Rating The Rookies - Comparing Miller vs Viñales After Two Sepang Tests

One of the more intriguing match ups of the 2015 MotoGP season is the battle between the two newcomers from the support classes. Maverick Viñales and Jack Miller are both close friends and fierce rivals, sharing a motorhome off the track, doing battle on it. Viñales has come to MotoGP early, after just a single year in Moto2, where he was very competitive within a short space of time. Miller has made an even bigger jump, skipping Moto2 altogether and heading straight to MotoGP from Moto3. It is a huge leap for the Australian, switching from a narrow, 55hp, 80kg razor of a bike to a 158kg, 250hp monster.

So how have they adapted? Though the two are only a few days apart in age, comparing their progress is fraught with difficulty. Viñales, riding the Suzuki GSX-RR for Suzuki, is on a factory prototype inside a factory team. Miller, on the other hand, is riding an Open class Honda RC213V-RS with the LCR team. Viñales has a large team surrounding him, with sufficient backing to act on his input. Miller has a much smaller group around him, though he has the excellent fortune to have Cristian Gabarrini as his crew chief, one of the very best in the business. But perhaps the biggest and most important difference is that Viñales has experience on a larger, heavier bike, having raced in Moto2 in 2014, while Miller has only ever raced a lightweight Moto3 machine.

Yet it is still possible to measure progress. By comparing the times they set during the two Sepang tests, and seeing how much quicker they got, and how much closer to the front, there is a glimpse of how the two riders are doing. Furthermore, if we compare their progress to the progress made by riders on the same machine as them, we get a better measure of how they are progressing.

Just going by times alone is deceptive. At the first Sepang test, Maverick Viñales posted a best time of 2:00.964, while Jack Miller's fastest lap was 2:01.895, 0.931 seconds slower. Some of that difference can be put down to equipment: Viñales' Suzuki teammate Aleix Espargaro posted a quickest time of 2:00.486 on the Suzuki, while Nicky Hayden was the fastest Honda RC213V-RS rider with a best lap of 2:01.508. By that measure, Miller was doing fractionally better than Viñales, as Miller was 0.387 behind the fastest man on the same machine, while Viñales was 0.478 slower than the other Suzuki. This is not an entirely fair comparison, as Suzuki were carrying on the work they had started at Valencia, while Nicky Hayden was getting his first full test on the Honda RC213V-RS, and the team was still getting to know their way around the bike.

The second Sepang test, and comparisons with Sepang 1, give a better idea of the difference between the two. Viñales posted a best time of 2:00.604, while Miller clocked a 2:01.593, the gap between the two more or less unchanged. But Viñales closed in on his teammate, cutting the gap to the best lap of Aleix Espargaro to just 0.329 seconds. With the other Open class Honda riders making big improvements, Miller lost some ground on Nicky Hayden, the gap growing to 0.780 seconds.

While the improvement from Sepang 1 to Sepang 2 was broadly comparable in time terms between Viñales and Miller – 0.360 for the Spaniard, 0.302 for the Australian – look at the difference in percentage terms and Viñales comes out on top. The Suzuki rider cut his gap to the front by 29% at Sepang 2, compared to Miller's improvement of just 18%. Viñales was reducing the gap by about the same amount, but as he is already closer to the front, that reduction is more significant. While both Viñales and Miller are making good progress, the rate at which Viñales is getting nearer to the front is very impressive.

Some of Miller's deficit is down to the major step it is going from Moto3 straight to MotoGP, but some may also be down to training. Miller has changed his training program and eased up on his diet, focusing on upper body strength and filling out chest and shoulders. The change in training has seen him gain some 8kg over the winter, a very large amount. That told against him during the race simulation he ran at the end of the final day. In punishing conditions, Miller did 16 consecutive laps, plus an out lap, posting times of between 2:03 and 2:05. As you might expect of a rookie, his consistency was not the same as the top riders, with nearly 2.5 seconds behind his fastest and his slowest lap. More worrying was the decay in lap time he showed, lapping first in the 2:03s, his pace slowing to 2:04s after eight laps, then up to 2:05s in the last few laps.

Part of that may be down to tire selection, however. “The tire choice for our race sim today was the softer tire,” Miller told reporters afterwards. “That maybe wasn't the best choice but we weren't looking for the lap time, because it was 59°C track temperature. We were working for how the tire behaves as it gets destroyed and trying to learn how to control the tire when it's destroyed.” But part of the problem may be down to raw fitness, with Miller conceding that he had to work on pacing himself over the course of a race. “There's still some things that I've got to work on with myself and my style to conserve some energy and save the tire more,” Miller said.

The biggest objective for Miller is to change his style, moving away from the Moto3 style of carrying corner speed at all costs, and towards a style which will allow him to turn the bike quicker, then use the acceleration of the bike to exit the corner faster. “In Moto3 the riding style is about rolling through corners and keeping high corner speed and opening on the angle whereas with this bike you have to go in deep, park it, turn it and try and get it out as quickly as possible,” Miller explained. He also has to work on his physical style on the bike, hanging off the bike more to allow him to use more gas while leaned over. At the moment, Miller conceded, he was still too stiff on the bike, and was spending too much of his energy fighting the machine.

Viñales' transition appears to have been smoother. Though Moto2 bikes still use a lot of corner speed, they have both more horsepower and fatter tires, allowing them to get more drive out of corners. Viñales is still learning to adapt to a more powerful MotoGP bike, but he is clearly learning quickly. “I am very happy with my adaptation because every day I feel more comfortable with my bike, with the speed,” Viñales said.

For the Spaniard, his focus has been on understanding the electronics, and finding the right balance. At the moment, he told reporters, he was still using too much traction control, but was trying to understand how the electronics worked and what they are capable of. It is a complex process, but one which Viñales is taking at a fair clip. With just a single rider on the same bike, his aim was simple: close in on Aleix Espargaro at every step. He still has a long way to go, he told reporters. “Aleix is maybe seven or eight steps ahead.” What was important was that he was improving every day he spent on the bike.

Progress for both Miller and Viñales has been solid, the two youngsters adapting to MotoGP very steadily. They are both helped by the fact that they are on long term contracts, with no pressure to perform in their first season. But the lack of pressure can be a two-edged sword, making it harder to focus. Nothing concentrates the mind quite like the threat of losing your ride, but that can also cause inexperienced riders to push too hard, too early.

Overall, though, it has been Viñales who has been most impressive, already running in what would be points scoring positions, and well among the other Factory Option riders. The gap to his teammate is smaller than might be expected, and he is within sight of some very big names. Viñales looks focused, keen, and has worked very hard, and looks like a safe bet to score regular top tens in his first season, more if Suzuki can improve the performance of the GSX-RR.

Miller clearly has more work to do, though some of that is down to the size of the step up from Moto3. Skipping the Moto2 class is not an insurmountable problem, but it does offer useful experience for riders who pass through it, as Viñales is demonstrating. Miller needs to work on his training program, and to spend a lot more time on the bike. But getting into the points will be a much bigger ask for the Australian, as the Honda RC213V-RS is a less competitive package. The bike has the horsepower, but there is work to be done on the electronics to find the right mapping to make full use of it. Knowing that your bike is not capable of running at the front can be disheartening, though, so maintaining motivation may prove to be a problem for Miller as his riding improves.

Whatever their differences, both Miller and Viñales are an exciting addition to MotoGP. They are both, without question, exceptional talents and exciting riders. The series is all the better for having them in it.

Below are tables showing the times set by the two rookies in the two Sepang tests, as well as their gaps to the fastest riders, both overall and on the same bikes. For the sake of comparison, the two rookies from previous seasons have been included, with Pol Espargaro's performance at the two Sepang tests in 2014, and Marc Marquez' times from Sepang in his rookie 2013 season.

  Maverick Viñales Jack Miller  
Sepang 1 2:00.964 2:01.895  
Fastest on same bike 2:00.486 2:01.508 Aleix Espargaro/Nicky Hayden
Fastest time -Marc Márquez 1:58.867    
Gap to front 2.097 3.028  
Gap to fastest on same bike 0.478 0.387  
       
Sepang 2 2:00.604 2:01.593  
Fastest on same bike 2:00.275 2:00.813 Aleix Espargaro/Nicky Hayden
Fastest time -Marc Márquez 1:59.115    
Gap to front 1.489 2.478  
Gap to fastest on same bike 0.329 0.780  
       
S1 to S2 improvement -0.360 -0.302  
S1 to S2 diff to front -0.608 -0.550  
S1 to S2 diff to fastest same bike -0.149 +0.393  

 

 

2014 Pol Espargaro
Sepang 1 2:00.655
Fastest on same bike 1:59.727
Fastest time -Marc Márquez 1:59.533
Gap to front 1.122
Gap to fastest on same bike 0.928
   
Sepang 2 2:00.999
Fastest on same bike 1:59.999
Fastest time – Valentino Rossi 1:59.999
Gap to front 1.000
Gap to fastest on same bike 1.000
   
S1 to S2 improvement +0.344
S1 to S2 diff to front -0.122
S1 to S2 diff to fastest same bike +0.072

 

2013 Marc Márquez
Sepang 1 2:00.636
Fastest on same bike 2:00.100
Fastest time – Dani Pedrosa 2:00.100
Gap to front 0.536
Gap to fastest on same bike 0.536
   
Sepang 2 2:00.999
Fastest on same bike 2:00.562
Fastest time – Jorge Lorenzo 2:00.282
Gap to front 0.717
Gap to fastest on same bike 0.437
   
S1 to S2 improvement +0.363
S1 to S2 diff to front +0.181
S1 to S2 diff to fastest same bike -0.099

 

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Comments

The fact that pol espargaro was better in his first tests than marc marquez is surprising, coz you see though marc's time is better when comparing to the fastest same bike and fastest bike, it was with dani pedrosa....who didn't managed a 1.59 lap. On the other end you see pol's time who cut his gap to the front despite his times being compared to #46 who was on a factory bike with seamless while pol dint had it in sepang 1. it was sepang 2 when they got it. And worth mentioning here is the fact that in 2014 the times were quite faster than in 2013 still esp 44 improved better than marc and being on a satellite.

And the real thing is pol finished his first season 6th while marc ended becoming a champion narrowly...... hahaha

Im pretty sure the Tech3 squad has been running the 1st generation seamless gearbox for a couple of years now.

But I'm not sure I agree with your conclusions. Vinales has been impressive for sure, but Miller has been just as good IMO. To be .3 of a second off Haydens best time at the first Sepang test over a 2 minute lap means he's extremely close to what the best RCV RS riders are running already. And he's done that on his second ever test on the bike, having jumped straight from Moto3! The gap may have grown slightly at Sepang 2, but Miller is still in the very, very early stages of learning how to ride and setup the bike compared to someone with the experience Nicky Hayden has. I think the results already show the jump in machine size won't be an issue for Miller, though I take your point that full race distance fitness. Thats just a matter of time though really. I did notice that at Sepang 2 Miller seemed to clock off pretty early compared to some riders that went for a few more fast laps at the end of the day, guess he was knackered.

Both riders seem to be doing well to me. Neither one of them seem to need the threat of a contract ending to light a fire under them unlike some riders. Both of these riders seem to have a solid mentality that has been missing from several riders given the opportunity but missing out because they are too lax in their drive while not lacking talent. Then there are those with the drive but talent may not be up as high. These two rookies may surprise a few people. This is just testing. Miller ignored drama he was going through last year and showed his eyes are on one thing. Championship. Vinales came to Moto2 and showed good promise, then went on to show that he is there to win by doing just that when he could. It never looked like either one was not determined to win as much as possible week in and week out.

These two are learning the bikes now, but the true learning will come from the pressure cooker called Race Weekend. That is when we will truly see what these two have to offer. Vinales I am sure will equal his teammate's pace by the end of the year. Miller may need more time, (due to the massive change from Moto3 to Motogp), but he may get up to speed this year as well seeing that he is not doing so bad already.