Valencia MotoGP Test Wrap Up:

The moment the bikes fell silent at Valencia, at 5pm on Wednesday, officially marked the end of the beginning. The 2018 season is now well underway, the initial outlines of next year's bikes being revealed. There is still a long way to go to Qatar, but the first step has been taken, the first few hundred terabytes of data downloaded to laptops and uploaded to factory servers for analysis.

The new season began in much the same vein as the old season ended: with Marc Márquez fastest, and on a tear. The Repsol Honda rider was fastest on the second day of the test, and fastest overall, four tenths quicker than his teammate on Wednesday, and a tenth quicker than Maverick Viñales, who had topped the timesheets on Tuesday.

The timesheets had a familiar look to them. The top five overall consisted of the two Repsol Hondas and three Yamahas – the two Movistar factory bikes and Johann Zarco on the Tech 3 machine – followed by a couple of Ducatis, Jorge Lorenzo on the factory bike and Jack Miller on the Pramac machine. Whether the timesheets will stay like that when Qatar rolls around is another question entirely.

Born ready

There is reason to believe that the Hondas will still be at the front in Qatar. Though Márquez set his fastest time on the 2017 bike, the 2018 bike both he and Dani Pedrosa used was relatively well sorted. Both riders referred to the new bike as the "prototype bike", and it is to form the basis of the 2018 Honda RC213V which will make its debut in Sepang. But it is different in every aspect: a new engine, new exhausts, new chassis. Only the fairing looked familiar, though it remained in gorgeous black carbon fiber, rather than the gaudy Repsol colors.

The bike is sufficiently different to the old machine that differences are visible to the naked eye. The exhaust looks different: the lower exhaust (from the front cylinder bank) is a little longer, and squared off instead of the slash style which debuted midway through 2017. The upper exhaust is shorter, no longer curling coquettishly into a loop, but hooked into a shorter exit much like the Ducati. The two pipes merge into one later too: on the old pipe, the two separate pipes from each rear cylinder join just before the exhaust enters the tail unit. The new pipe has the two pipes joining in the middle of the tail. Pipe length and the point at which the exhausts join are used to tune the pressure in exhausts, managing power delivery and outright horsepower.

The new engine had the most promise as far as Márquez was concerned. "Always when you get a new engine they try to give more power to you," the newly-crowned 2017 MotoGP champion told us. "And we gained, especially on the bottom, we gained a little bit more power. Also in the top, we gained there." The engine will help to make acceleration more manageable, always a problem with the Honda.

Some parts are better than others

Most encouraging for Márquez was the fact that the engine was already fairly well sorted, the electronics well within an operating base. "I'm happy because it's the first time that with such a new engine I feel inside the parameters, you know?" he tried to explain. "Normally every year I was starting here and we were talking one year ago here, saying the electronics are not there, we need to work on the electronics. But now it's inside the parameters in this circuit, but now we need to reconfirm in February."

He was less positive about the chassis, though that was not a cause for concern. "We need to work on the chassis area," he said. "The chassis that we had today, there were many many new parts, and now we need to understand which part was better, which part was worse. But we need to choose, the engine is good, the chassis? Doubts."

Yet the bike is sorted enough that the factory riders had decided to skip the private test at Jerez which most of the MotoGP teams will be attending next week. "We have some things to try, and of course it's important to reconfirm things in another circuit," Márquez explained. "But we get a lot of information here and we believe in that information, and we prefer to spend these days next year. Because at the moment, if we have something new maybe we will try, but anyway, Cal, LCR will go to Jerez and so they can get information there."

Controlling confusion

If Honda were making clear and obvious progress, Yamaha are still in the process of defining the direction they want to go. Three different riders had three different programs, each focusing on different areas. Johann Zarco spent the day with two 2017 Yamaha M1's. Maverick Viñales was switching between the 2016 and 2017 bikes. Valentino Rossi has 2016 bikes, but with a 2018 engine.

What conclusions can be drawn from the test? The 2018 engine is a positive development, according to Rossi, with more power both at the bottom and top end. That had achieved its stated objective: "To try to have more power without losing the character from the bottom, and smooth from the bottom," Rossi explained. "We try some different things. We have some positives, some negative. But are not so bad. For sure Valencia is not fantastic for test the engine because it was quite small. But you can understand and we continue to try also in Sepang in 10 days."

Getting the engine right is crucial, when the engine design will be frozen for the duration for the season. "It’s an important test because you don't have to make mistakes it’s better to have the same bike for understanding the way. I think at the end I decide what is my favorite. And now we will confirm in 10 days at Sepang if it is the same or something else."

Old vs New

Maverick Viñales had been running back-to-back tests with the 2016 and 2017 bikes. "With the 2017 I had better traction, better acceleration," Viñales said. "And with the 2016 I feel better with the front. It is what I was feeling all year. Finally let's see if we take the 2016 and work to make the acceleration good or we get the 2017 and try to make, especially the brake area and corner speed better. So we have to decide which way is the easiest to be fast."

The 2016 bike had better corner speed, Viñales explained. "With the 2016 I feel better. It is better for the corner speed. I feel more turning and easier for me. Let's see. It's always difficult just in one day to decide."

That was the opposite to what Johann Zarco had reported. But Viñales dismissed any such idea, saying it was hard to make comparisons. "Different riding style and you know riders have different feelings on the bike so difficult to compare."

Barely (il)legal

Viñales also spent a lot of time testing the new aerodynamic package Yamaha brought to the test. The aero package looked an awful lot like the winglets that used to grace the bike in 2016, before they were banned. That aero package raised a lot of hackles in the paddock, with riders and team managers complaining that the forward-swept aero appendages were too dangerous, and resembled the winglets which were banned at the end of last year. "If this is allowed, then I don't understand why we can't have our old winglets," Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti expressed his exasperation.

Yamaha were on the defensive. These were legal, they insisted. "Aprilia is doing the same!" Viñales insisteed. "And Ducati. Finally looks like a winglet but they take it out of the fairing. I don't think it's illegal." It certainly had some benefit, he felt. "It feels really good. Actually we improve and here in Valencia we know for sure the fairing is much better."

According to Technical Director Danny Aldridge, the legality of Yamaha's fairing is far from settled. There have been discussions back and forth over the fairing, but changes still need to be made, he told's Peter McLaren.

The question of legality is not relevant during the test. Teams and factories can use whatever they want during testing, both private testing and official IRTA tests such as the one at Valencia. Of course, there is not much point in testing something which has no chance of ever being approved in any form, but Yamaha's fairing can probably be made legal with a certain amount of adjustment.

Of course, Yamaha's new fairing does make something of a mockery of the current aerodynamics rules, just as the Ducati, Aprilia, and Suzuki fairings did beforehand. But that is the danger of making rules. As soon as you ban one thing, engineers start plotting ways around whatever ban you have in place. The Pandora's box of aerodynamics has been opened, and cannot be closed again, I suggested to Paolo Ciabatti. "As far as we are concerned, Pandora's box never needed to be closed," the Ducati boss insisted.

Newer is better

Johann Zarco spent the day on two 2017 Yamaha M1s. The Frenchman was happy, using much less energy to ride the 2017 bike at speed than the 2016 machine. "At the end of the day, I could confirm again I’m spending less energy with that one," Zarco told us. "At the moment we are not super fast but spending less energy is such an important thing that we must keep when you are traveling around the world, to have facility [ease] on the bike. So I want to keep that and work on it."

The weak point of the bike is particularly tire wear in the second half of the race. It was what Zarco had focused on throughout the test, he said. "Today we tried to work with more used tires from half race until the end and see if we have better lap times," Zarco said. "This is always complicated to analyze; if we’re much faster or not in the race pace. But at least when I was changing from one bike to the other one the difference was not big. It was good to compare the things. Now, when we analyze these two days of testing the ’17 bike gives me more possibilities to enjoy on the bike, to be fast and having the same lap time than with the old bike I can say that we have the same lap time but we are not at the maximum of the bike."

Nothing new on the Western Front

In stark contrast with the intense work at Yamaha was the relative calm in Ducati. Both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo only had a few minor parts to test, to get a general idea of the direction of the 2018 Ducati, they told us. "We try small things," Andrea Dovizioso told us. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the ‘18 bike here to really start for the season. So we just wanted to try different things to decide in which way it will be the ‘18 bike. But also we test in Jerez. Still we have to try a few things to make a decision."

Things had worked out a little more favorably for Jorge Lorenzo, the Spaniard explained. "Today we tried again the semi-new bike," Lorenzo said. "For the moment it doesn't work better than the current one. And many little things, the same things than yesterday to be really sure of the way the engineers must follow for the new bike. Apart from that, it has been an interesting day for my side, for my riding style, because I understood certain things that will help me to take more profit of the current bike until we will have a bike that turns better in the corners."

A completely new bike is expected at the Sepang test, but the preparation work continues. The main focus of a new bike is turning, and Jorge Lorenzo is willing to sacrifice top end in order to achieve it. "I already did with the new fairing. So I am one of the riders who believes that you make more of the time in the corners than in the straights. So I'm prepared for it, but it's also a compromise," Lorenzo said.

Jack Miller had been very happy to switch to Ducati from Honda, but the fate of Scott Redding was less positive. The Englishman had gone from the Pramac Ducati – the seat now vacated by Redding and filled by Miller – to the factory Aprilia in the Gresini team. It was a difference of night and day, and fraught with complications, Redding said.

Careful what you ask for

"I expected it a little bit easier than the Ducati," Redding said, "but it was, not more difficult, but the engine style and chassis style was quite a lot different. Like when I went from the Honda to the Ducati, they were sort of similar, in a way, but it was easier when I went to Ducati. Now it's like the characteristic of the engine is coming back. So that's one thing I feel we need to work on for the future, but in general, the feeling with the bike is good."

The way the bike needed to be attacked was both very strange and very unnatural, Redding said. "The bike struggles more with the front load, so you have to override it a lot yourself with the rear brake to do that," Redding said. "And that's something we want to work on to improve. I didn't try too much. At first I said, oh, the bike's really stiff, it's aggressive, so we changed some things, made it more agile, the engine more mellow. I came back today, we did this and that, and it's better. So it's just finding the way in the end."

It had given Redding an appreciation of the riding of Aleix Espargaro. "Aleix' riding style, honestly, he's riding it well to make it do what it does," Redding said. "The bike is not naturally doing things it should do, and you need to override it a lot on the brakes. I was doing that, but my level to his level is again another step. So it's just one of those things that you need time to adapt to it and do it."

Redding's hope was that he would go to the test next week at Jerez with an open mind and fresh ideas of how to ride the bike, unencumbered by his previous experience on the Ducati. "I'm pretty sure that having a break, going away, coming back in Jerez, like I went to Ducati, you start on a new track, you don't have those lines in your mind, you have a fresh page to start from. We'll see from there."

Illness thwarts testing

The work for Suzuki was brief, but it provided a solid basis going forward into 2018. Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone had both been struck down with a stomach bug, and been unable to test on Tuesday. There were not alone: some 12 members of the Suzuki team had had similar problems over the course of the weekend. A new chassis and new engine had made a difference, but neither rider had been able to put a lot of laps on the bike.

The teams pack up now, and head south. Some 19 MotoGP bikes are expected to head to Jerez for the private test there. The Repsol Honda team will be absent, as will both the Movistar Yamaha and Monster Tech 3 Yamaha teams. Yamaha will be testing in Sepang at the end of next week, and will be hoping for a mix of conditions. The Yamaha is excellent in grip, but rain would help sort out direction for several different problems. But the weather is one thing the teams can't control.

We will be down in Jerez to report directly from the test, and to chase up some exclusive content for our subscribers. If you're not already a site supporter, make sure you don't miss out on the exclusive content we offer, and take out a subscription today.

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I seen the time sheets, I thought of poor Sam Lowes straight away. I highly doubt Scott will do any better than Sam - I want him to prove me wrong, but I don't see it happening. Very impressed with Miller - shows Honda's are a bit of a handful to ride. But each bike will suit a certain rider - I thought from the get-go Ducati would be perfect for Miller. If he shows promise, I know the factory will reward that - which I am sure helped him make the decision to switch. Worrying times at Yamaha.

Any bets at all on Jack Miller to come out as a better Ducati rider than Lorenzo?

Tuesday's wrap up was really just a blog on Yamaha.  The final wrap up covered more ground but once again narrowly focused on factory riders and Tech 3 riders.

Miller was a revelation on Tuesday and finished 5th on Wednesday but got no more than a sentence each day.  There are fans who like to hear your expert opinions on more than just factory riders David.  If I hadn't have watched about 6 hours of the 2 days of tests I could have been mistaken about the considerable commentary that happen live about Miller.

Choosing subjects to write about is tricky, especially now when there was so much going on. (On a side note, it has become a lot more complicated to write about MotoGP now because there are so many stories which matter. It's no longer just the two Hondas, the two Yamahas and Casey.)

I had posted the initial debrief with Miller. And the big story of the test is just how much trouble Yamaha are in (and conversely, the good shape Honda are already in.)

I haven't finished writing about this test. When I get home, I will go back and look at the times, and spend more time analyzing who is going well. Jack Miller is obviously a big story, and to an extent Tito Rabat, who is faster now he is not on a Honda. There is much more to come, from the private test at Jerez next week as well, which I will be attending.

In short, there are too many things happening in racing now to be cover them all immediately. I will try to get to more subjects, but it will be later after the events.

You have a unique ability to find and deliver quality info so I look forward to reading about the other guys.  This season showed that there is significant depth in the field and in many respects the difference between 3rd or 4th and 10th or 11th is simply factory support.  Focusing on these other guys who are really skilled riders who are just missing the last couple of percent is really worthwhile in my opinion.  They also seem to open up more than the factory guys as well.

If this test tells us something about next year, Honda/Marquez opponents should be worried. It seems the new bike is already in good shape whereas other factories are still waiting which direction choose and/or the new solutions brought by engineers.  Marc Marquez ran a lot of laps in mid 30' and a lot of laps quicker than anyone else ( 4 laps faster than what Pedrosa did at best) . I know lap times are not the targer during tests but still...

Zarco : I have the feeling he'll have an opportunity to test all parts the factory used during the whole season and especially all chassis, choose then he prefers and sort the 2017 bike out while the factory will have to work on a new 2018 bike. He could therefore do in 2018 exactly what he did in 2017 : forget the bike, focus on set-up and improve his riding style . Not sure it's bad news for him.  Even if the bike is bad in bad grip conditions ( Jerez and Catalunya are resurfaced so he should maybe struggle only in the wet) it could be well enough for what he aims for : podiums and a first win (or maybe more ) . I hope Yamaha will have some rain during the Sepang test next week. Zarco could see if the 2017 bike is as bad in those conditions as  Yamaha Riders results suggest. 

Miller : it was a delight to see him ride during the test. No doubt Miller is very talented and no doubt  making him jump from Moto3 to MotoGP was a bad choice. But talent is still there. 2017 season showed some real progress from Jack. Not really shiny but still a lot more consistency in my opinion. To sign Miller now is maybe a very very clever move for Ducati. WE have all good memories from Aussies riding a Ducati :) . At least, it promises a lot of fun in Pramac team with Jack and Petrux. 

This winter will be long, very long. I need to do more sport to fight the addiction :) 

Spot on Pom: How are we gonna fight the crave for races during the winter?
Hopefully David will feed us some of his very best content to keep us going until Qatar :)
And spot on re. Hondas' form in general and MM in particular: nightmare material for the other teams....
Especially when in Yamaha they are still lost: I heard last night some comments from Meregalli: the look on his face screamed HORROR! And said in Italian that after what they thought was a breakthrough for Vinales on day 1 was totally cancelled the following day as temperature and track conditions had slightly changed. And added that they are basically back to square one admitting that they cannot figure out a way of keeping the same performance outside a very narrow window. Whereas all the other manufacturers don't have this pbm.
Yes, resurfaced tracks might change the situation and favour Zarco but what about Michelin who will again bring new tyres that might finally work better ? Or not?
It's interesting that Zarco said that he was slower with the 2017 but thinks the're is a lot of potential. This concurs with comments from the Yamaha team but they did not figure out a solution for the bad days in one entire season and with all the mighty resources they have. How can Tech 3 do it? Unless the 2018 Michelin is so different that it might change completely the game.
I'm interested to see what happens in the sepang private test: I hope David will provide us with some fixes..... ahem I mean reports :)
I like the idea of the Australian on the Ducati... not sure he'll follow the path to success as his predecessor. But I don't mind to be wrong.
The one I'll be watching closely is Morbidelli it's a shame he does not have his teammate and I don't think is a good idea to give a couple of tests to young marquez it will only add confusion IMO.
And I'll be watching Dovi: this winter will be crucial for him.
It's no secret that I root for the Italian side of the Yamaha garage, but I have no hope to see a real bike breakthrough in 2018.... so I've put to rest all expectations.

Key factor here is Zarco himself. Not to say he's stronger than Vinales and Rossi but his riding Style is completely different . So maybe Zarco and Coulon/Tech3 could find a set up that suit well Zarco and the bike, thanks to a better matching between Zarco's comfort zone and M1's operating window but would be totally unuseful for Vinales or Rossi. Maybe Yamaha will add a few other parts in the mix for them. who knows ? .

Another key factor is the goals the different riders are after. What I'm convinced of is that for Zarco a bike who is fast enough to allow him to fight for podiums and wins in most cases is enough. Even if the bike is sometimes bad, it doesn't matter so much. this put him in a very different mood compared to Vinales and Rossi who starts a championship with the idea in mind to win it. They need a good bike to be there everytime everywhere. An hard to diagnose random weakness translates into a nightmare for them whereas it only causes a bad day at work for Zarco.

Sepang next week will maybe tell us more but I fear a strong embargo from Yamaha.  Hopefully they'll have some rain to test under in wet conditions. it's a shame Folger can't do it. it would be a very interesting alternative point of view because I think his riding style is less "special" than Zarco and closer to Rossi and Vinales. Hope he'll get well soon. 

And Surely the Tyres can change and mess up things even more. 

For sure, I wouldn't like to be Yamaha right now. Hard work and tough choices ahead of them. 

Scott Redding's speed on the Aprilia will be dissappointing for him and Aprilia, but his comments are very interesting indeed. Actually it proves it to be a good move by Aprilia to sign him, because with his experience on the two Hondas (one dead slow, both difficult) and the Ducati GP15 and GP16 he has different reference points and 'problem experience' than Aleix - where poor Sam Lowes had none, so he did not know for sure wether it was him or the bike.

Redding may be struggling a lot now, but it could push development in the right direction. He seems to be identifying issues that were ridden around by Aleix. It could turn out that with both their inputs the bike becomes more consistent and easier to ride. There must be some potential, Aleix has been really fast many times this year, both in practices and in races, in wet and dry. I'm curious to see what happens next year. 

Do you like to travel?  Do you like to cook? Do you always adhere to the most stringent food safety standards? 

Well a recent vacancy has just opened in the Suzuki Team. They are looking for a canteen chef ...

Vinales: "With the 2017 I had better traction, better acceleration. And with the 2016 I feel better with the front. It is what I was feeling all year. Finally let's see if we take the 2016 and work to make the acceleration good or we get the 2017 and try to make, especially the brake area and corner speed better. So we have to decide which way is the easiest to be fast."

It seems he is still undecided on which chassis he prefers even when clearly suffering especially in the second half of the season. He is confused about what he wants as the base setup (better front feel vs better traction/acceleration) to work with and continue to build on.

I have always believed the Honda to be a very difficult bike to ride. You cannot use Marquez as a example to say they are good. MM could put a Vespa on the front row. Cal and Dani have struggled for the last two seasons and the sattelite riders have been mostly way off the pace. Miller and Crutchlow both crashed their brains out trying to get good results. Poor old Tito was clearly struggling too.

Miller hops on the Ducati and straight away is on the pace. Thats tells me 2 things. The Honda was holding Jack back and the Ducati is a competitive mount.

Jack is a huge talent who has been a victim of a difficult to race Honda and his own attitude which thankfully his mate Cal has been helping him with and we can clearly see the change in him.

I had no problem at all with him going from Moto3 straight to MotoGP, and imagine what he would had achieved if he had gone straight to a Yamaha instead of the recalcitrant Honda.

It says volumes that MVDS were gutted when HRC did not re-sign Jack and he chose to move on. MVDS saw their future based around Jack. And HRC did not give Jack a 3 year contract based on a hunch that he might become good one day. They are way smarter and more calculating than that.

Ducati have pulled off a major coup in signing Jack. You can bet your bottom dollar that the difference between Miller's and Lorenzo's pay checks will be vastly greater than the difference in their race results. Sure Jack may spend a little more time plucking gravel out of his leathers but when he stays on he will be the top non factory Ducati rider and pushing the factory guys all the way. I reckon Ducati have got a real bargain there.

2018 is shaping up to be another pearler of a season. Just when we thought it couldn't get any better.

Bring it on!