2017 Phillip Island MotoGP Test Thursday Round Up: Marquez vs Maverick, Lorenzo Doubts, Zarco Shines

Scouring through the timesheets after the second day of the MotoGP test at Phillip Island, and reading through everything the riders have said, a picture emerges, not just of what happened on Thursday, but also how history has affected them. Seeing Marc Márquez' workload, his approach, the things he is working on, and it is hard not to think back to his past three seasons in MotoGP. The lessons learned in each of those seasons color everything he is working at Phillip Island, and give us a glimpse of his objective for 2017.

On Thursday, Márquez put in 107 laps around Phillip Island. That is 20% more than most of his rivals, and nearly double the amount which some of them rode. Asked if he was playing games in suggesting the 2017 Honda RC213V was not ready, Márquez was curt. "I don’t play games, because if I'm ready I would not make 107 laps! Because my hands are destroyed."

Why put in so many laps? A look at the past three seasons offers an insight. In 2014, Márquez destroyed the field in the first part of the season, winning ten races in a row, and a total of thirteen. For a man with a thirst for victory matched perhaps only by Valentino Rossi, this was an ecstatic period. It also lured him into a false sense of security, the bike suffering as a result. This was not helped by Honda's insistence on building a bike as powerful as possible, with no view of making it easy to use.

2015 was a watershed year for Márquez. He crashed out of so many races trying to win them that he threw away any chance of defending his title. He put the lessons learned into 2016, and won the title last year by learning to settle for points. Sometimes, after the race, you could see from the expression on his face that not winning races had caused him something approaching physical pain.

Learning the lessons of history

Scouring the timesheets and reading between the lines of everything he says, Márquez looks to be creating a synthesis of the past three years, in the hope of recreating the sweet taste of success he savored in 2014. He is doing everything he can to ensure that he starts 2017 with a bike capable of winning, so he doesn't have to suffer through too many finishes just off the podium. He is leaving no stone unturned, working on every detail.

On Thursday, he laid out his plans fairly explicitly. "Always I say it depends on the tools you have, if you have a good tool you can attack from the beginning. If you don't feel comfortable, you need to wait a little bit, but we will see." Márquez is working on creating a tool capable of winning.

Márquez' pace was fearsome. Of the 107 laps he put in – perhaps one of the reasons he rode so much was because Repsol Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa was sick in the morning, and he wanted to pick up the slack – 44 of them, or 41%, were in the 1'29s. Nearly two thirds of his total laps were either 1'29s or 1'30s. Had he shown the same pace in the race last October, he would have won by something approaching half a minute.

Those pesky kids

But Márquez was still not the fastest rider on track. Maverick Viñales was back at the top of the timesheets – making it five out of the seven days of official testing so far – and with a pace that was even more terrifying than that of the Repsol Honda rider. Not only was his fastest lap nearly half a second quicker than Márquez', but he also managed eight laps under Márquez' best. Five of those laps were in the 1'28s, a genuinely quick pace.

Márquez let slip just how dangerous he believed Viñales to be. "Maverick today was the fastest one. Not only one lap; also his pace was really good. But we are working. Today I'm really happy. I did what was in the plan. So in the preseason sometimes it's good to just concentrate on your box and try your things." The last part of that sentence signals concern.

Viñales is also growing in confidence. "What I can say is the bike is great, the team has a lot of experience and are working and the bike is there, so the rider needs to ride fast and consistent," he said. "When I feel like this it means you can win and it is only motivation to work hard and try to push yourself really high. For me it is better because I know that I am working for one objective, the one that I dream of, so for sure I will be more motivated."

Lessons from the master

Viñales followed Rossi for a while, picking up tricks from the wily old veteran. "I see some things and in sector four he is really fast and I see some lines that I take profit," he said. He had done the same with Márquez and Crutchlow, looking to see what he could learn, to use their experience.

One thing the Movistar Yamaha rider learned is that the bike is strong on corner exit. "What I see is that we have a really good acceleration and we are stronger, but Honda is constant all the time on the lap times; Marc is constant all the time and we need to work hard on that part. Marc is constant but the others are not so constant." Viñales downplays his own consistency here, but there can be no doubt that he is keenly aware of Márquez' pace.

Ducati doubts?

If Thursday was another good day for Márquez and Viñales, it was another bad day for Jorge Lorenzo. There were the first signs of self doubt in the Spaniard, after his move to Ducati. Lorenzo was fifteenth fastest, and had distinctly modest race pace. He could not get comfortable on the bike, nor find the right way to ride it. "For sure, something is still not right and we didn’t discover. We need to discover something to enter faster in the corners, to open more throttle and generally go faster in the corner speed."

Above all, Lorenzo was perplexed by the fact that Alvaro Bautista was faster than both him and Andrea Dovizioso, despite being on an older Ducati. "Bautista, theoretically, has a worse bike but he’s able to be faster than me. We have to understand where we can find this time to be closer to his pace and especially to his fast lap." The biggest difference was in the middle of the corner, where Bautista was able to carry corner speed but Lorenzo wasn't.

Is it time for Lorenzo to panic? There are still four full days of testing to the start of the season, and eighteen races is a long season. The Ducati might feel different once the factory starts using its aerodynamics package, and Lorenzo might get some confidence back in the front end. Above all, Lorenzo still has time to figure out how to change his riding style, to brake later and deeper, and get the Desmosedici to turn in a different way. But with each passing test day he is off the pace, there is more reason to be concerned.

Aprilia and Suzuki unveiled their aero packages, new fairings meant to comply with the 2017 regulations. Suzuki's solution was similar to Yamaha's, though located higher up on the bike: a duct with a winglet in the middle, put in to create downforce. Aprilia's new fairing took a different approach, with the fairing itself actually doing the work. A smaller cover is placed over a deep duct in the fairing itself, with the internal shape creating the downforce.

Rampant rookies

Obviously, it is easy to concentrate on the big names, with Márquez and Viñales setting themselves up as the (very early) favorites for the title. But with several riders putting in long runs, the timesheets threw up some very interesting results. Cal Crutchlow had strong pace, but given the LCR Honda won two races in 2016, this should not come as a surprise. Valentino Rossi worked on race pace, though he struggled in the afternoon to get the bike to work. The set up direction they chose turned out not to work as they had hoped, so his pace was not as he had hoped.

As Jorge Lorenzo had alluded to, Alvaro Bautista was quick once again, as well as being consistently fast. Bautista put in a long run consisting of a long string of 1'30s with a smattering of 1'29s thrown in. This is the third test where Bautista has shown his pace, and he looks like being one of the few satellite Ducatis who isn't struggling.

Watch out for Zarco

Above all, the rookies impressed on Thursday. Especially the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders: Jonas Folger was the fastest of the two, but Johann Zarco showed incredible race pace, once you dig into the timesheets. The Frenchman did three longish runs, two of which were full of 1'30 laps. It was above all his consistency which impressed, as the table below shows. If you take the average of each rider's best 27 laps (race distance at Phillip Island), it is Zarco who is fourth quickest, and a fraction quicker than Valentino Rossi.

Rider Total laps Average best 27 1'28s % 1'29s % 1'30s % Total %
Maverick Viñales 80 1:29.560 5 6.25% 16 20.00% 22 27.50% 43 53.75%
Marc Márquez 107 1:29.581 0 0.00% 44 41.12% 25 23.36% 69 64.49%
Cal Crutchlow 80 1:30.039 0 0.00% 12 15.00% 19 23.75% 31 38.75%
Johann Zarco 88 1:30.273 0 0.00% 3 3.41% 34 38.64% 37 42.05%
Valentino Rossi 70 1:30.287 0 0.00% 7 10.00% 28 40.00% 35 50.00%
Alvaro Bautista 86 1:30.373 0 0.00% 3 3.49% 38 44.19% 41 47.67%
Aleix Espargaro 69 1:30.409 0 0.00% 1 1.45% 29 42.03% 30 43.48%
Jonas Folger 65 1:30.413 0 0.00% 3 4.62% 23 35.38% 26 40.00%
Jack Miller 83 1:30.683 0 0.00% 3 3.61% 19 22.89% 22 26.51%
Andrea Dovizioso 55 1:30.794 0 0.00% 2 3.64% 15 27.27% 17 30.91%
Alex Rins 80 1:30.850 0 0.00% 2 2.50% 14 17.50% 16 20.00%
Jorge Lorenzo 64 1:30.871 0 0.00% 0 0.00% 18 28.13% 18 28.13%

Zarco had learned a lot from watching Maverick Viñales, benefiting from being able to see his fellow Yamaha rider's data. "It’s great to also have Viñales as a reference because he’s going really fast. He’s sliding a lot with the bike. I’m not the kind of rider who wants to slide but he can show that even when you slide you can be fast."

His plan for Friday was to take it easy, and keep focusing on making progress. "I don’t want to do too much because the confidence is also coming back. I want to use this test to grow up as a rider. As I said, Viñales is sliding a lot and he’s going fast here. It’s maybe the time for me to understand things. I want that. If I don’t understand it tomorrow, it’s not a disaster because I know that confidence is coming."

It's only testing, and there are four more days to go, but 2017 is shaping up to be an intriguing season in MotoGP.

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So, Maverick has clearly made a great choice. Given that extraordinary testing effort by Marc, it would seem at least he, agrees. The other question that occurs here is how many of the riders on that timesheet have real Alien potential? Given this track, and the relative closeness of the times, it might be more than a couple. It might be the best rookie year for a very long time.

Might I ask David if Yamaha's factory effort are sharing more tech and data with its satellite team riders than other marques? Or are Tech3 just going really well atm?

Whatever it is, I hope Folger and Zarco are bringing back the days of Crutchlow and Dovi and we see Tech 3 consistantly fighting for podiums!  It'll be hard tho, with Marc, Mavrick, and Rossi up there.

Good stuff!

Testing is much more interesting this yr than most, as we expected when rules/tire changes and new manu's were announced. Yes, it is "just testing" but...

Vinales. Consistency. Pace. Excellence. Alien. He looks so natural at P.I., super cool riding style to watch.

Yamaha - package looks improved. We are still to see how much motor and electronics improvement is actually there, and Qatar should put it all on display. I can anticipate some GOOD things amongst their riders and a shift for one that I won't mention because I am plain sick of off track considerations there. Vinales X (not plus) 2017 Yam = big.

Honda - interesting that we have Sepang and P.I. for tests that can both mask a Honda tractible power concern. Vinales statement re superiority there is of note. Honda has some underlaying issues re their bike's mechanical DNA AND over reliance on the previous era's electronics functionality. And this is not yet worked through. How far along this process are they? Where/when will we see? Crutchlow and LCR are something HRC can and should take pride in. Looks like they are giving him the good kit, and this good for everyone except their competition. #35 and little-big LCR are not done impressing. The Honda is a great bike and improving, but look at the whole circus sweeping forward. With a beautiful array of strategies besides just electronics and throwing $ at 3 riders. Speaking of which...

Ducati - Lorenzo...the brief test after Valencia was real, and so is the Sepang/P.I. teething. The latter being just what you would expect now, the first a delightful surprise for most sane people. Ducati and Jorge need to bend towards each other. Dovi confirms the need for a more turnable Duc. For the same reasons that we may not have seen the worst of the Honda we have not seen the best of the 2017 Ducati. But we HAVE seen the inconsistency that #99 in red has at present. Qatar will have happy Ducatisti. Gabarrini does not have a Stoner in his garage this yr, riding around issues and rear wheel steering. But he doesn't have a recalcitrant bike either, this Ducati MotoGP bike has more development potential than we have seen manifest. Gigi will see to it. Even if #99 does not win another #1 plate in red, the factory can succeed via making this rough ride a more balanced and complete package. Their motor and electronics are fantastic. The tires no longer allow Honda to dominate the braking zone, and the new tires support Duc driving out earlier. Move weight around and (shorten the bike?) to get it flicking. CHATTER off the rear under power at lean? Let's see an innovative Italian salad solution. Everyone loves antipasto and big bottles of champagne eh?. Jorge looked hesitant and inconsistent Thurs. But the new bike isn't wagging and pumping as much as the older ones.

Suzuki, Iannone AND RINS. Good stuff folks! Just a TAD more motor and you are THERE. And yes, some of us didn't over represent meat head's 2016 shortcomings nor forget his 2015 display. Brivio got a lot of rider for a little salary. Rins - quickly getting quick kid! Excited to see the Suzuki 2017 project go fast w/o reliance on Vinales. Sure, the bike does well at P.I., but Rins is on pace with CRUTCHLOW. Lovely.

A. Espargaro has the other Italian beauty on a good pace eh? Looking fwd to seeing that bike grow, and he can help. Still hungry, very gifted, something to prove. Piaggio has put some money in and it shows. Pretty ducts too.

Orange is only 3 tenths off of mid pack pace already and I am going to call that good work. Keep it up friends! The bike doesn't move around that much under Smith, but sure does under P.Espargaro.

Of course the Tech 3 garage has little development duties and lots of skill getting young riders into their potential. They always start the season w a boost that loses some lustre as the factory bikes come together and continue forward. But WOW Herve and the new kids!! Zarco AND Folger both, far ahead of the spots they were handed. And more to come as they JUST got on the big bikes. Very impressed. And yes, the Yamaha is a great package. And getting better. Give them the good kit Japan.

8 Min video from Thurs...

Off we go mates

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