The Monday after the final race at Valencia has not been the first day of the official test for a few years now. This is a good thing: the riders are exhausted after a full season of racing, and need a lie in and a day to recover. The team members are the same, mechanics moving from garage to garage, and crew chiefs shuffling around to meet their new teams.
The riders might get the day off, but the rest of the staff do not. Mechanics are being shown the ropes in the new garage, and learn how the bikes fit together by helping to strip and reassemble them for the start of Tuesday's test. Factory bosses are also busy, going through test schedules with existing and new riders to sort out who will be testing what, and what to expect.
They also make time on Monday to talk to the press. Or at least some of them do. The top brass of Suzuki, Ducati, and Honda all held press conferences to talk to the media, and to go over their plans. The three different press conferences also gave an insight into the different approaches of the teams. HRC were there to present the management team that will take over from Shuhei Nakamoto, who retires as HRC Vice President in April. Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio held a solo press conference in English, to discuss the plans for the team. And Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna spoke to the media in Italian and English about the 2017 bike and the arrival of Jorge Lorenzo.
The Honda press conference was the least informative of the bunch, as is the policy of HRC. Honda never give out details of their technical development. When asked about the new engine Honda will debut on Tuesday, both Nakamoto and Shinichi Kokubu, who is taking over the technical part of Honda's MotoGP project, refused point blank to answer questions directly. Kokubu was the most forthcoming, saying that improving the character of the Honda RC213V had come from examining many aspects of the bike. That included firing intervals, but also chassis and electronics.
But they can only hide the new engine firing interval until Tuesday morning. The RC213V that will roll out of pit lane on Tuesday will sound very different to the bike that finished on the podium on Sunday. The recording I have heard of the bike sounds very similar to the Ducati, no longer the screamer that Honda have used since the return of the 1000s in 2012. Whether that change will make the engine easier to handle than the screamer has been remains to be seen. It should help reduce the amount of wheelie.
Suzuki will not have a new bike to debut at Valencia. Davide Brivio told a press conference that the bike had already made huge steps in the winter of 2015/2016, as witnessed by the fact that the GSX-RR won a race and was fighting for podiums at so many races. The bike already handled exceptionally well, and the engine performance together with the new seamless gearbox had made it competitive.
The next steps for Suzuki will be to provide more of an evolution. The bike could still use a little more horsepower, Brivio said. On Tuesday, Suzuki will roll out what Brivio called a "middle step" engine, which will include some of the improvements the engineers have been working on for 2017, the remainder coming at the tests next year. At Sepang, there will be more chassis updates to come.
Brivio said that the expectations of Suzuki were much higher for next season than they were for 2016. Both Suzuki and new rider Andrea Iannone won races in 2016, so the combination needs to be a success from the start. Brivio was interested to hear Iannone's input, but warned that the Italian will also need to adapt to the Suzuki.
Adapting to a new bike is exactly what Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna said that Jorge Lorenzo will have to do. Ducati will be rolling out the GP17 on Tuesday, but the main focus of the changes are in the chassis. To reduce the number of variables in the data, both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo will be using a bike with winglets. That way, they can do back to back tests on GP16s and GP17s, and more easily understand the difference the new chassis makes. Removing the winglets would add confusion to the data, Dall'Igna said, making it more difficult to analyze.
The biggest issue with the Ducati was turning mid corner, Dall'Igna said. Given that this area is precisely where Lorenzo is strongest, it is an area where they will need to improve. But adapting will have to be a two way affair, with Jorge Lorenzo having to adapt to the bike as well. "For sure he has to learn the bike first of all, and try to adapt his riding style to the strong point that the bike has," Dall'Igna said. "But the reverse, for sure we have to try to give him the best possible bike. That means that first of all, we have to understand what he needs to go fast, and second to try to give him this."
Dall'Igna was not worried that Lorenzo would not be able to do that. He had worked with him previously, albeit in 125s and 250s, and had a good idea of what to expect. He knows Lorenzo's strengths, and is sure he can adapt. Nor was he worried about Lorenzo's recent struggles in the rains. "Jorge in the past also won races in rain conditions," Dall'Igna said, while acknowledging that the Spaniard had struggled in the past year. The strength of the Ducati in the rain should help give Lorenzo confidence. "I think that he can win races also in the future in rain conditions. Our bike is quite strong in the rain, because all of our riders have good results in those conditions, so I'm not afraid about that. "
The Ducati which appears on track on Tuesday will feature winglets, but that is only an intermediate step. Over the winter, Ducati will be working on a new aerodynamic package ready for the Sepang tests. Racing without winglets will not be such a big problem, Dall'Igna said. "With the proper set up, you can compensate the winglet behaviors," he told us. A bike might be faster with winglets, but the difference was very small indeed.
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