2016 Qatar MotoGP Test Friday Round Up: Lorenzo's Lead Is Not What It Seems

Testing is over. If the teams had anything more they wanted to test before the season starts in just under two weeks, they will have to do it during practice for the first race in Qatar. They start the first race of the 2016 MotoGP season with what they left the test with on Friday.

So what have we learned over the past three days, and especially on Friday? Most of all, that the season is still very much in state of flux. Things change from day to day, from hour to hour, as teams, factories and riders find new solutions, make smaller and larger adjustments, figure out the finer details of the 2016 bikes, common software, and most especially the new Michelin tires.

The French rubber played a major role on Friday, with lots of crashes throughout the evening. This was down in part to riders picking up the pace and starting to push to set a quick lap. (Riders will tell you it's only testing, and they weren't really pushing, and they don't pay much attention to where they are on the timesheets, because it doesn't really matter. But they are lying. It matters, most of all psychologically.)

Seeking the front end Goldilocks

It was also in part due to the front tire allocation Michelin had brought to the test. There was a soft front and a hard front for the main contracted riders, with a big step in between. The soft was a little too soft, the front tire causing problems under hard braking in a straight line, especially for the Hondas, and lacked any feedback. The hard was better, but was a little too hard to be used at Qatar, because of the low track temperatures and the dew which forms on the track after 10pm.

The test riders had a medium option, between the two tires, which was, by all reports, very much the Goldilocks option. Stiff enough to give support and provide feedback, but not too hard that it becomes temperature critical. That tire will be available at the race, and will solve most of the problems for most of the riders. But it is still very early in the new era of Michelin tires, and the French manufacturer is still right in the middle of the learning process. Considering how much the bikes have changes in the seven years since Michelin left the series, they have done a surprisingly good job. But they will be getting it not quite perfect with their tire selection for most of the first year. It is unfortunate that riders will pay the price of the transition period with bumps, bruises, and in some cases, broken bones.

The efforts of the riders did not go unrewarded. Times tumbled, especially in the period between 9pm and 10:30pm, before the dew made the track too treacherous to risk pushing hard. That Jorge Lorenzo should finish on top of the timesheets is no surprise, the reigning world champion gelling well with the new tires and the new electronics. The Yamaha is still an outstanding motorcycle, a fact reinforced by Valentino Rossi's fifth spot on the timesheets, just a tenth behind Scott Redding, the man in second. The factory Yamaha men are helped by the fact that they have a small army of electronics engineers helping to optimize the Magneti Marelli common software. The Tech 3 team have just a single electronics guy between the two riders, and their lack of resources is reflected by their place on the timesheet: Pol Espargaro is in tenth, Bradley Smith is in twelfth.

Diving into the timesheets

Lorenzo's lead looked overwhelming, the Movistar Yamaha rider finishing over half a second ahead of the rest. That is the same gap that covers Scott Redding, in an impressive second place on the Pramac Ducati, to Pol Espargaro down in tenth. The gaps from second to tenth are small: just seven thousandths from Redding to Suzuki revelation Maverick Viñales, seven hundredths from Viñales to Marc Márquez in fourth, and three hundredths from Márquez to Valentino Rossi in fifth.

The headline times are misleading, however. The final day of the Qatar test saw a lot of riders running race simulations, or at least putting in longer runs of ten laps or more. Unfortunately for them, the crashes were both a distraction and an interruption, red flags coming out a couple of times to allow debris to be removed from the track. But the times set by the top ten are still instructive.

Jorge Lorenzo did a full race run, putting in full race distance of 22 laps. He completed it in a time of 42:46.091, some ten seconds slower than Valentino Rossi's race-winning pace in 2015. Comparisons are hard, of course, with so many different factors: new tires, new electronics, different track conditions, and above all, a very different motivation. Lorenzo's first lap, for example, was over four seconds slower than Rossi's initial lap during the race. Adrenaline and focus plays a big factor there.

All is not necessarily as it seems

Yet Lorenzo's race simulation was hardly as dominant as his single fast lap. Marc Márquez managed to stay with Lorenzo while he did his long run, the Repsol Honda rider happy to have made a big step forward and found some solutions to the problems he had on the first couple of days. Comparing the pace of the fastest thirteen laps of those runs, Lorenzo's average lap time was 1:56.026, while Márquez' was 1:56.064. The difference is less than four hundredths, rather than half a second. By comparison, the average pace of Valentino Rossi's best thirteen laps of his long run was 1:56.202, nearly two tenths slower than his teammate. But two tenths is not the six tenths which separate the two Movistar Yamaha riders on their outright fastest laps. The crash Rossi had early in the session, which disrupted his testing plan, may also have had an effect on his pace.

A similar pattern is visible when you look at the best laps set by each rider throughout Friday. Taking the 22 fastest laps of the top ten riders sees a different pattern emerge. Of the riders who had consistently fast times in long runs, Marc Márquez was the fastest man. The Repsol Honda rider's best 22 laps are fractionally faster than Lorenzo's. If you treat them as a race of 22 consecutive laps – a precarious and statistically flawed view, but it's the best we have at the moment – then Márquez would have beaten Lorenzo by 0.351 seconds.

Even more surprising are the riders behind Márquez and Lorenzo. In the hypothetical race situation, Scott Redding would have finished in third, just under 1.4 seconds behind Márquez, just over six hundredths a lap slower than the Repsol Honda rider. Valentino Rossi would have finished fourth, four seconds behind Márquez, while the two factory Ducatis had very similar pace, six seconds off the theoretical 22 lap race of Márquez. Suzuki's Maverick Viñales, whose times looks so impressive on a single fast lap, is nearly ten seconds slower than Márquez over the best 22 laps of each rider. That is half a second slower than the Repsol Honda rider, broadly comparable to the difference over a fast lap.

The table below shows the aggregate times, based on the best 22 laps of each rider:

  Average Total Total laps Laps of 1:55
Márquez 1:55.888 42:29.537 53 13
Lorenzo 1:55.904 42:29.888 52 10
Redding 1:55.952 42:30.933 56 11
Rossi 1:56.080 42:33.769 55 5
Iannone 1:56.173 42:35.805 53 6
Dovizioso 1:56.182 42:36.001 47 8
Viñales 1:56.340 42:39.482 49 9
Pol Espargaro 1:56.420 42:41.242 42 4

Steps forward, and treading water

Where has Marc Márquez' burst of speed come from? The Spaniard and his team found some solutions from Thursday, and started making set up changes that Márquez could feel and start to exploit. The Spaniard is working on his riding style too, still adapting to the different requirements of the Michelins. But they had made a big step forward, he told the media.

Márquez was the only rider to be quite so happy. Dani Pedrosa was very terse when he spoke to the media. Had he made any progress with the bike? "No." He was, by all accounts, not a happy man at all. Cal Crutchlow was a little more positive, despite crashing and having his rear tire land squarely and very painfully between his legs. But he was still having electronics problems, the traction control kicking in along the straights. Those problems would be fixed, Crutchlow affirmed, but they will take some time.

Electronics will matter

Electronics are going to be a factor, and not just in terms of initial set up. Valentino Rossi confirmed what Jorge Lorenzo had already said about how the common software will affect riders, especially in the second half of the race. "You don't feel a difference if you do four or five laps," Rossi said. "But after, you do. The races will become more difficult for the rider, you have to work more, you have to play more with the bike compared to last year." The bike needs a lot more work to control it as the race goes on, tires go off, and the electronics struggle to cope with tire wear. They no longer automatically adapt, it is up to the rider.

That could be a factor for Honda. The RC213V is still a physically very demanding bike to ride, Cal Crutchlow affirmed, much as it had been last year. That was something they had asked Honda to address, but so far, HRC had not managed to solve the conundrum. Honda riders will need more fitness than the rest to last the distance.

For Jack Miller, that was a problem. Not so much in terms of physical fitness, but due to the ankle injury he suffered at the start of the year. Still barely able to walk, Miller had been able to handle the pain at Phillip Island, because it consisted mostly of left handers. At Qatar, the reverse is true, and it is causing Miller a lot of grief.

At Suzuki, work continued on the seamless gearbox, with some changes made overnight to the version two, or fully seamless gearbox which both Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales had at their disposal. Espargaro had tried the seamless box yesterday, and his team had made a big step forward with the set up of the box overnight. It was a lot less aggressive, Espargaro said, a big improvement.

With the start of the season now just twelve days away, there is time to look back at testing and forward to the 2016 MotoGP season in more depth in the coming days. It looks to be one of the most intriguing championships in many years.

Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2016 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.

Back to top


... as the race goes on, tires go off, and the electronics struggle to cope with tire wear. They no longer automatically adapt, it is up to the rider." - Rossi

That is unfortunate for the riders, and very fortunate for the fans.

Good analysis via your table David. Very insightful.

Testing will go on, just all during race weekends and the races themselves. The end of the races are going to be very exciting this year, at least the first quarter of a season. Most of the teams with money (factories) should have most of this sorted by June but it's going to go well into the season before they have a mastery of the electronics and Michelins.

Good to see things shaken up proper and it took both electronics and tires at once to do it. Only one variable, instead of two, and I don't think the teams would be working nearly as hard. I also agree about coming injuries. Some riders are definitely going to pay the price for all these changes. Will be a damn shame if it is one of the key players in the championship battle. As usual this will come down to how well the engineers and laptop jockeys sort everything out, but more so on the riders themselves. Experience and brass balls will be the biggest factors as the bikes are closer this year, especially Ducati and Maverick on his Suzuki.

Next up race 1, finally.

The only prediction I make for the race with absolute confidence is that an Aprilia rider will not win.
I am definitely not having a go at them.
On the contrary, I hope this little team go from strength to strength over the course of the season.
So much is up in the air pertaining to the big hitters and I guess as our trustworthy scribe pointed out some time back, this silly season is going to start early, maybe as soon as within the next 4 weeks.
Wars and rumour's of wars!

Since the simulations were interrupted and tires of riders who came in and sat while the track was cleared went through the aberration of heating and cooling cycles, the best comparison is to look at the longer simulations that Lorenzo (complete) and Marquez (12 laps) managed to do.

I am more inclined to see an advantage for Marquez because, if we look at the fastest 22 laps in general, there are many that come after a long stop, often with a tire change, and certainly with a tire temperature at the offset closer to what Michelin would consider ideal.

I think the best straight-up comparison comes from the 12 lap run that Marc did compared to the first 12 laps of Jorge's 21 lap run, but since Jorge did his worst lap on his first flying lap, I'd chuck that one and take the block of 12 laps that came starting with his second flying lap.

Laps 2 to 13 by Jorge produced a (rounded to the decimal) average of 1'56.2 compared to Marcs 12 lap mini-simulation in an average 0f 1'56.064, or call it 1.56.0...a 2 tenths per lap advantage.

Interesting though is the fact that Jorge ran his entire 21 lap simulation at an average of 1'56.259, so, in spite of what riders say, there was, in Jorge's case, no drop off in lap times, although it might have gotten more difficult to keep that pace.

Jorge said that he was caught, when it came simulation time, with "the wrong tire,"and he speculated that he would have been a half second faster on every lap if he had had been able to manage his allocation better.

So, as David states, all these headlines about Lorenzo domination are not justified by the time sheets and it looks like we are going into Qatar with Marquez and Lorenzo very close on pace, and Rossi, who always finds something extra when he needs it, lurking.

The way Marc tells it, after his early crash, they got adventurous and turned the bike upside down with some new settings. He thanks his crew chief, Santi, for his creativity.

Perhaps whatever Santi figured out for Marc will be passed along to Dani and Cal and Honda may be a lot better when they line up that they looked over Qatar testing. The Ducati don't seem to have a pace to match Lorenzo and Marquez, but they all seem to work: factory, Pramac and Avintia.

We have seen the Suzuki do well before and then be blown off on pure acceleration at the start. Clearly Viñales is fast and the Suzuki looks good on selected laps. I agree completely with David, though, on placing Maverick seventh behind the Marc, Jorge, surprising Scott, Rossi and the two factory Ducati.

If things are as Rossi suggests, we are going to see very physical demanding races over the final third (or half) of the laps and the old phrase "tire management" from Rainey-Schwartz days once again finding its way into the lexicon of race reports.

I am glad to hear that the riders will have to do more as the race goes on. That the electronics are less of a help as the race goes on. This will allow for more cleverness in riding. I think the same people will be on top, but there may be more mistakes made allowing for more battles. An example would be someone with a good gap upfront making a mistake coming out of a corner, then recovering from the mistake but all the others catching up causing an ensuing battle. OR, several riders having issues with grip at the front, but all scrapping for the smallest piece of extra acceleration but none able to make a good break from the group due to the grip issues at the end of the race.

Exciting prospects I think for the future. But that may just be my daydreaming wishes for the season ahead.

It's clear for me that Honda's edge over the others, was the vastness of their electronic control over so many parameters, so much experience with tire wear curves, and their software was complicated as hell, with their ECU handling a s**tload of sensors and ports, and many many algorythms, giving Marc and Pedro some wonder bikes with brute power, controlled via software.

Now that everyone is using the same ECU* (I make a note, there's always the piggyback affair for the rich boys) , whatever glorious software Honda had developed, was binned , and left the Honda guys with just another MotoGP bike, and a brute one for sure.

Pedrosa seems to be suffering the most, because he's a pretty small dude, and you can only store so many calories in a body, so unless he's got superpowers he will relatively struggle the most. Marquez is not from this planet, so he's doing good, pure talent makes for a lack of "bike"

Lorenzo seems to had hit the lottery, the Michelins have suited his style like they were custom ordered for him (hmm)

Rossi , albeit being the oldest guy, is the smartest guy and like always, he will find a way to ride the bike, manage and adapt, I see all this changes may look on paper like they would benefit he, more than the rest, he's been thru what? 4 evolution iterations? From the wild 500's to 990's....800's....1000's and he always is at the top.

And of course, the surprises, I think those are the ones we will be seeing the most, the guy that hits the lotery and becomes an alien threat, I hope this season is full of surprises!!!!

I don't know what you've been told, but in 2015 the factories used their own software and Honda had a lot of problems which are well documented on this website. This time around it's looking a lot better for Honda if we go with what the test shows us. So your argument about electronics are invalid.

Whatever problems Honda may have, they're not what you want them to be.

gotta be a little concerned, no? I mean obviously it's a brand new bike AND the first official test on it, but I can't imagine they're feeling very confident right now. David can you speak on this at all? How the riders and team are feeling? Are they where they assumed they would be at this point? Better? Worse? Positives about the bike, neagtives?

If this year of changes also saw a new name on the trophy. I don't suppose for a minute that it will happen(unless Stoner has a sudden change of heart), but I would love to see a rider other than Rossi, Lorenzo or Marquez win it for a change.

Dani Pedrosa. This year(2016) my money is on this guy, the thought of him remaining eternal bridesmaid does not sit well with me which will possibly be my shit to own. However, I remain optimistic that Dani "CAN" win a premier classs trophy as he has shown before. 2 by 250 champ & 1 by 125 champ.
Dani Perdosa is 3 time world champ(lower classes)------- if he does not do it in 2016 then he may well do it in 2017, for my thinking he still seems pretty fast on Sunday's.

I've been a Pedrosa fan for a long time and was devastated for what happened to him in 2012.

It very much depends on whether Honda get the bike sorted I think.

There's no doubting his talents, but for some reason whenever the stars look like they might be aligned for Dani something horrible goes wrong, often totally not his fault (e.g., the stuck brake caliper when sitting on pole position in 2012 and being relegated to the back then being taken out).

He's got his arm pump sorted finally, but now the bike is looking rather second-rate.

If HRC can get it sorted within the first 3 races or so I think he's in with a strong chance, but with the level of competition right now Honda just can't afford to not be on their A game with the Yamaha being so good, all the Ducatis being competitive and Vinales on the zook looking strong too.

There are simply far too many bikes within a couple of tenths of each other - if you're not right up there, you're very likely looking at struggling for the top ten right now and that's just way too many points to be giving away until they get the bike sorted.

Dennis, great to read your words. I miss the days of your articles on Speed's website. I understand the Spanish migration but you remain the best US motorcycle racing journalist and one of the best to ever cover the sport. Hope you and your boy are doing well. Please write articles for an English website or magazine. Would happily buy a subscription.

I Just wanted to thank you, Dennis, for the many years of enjoyment that you have given us watching the races on Spanish TV. Yours, Angel Nieto's and David's analyses have pretty much been the only ones worth paying attention to over the past 10+ years and I'm deeply grateful.
I understand that Alex Criville was World Champion, but he always seemed incapable of saying much more than "This is an interesting corner". As for the other members of the Spanish TV commentary team, I'll just say that they mean well.
So, to the above mentioned; You guys are my heroes, I just wish that I could read more of Dennis' analysis without having to pay for a whole magazine when all I want is the one article. Being on a very tight budget, that isn't possible. Oh well, if our new business (language school) goes as well as it seems to be going, I might be able to at least donate to motomatters some day in the not too distant future.

Aprilia is a tiny company relative to the others but they are also part of the piaggio group. I doubt that they currently get many resources from this arrangement but if they can get close enough to the front to warrant some added investment it could make a huge difference to them.

Great explanation of the time sheets, and why Suzuki single fastest lap looks better than they really are.
I'm a Jorge fan but lets hope that Dani can find the speed to be able to mix it up with Jorge, Marc, and Rossi, thus making it more than a three rider battle for the title.
Already feel spoiled by 2015 season; the excitement, drama and waiting until the final race to see who won the championship.

Not to be contrarian but couldn't you also make the argument that Marquez' times aren't what they seem to be? Considering he was following Lorenzo?

he might have found some new lines following JL and probably learned something from it, but then his best time came later on his own....
something did happen in that Honda garage.... and the bike was responding in a new better way.
Will this work for Dani too?

One thing puzzles me : when you look at JL race simulation his last lap is fast in '55 does it mean that tyre management will not be too difficult? For him at least. Or that during race simulation he was holding back?
I must say he was impressive.