet to be convinced.

So, will Ducati go Open or stay Factory? It is too early to answer that question, everyone in a Ducati shirt affirmed. They have until 28th of February to make a decision, and they won't make an announcement before then. Dovizioso and Crutchlow will not even test the spec Open software, they told the press. Then again, Ducati's list of problems is long, and so the decision can even be made without testing the software with the factory riders, test rider Michele Pirro's input likely sufficient to make a choice.

If proof were needed that electronics were not the be-all and end-all, Aleix Espargaro was keen to make the case for the Open bikes. Aleix – though it is better to refer to riders by their last names, rather than their first names, the arrival of two brothers in the premier class makes it necessary to switch to the overly familiar use of first names – was thoroughly impressive, ending the day ahead of the two satellite Yamahas of Monster Tech 3 riders Bradley Smith and Aleix' brother Pol. Indeed, Aleix was quicker than most of the satellite riders for much of the day, truly putting the cat among the pigeons.

Was it electronics or was it Aleix? Hard to tell at such an early juncture, and the reality of the situation is that it was probably a bit of both. Clearly, the electronics have less of an influence on performance that many feared, despite the lack of sophistication – the spec electronics have just a single setting for wheelie control, to be used whatever the corner, Nicky Hayden explained, while his former factory Ducati had separate wheelie settings for every corner. But is also clear that Aleix remains an underestimated talent. Given that he was the youngest rider to win a Spanish championship, a record he held for a long time, Aleix looks to be a rider to watch this year. As will be the Tech 3 garage. Team boss Herve Poncharal will not be pleased to be forking out over twice what Giovanni Cuzari does for the Yamaha FTRs, and still find his riders being beaten by the youngster.

While the Yamaha FTR was surprisingly fast, the Honda RCV1000R was surprisingly slow. The Honda Open bike may make more financial sense, it is not going to be impressing sponsors any time soon. Nicky Hayden ended the day as fastest RCV1000R pilot, just sneaking ahead of his teammate Hiroshi Aoyama. But he was over three seconds off the pace of Marquez, and over two seconds slower than the satellite Hondas.

Both Gino Borsoi and Nicky Hayden said they were still uncertain how much performance could be gained just from electronics, and how much was an outright lack of power. Asked whether the bike reminded him at all of the four-stroke Honda MotoGP bikes he has ridden in the past, he pointed painfully at the 800cc RC212V. That bike was woefully underpowered, only gaining competitiveness towards the end of Hayden's tenure with Honda. Improving the electronics may find the bike a few tenths, but it will not pick up the couple of seconds required to make the bike competitive.

So it could turn out to be a long year at Honda. While their factory MotoGP team will continue to rip up the field, the RCV1000R looks like it really needs more horsepower. Honda's aim was to beat the Aprilia ARTs, but without them here, there is no comparison material. When you compare the Honda to Yamaha's offering, the Honda looks positively tepid. Asked if he felt Yamaha had violated the spirit of the rules, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto looked annoyed, and told the reporter asking the question to go ask Yamaha about it. Nakamoto's face made it clear he was not happy with the situation, a sentiment shared by the teams who signed up for the RCV1000R.

Of course, it is all only the first day of testing, and so jumping to conclusions on the meagre evidence of some 50-odd laps the riders put in is just a little bit premature. Much development will go on in the next few days, weeks and months before both riders and bikes start to reach their full potential. All the signs, hower, are that we are in for a very interesting season indeed. There are a lot of reasons to watch MotoGP, and the list just got quite a lot longer.

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up at the pointy end, but wasn't his biggest issue fuel consumption last year? Sure he was always having trouble under breaking but it always seemed like his biggest disadvantage was lack of power through the race because of the mapping.
It's great that he's putting in good times but if they are one liter shorter than last year and had all those problems does a good lap time during testing even matter?

But Rossi was faster and more consistent than Lorenzo. Though I have little doubt JL doesn't get his electronic problem fixed if it's not a general, massive issue with the bike. Yes, he needs a smooth delivery at throttle opening but on the other hand nothing saves more fuel than his riding style.

Wait and see

nakamoto be angry? he was the one fooling him self telling the world 0.5 sec behind the prototype.

Nakamoto could also awnser the question about the yamaha beacause if he could find a way to block it he would already done that by now. so its legal. all the bikes should be like that 24 litres and mm ecu. without the special ecu the frame become more important and honda knows, yamaha aint no fool making frames.!

I was going to comment along the same lines but you hit the nail on the head!

Nothing stopped/stops HRC/Nakamoto from leasing prototype engines like Yamaha. He fell on his own sword...

I don't think Nakamoto was fooling himself or anybody else. RCV1000R will improve, I have no doubt about that. I understand that you are Yamaha fan, but trashing Honda all the time is childish.

Who cares about prototype frame wars? Might as well just stop fooling around and call it super bike 2 if they use spec computers.

I do really hope Rossi will be in the top 3 contender this year, and this 1st day looks promising. As for Aleix, as I always believe, something about this guy, not just the bike.

I really hope Ducati goes Open. They have the chance to break the strangle hold Honda has on the series and a chance to return to competitive form. If they choose to go Factory, well they might as well withdraw for a year to avoid further embarrassment

2015 is just around the corner and Suzuki sits in the perfect position of the rule changes despite what the other factories do. With the FTR-Yam doing well out of the box... it can only get better... Yamaha will go OPEN soon after Ducati. Honda will be out on its ear by their own choice. If HRC wants to same face regarding this RCV-r business... they should either beef-up the engines like they are doing in Moto-3 or put those RCV-r riders on RC213V-satellite machines and call it a day! HRC would have 2 factory bikes and 6 satellite bikes on the grid to dominate like the good ole 990cc days. The factories need to throw the white towel at Dorna already then get back to racing.

So, since the RCV1000 has the use of more engines and fuel, can't they just do whatever makes them wear out faster and drink more to make more power?

And his name is Aleix

This kid continues to impress me. I think he is a mega talent and will be considered an alien very shortly. His performances last year were amazing and now that he has a bike to challenge much closer to the front it will be very interesting to see.

CEII is the perfect teammate too. A known quality rider with excellent development skills

The only question that remains is.. why the heck did Suzuki pick RDP to develop their bike instead of him?

Race machines that are limited on fuel so engineers can have a proper challenge is beyond idiotic.

Especially at the expense of paying race fans.

I hope all the factory machines run out of gas at every race.

I believe Pol Espargaro deserves a mention too. Beating his teammate who has a year's experience is not a bad start at all.

the RCV1000 was tested by stoner, what can u expect. if stoner rides it then surely the gap will only 0.3. but other riders have different style, n surely they cant ride the RCV1000 like stoner does. i dont know, but i think its like this bike was built for stoner style. not much rider could ride like him. RCV1000 fast for him, but that doesnt mean it will be fast by other riders.

seemed to be absurdly limited - several whole days lost to rain and not replaced by others. Very limited time on track when he did go out. I thought the duty of a test rider was to pound out laps day in and day out? Do I recall he did only 4 or 6 laps on the RCVR? Fair enough the lesser test riders will be doing the high mileage durability testing a couple of seconds off the pace of the elite, but Stoners duties seemed to be more about PR than actual riding. Oh, the irony.

I won't be terribly surprised if the RCVR remains a slug, their customer bikes have always been solid but unspectacular. And it seems the machine is not built to fully take advantage of the open rules anyhow. It doesn't carry the full allocation of fuel, and the engine has been designed to last way longer than strictly necessary. In Honda's defence, they have once again made a bike in the spirit of the rules, that people can purchase outright (sort of) and which can be run with comparatively low costs.

What I really hope is that not only Ducati but also Yamaha go totally Open category, and they both prove to be more competitive than the fuel-sipping Hondas. That would be hilarious.

To get a seat in Factory Team... I don't disagree with you, but I recall Honda announcing their plans to build it just two days after Dorna repealed the rookie rule allowing MM to take Stoners place dirctly. After all that fighting tooth and nail against the whole concept to the point Carmelo called their bluff and enlisted privateers to build bikes for him to fill the grid, Honda suddenly changed their tune and fell in line... No one said they had to build a ompetive bike, just one that cost around one million euro.

I think that the bike was within 0.3 sec with Stoner on the bike, using HRC's electronics and the 24L of fuel, supersoft tires and... ->Stoner<-.

As it stands right now the bike is not fully exploiting all of the benefits of being the open class. Nakamoto made sure that the Honda Open bikes At Their Very Best would be 6 secs (0.3s/lap) beyond the factory guys over the course of a race. (In Short = The bikes would perform no better than an ART)

The bikes are using less sophisticated electronics and spring valves. The bikes probably have around 30-50hp less than the factory bike just like an ART.

The mistake I believe was throttling down the engine power levels.
Yamaha gave a full blown M1 engine/2 year old chassis without the electronics, sorted suspension and fuel tank - the bike will always be slower than the factory/satellite guys but close enough to make it a show.
Go Yamaha.. I am starting to dislike Honda more and more
I know that Hayden is wishing that he was on the FTR-Yamaha.

Very revealing. Surprised by a few things. Number 1, how slow the Honda that Hayden is on. That man cannot catch a break. Though in this case, I will bet as the year progresses with the press and fans seeing A. Espargaro, (on of THE most underrated talent in the field), whoop off on the Honda Open bikes will respond by adding some power. The ultimate insult is if Colin Edwards, (still one of my favorites), ancient self starts beating them too. The shame will be too much for Honda to bear. And they WILL make a better bike. Not a Factory level, but leagues better than it is now. Will wait for tomorrow to make any more comments. Cannot wait

Wins for Dorna, A.Espargaro, FTR and the Spec ECU developers clearly. Lose for Honda in a few respects, and the Open Honda teams and riders most certainly. Consider the less obvious as well. Bridgestone is bringing out a bunch more options. Ducati we may as well agree is going Open and will get rideability improvements over their peaky 2013 motor right away. Satellite almost Factory Yamahas are on their last season and will go Open. Enter Suzuki Open and no longer struggling w their weak ECU. A tide turns this season in the power structure, Honda returned to a role with less control of regulations, and riders returned to a role with more control of motorcycles. A.Espargaro gets to become our first "astronaut" to go meet the aliens (IF Bridgestone develops a rear tire w their needs in mind). Bridgestone will come under pressure (following their two errors of overly hard tires crashing out riders and then the Australia mess) to make a good array of compounds and constructions for the new breed of bucking broncos lest they lose their contract to Michelin when it is up. And I agree w the pondering that Yamaha is eager to go with new rules to get their fuel back up where it needs to be to remain competitive. THIS IS THE END OF THE AN ERA 2nd only to the move to 4 strokes. Don't worry about Honda, they adapt well and have the magical MM93.
NOON day 2 in Sepang, and AE41 is 3rd, just 2/10ths off of Pedrosa. He is amazing, and there is more time to squeeze out of that bike. Go man go!

If you buy a bike based on what Stoner can do then you arent very clever in my opinion, as he could pretty much ride anything fast. What they should of been paying more attention to was what the standard riders were doing on it such as the Honda test riders to get a better picture.
I do remember Casey saying at the time he rode it that it was lacking power, but he obviously found a way to exploit its good points in order to get close to the RCV213V in lap time, so maybe the electronics can be sorted to get a better time for the production Honda riders.
I hope Honda help these guys be more competitive because if anyone deserves some help after being consistently loyal to his manufacturers its Hayden. I'd like to see Redding on a competitive bike too.

"I do remember Casey saying at the time he rode it that it was lacking power"

He's hardly likely to say it had more, is he? What he said was that it felt like a factory Honda with less power and a slightly different feel in engine braking.

Less power, not lacking power.

He lapped within a second of the factory bike - which shows the potential is there, if the rider is able to exploit that potential.

Hayden never was, so his times are always going to be low.

I just don't see how the RCV1000R with 1 less L of fuel (Nakamoto said something like 23L), spring valve, challenge the FTR-Yamaha at this point. Unless Honda starts dishing out Satelite RC212Vs with "Open" ecu as replacements that is...

but trashing Honda all the time is childish.

but its the truth!!! sorry cant help it.