2018 Sepang MotoGP Test: Tuesday's Quick Takes

Three days in the tropical heat of Sepang always generates so much information, and so much to think about, that it is impossible to encapsulate it all in just a few short hours immediately after the test. It takes time to digest, analyze, and separate the wheat from the chaff. That will happen over the coming days here on MotoMatters.com.

Yet there are clear lines emerging from the murk of testing. Avenues worth investigating, trains of thought worth pursuing. So here is the short version of what I think we have learned from three days of testing in Sepang. The long version – or more likely, versions – are still to come.

Honda – cautiously hopeful

After the Valencia test, Marc Márquez and Dani Pedrosa were happy about the new Honda RC213V motor. The electronics were roughly in the right place, and it sounded like the only work left was in refining it to turn it into a capable weapon. They were so happy they decided to skip the Jerez test, and left the donkey work to Cal Crutchlow.

On the basis of that, HRC went away and built a second engine, even more powerful than the Valencia unit, and it was that engine which Márquez, Pedrosa, and Crutchlow spent all Tuesday focusing on. All three were unanimous in preferring that engine.

There was optimism, but also a note of caution: "At the moment, it's still a little bit aggressive, that engine," Marc Márquez said. "And it's where I'm a little bit more worried, because normally where, the engine always has one step, two steps, three steps even less power. And it's where I'm trying to understand well, because now we go to Thailand, it will be more or less the same conditions, and then when we arrive in Qatar, there is no time to change. You try the engine, it's good or no good, but there's no time to change it for the race. It's there where we need to work with the electronics to try to find a good balance."

If HRC can control the engine with electronics, there is nothing to worry about. "You can take away too much torque with electronics, but you can't add power if an engine hasn't got any," Cal Crutchlow said sagely. But if the engine is too aggressive, Honda may find themselves in a similar hole to 2017. A hole, of course, that led to Marc Márquez becoming champion.

Yamaha – the new chassis: oasis or mirage?

On Sunday, the Movistar Yamaha riders were delighted with the 2018 frame, saying it gave them back the feeling which they had been missing in 2017. On Monday, Maverick Viñales finished fastest, Valentino Rossi second fastest. All was rosy in the Movistar garden.

Tuesday brought trouble. All of a sudden, neither Rossi nor Viñales could beat their previous day's times, Rossi finishing eighth and Viñales a lowly eighteenth. "We are a little bit worried," Rossi said. "We need to understand why, because in the Valencia Test after the last race happen exactly the same. On Tuesday me and also Maverick have a good feeling with the bike and tires. Our pace was 30.5 for example and our position was third and fourth. Next day, same bike, same tires, same temperature we lose 3-4 tenths and we don't understand why. Today happened a little bit the same, so we need to understand why."

On the other hand, Rossi's pace was good, he said, and the first two says had been positive for both Rossi and Viñales. The fear is that the Yamaha riders' results will depend on which version of the bike turns up on race day: Dr Jekyll, the sweet-handling M1 which is fast, or Mr Hyde, the intransigent Yamaha that won't submit to their commands.

Meanwhile, in the Tech 3 garage, Johann Zarco faces a similar dilemma. The 2017 chassis he tried on the previous two days gave better feedback, but lacked rear grip. So on Tuesday, he switched back to the 2016 chassis, and decided he will race that for the rest of the year. "So today I decided to use my bike from last year to have all the information and understand even more things about my feeling," the Frenchman said. "In the morning it was the perfect conditions to be really fast and a 1m 59.5 is quite good, but not good enough. At least I could have the grip I was missing the day before. I feel that now with one more year of experience I still have things to learn. I will, at the moment, at the next tests keep working on the bike I was using last year and find a way to ride it as Lorenzo was riding it two years ago. I think doing what he was doing will help me be faster."

Zarco's choice confirms that Yamaha's engineers took a wrong turning with the 2017 bike. The concerns of Rossi and Viñales over the 2018 bike suggest that they still haven't entirely found their way out of the swamp. There is going to be a lot of work to do at Yamaha.

Ducati – A bright future awaits

There is little to say about Ducati, other than Jorge Lorenzo shaved a few hundredths off the fastest ever lap around Sepang, taking over the unofficial lap record from Marc Márquez. The new chassis which Ducati brought to Sepang worked well, improving turning on corner entry and helping on exit, though the middle of the corner remains problematic. A new chassis is supposed to be coming to the next test at Buriram in Thailand, and if that makes a similar step to the Sepang chassis, the Ducatis are going to be hard to beat.

Both Jorge Lorenzo and Andrea Dovizioso were happy, the only fly in the ointment being a technical issue for both Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci, which stopped them from using the GP18 in the afternoon. That is, of course, why you test: to avoid a repeat of something similar on a race weekend.

Suzuki – Rising star?

Alex Rins was faster than Andrea Iannone on two out of the three days at Sepang. He was also faster than everyone except one factory Honda, one satellite Honda, both factory Ducatis, and Jack Miller on the GP17. After a dismal season in 2017, Suzuki have a new engine – which is much better – a new chassis – which is much better – and a fully fit Alex Rins – which is immeasurably better. There is work still to do for Suzuki, but with a bit of luck, they will do well enough to have their concessions taken away.

Aprilia – playing catchup

Aleix Espargaro asked the Aprilia engineers for a bike that would hold the line and keep turning when he released the brakes in the corner. The Aprilia engineers delivered with the new chassis. Aleix Espargaro asked the Aprilia engineers for an engine that was powerful enough that he could get better drive out of corners and hold a slipstream. Aprilia engineers did not deliver, and may only deliver at the Qatar race. Or maybe later. And though Espargaro is delighted with the new chassis, he is frustrated by the lack of a new engine.

This is a story line which will play out over the course of the coming year. Aprilia have a bike and a rider with so much potential, but they don't really have the resources to deliver. They need Lady Luck to smile on them. We would like to believe that Lady Luck loves an Italian motorcycle factory.

KTM – Now the hard work begins

In 2017, KTM shocked the world with their progress. They started the season a couple of seconds a lap slower than the leaders. Then ended the season a few tenths slower than the leaders. Hopes have been raised that they can be in amongst the leaders by the end of 2018.

But at Sepang, KTM are confronting an uncomfortable, yet all too familiar reality. To go from 3 seconds down to 1 second down is relatively simple. To go from 1 second down to 0.5 seconds down is really hard. To go from 0.5 seconds to be on a par with their rivals, that is where the really hard work begins.

The good news? Mika Kallio managed to latch on to the tail of Marc Márquez during Tuesday. Once behind him, he immediately spotted what the KTM needs to be able to do to be capable of competing with the front runners. Naturally, he declined to share that insight with the media. So we are left guessing.

More tomorrow, and in the following days. The rollercoaster is approaching the top of the first climb, and the season is about to plunge headlong into a breathless thrill.

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everyone knows more or less what to do, except for Yamaha, who still haven't found a clear path all riders can follow.

It's good to see the Ducati riders react so positively. From the little I remember, this might be their best Sepang test in a while.

Honda's predicament reeks more of reluctance than inability. Designing a winning bike in MotoGP is a difficult job, but if anyone can do it it's Honda, which is why I have a feeling they haven't learned their lesson yet.

It feels as if they are trying to build a better bike but constantly think that their approach isn't a problem. They havr made radical changes to the bike but rolling out one overly aggressive engine after another feels all to familiar to a certain Ducati - Stoner situation.

Yeah the two factories are very different in pretty much everything, but the notion of having a sub-par bike and a rider that makes it shine is very much the same.

The damn problem with Marquez is that he is too good. He does miracles with what he has, he could mount a title challenge with a potato on wheels under him, so I guess that makes Honda think the situation isn't all thag bad, but at the same time riders coming off the Honda and on to Ducati are experiencing a blissful transformation.

I hope Yamaha doesn't have the same dismal year as last year, I also hope the little factory that could grabs a significant sponsor. Aprilia always were the underdogs, yet they set the world ablaze in the 125 and 250 categories, and did a good job in WSBK. I'd like to see them snatch a podium one day, they deserve it. They may not have much money in the bank, but they have a lot of heart.

Your description of Honda and Marquez reminds me of Yamaha and Wayne Rainey.  Wayne was extremely good and, if you believe the various things that have been written over the years, he rode around all the Yamaha's problems and won anyway.  The story goes that Yamaha, at the time, had the same stale approach you're describing for Honda, likely because Wayne kept winning, and that nobody else could really get the Yamaha to the top step of the podium on a regular basis.  After Wayne had his career ending accident (and three world championships in a row which could have been four if not for the crash) it took 12 years and one Valentino Rossi to land the rider's title back on a Yamaha.  In 1994 Yamaha was nowhere by all appearances and even resorted to 3rd party frames.  

At the end of the test here is what's on some people's mind:
Meregalli: I knew it! we should have snatched all those Magneti Marelli engineers before they got hired by Honda and Ducati!
Puig: singing "Happy" while checking data from the race simulation and race pace of both 26 and 93
Tardozzi: Qatar here we come! On a side note must not forget mapping 8 for Dovi
Brivio : fingers crossed that 29 doesn't do a :iannone move" on Rins
Poncharal: how do I spin the fact that Coulon Felon and Zarco where just kidding when they praised the M1 2017 and never ever never liked it?
Every rider : argh!!!! Did you see the race pace of the two Hondas? And the consistency?

I have to ponder if the '18 and '17 Yamaha are that finely tuned in handling that the only thing upsetting them is the additional rubber layed down in days 2 and 3.  With temperature/bike/setup being constant, and given its testing one would hope the team is being consistant in their setup! The biggest variable I can think of is the changing track grip levels affected by all the rubber being laid. And thats Michelin only rubber at that. No Dunlop.

A real challange for the Yamaha team!

Seems to me that at these extremes of performance, if you want a bike that's going to tip into the corner sweetly under brakes, and stand up and hook up smartly on the exit, the rider is just going to have to work themselves for that mid-corner stability. Or, change set-up and accept having to work harder on entry and exit, while gaining mid-corner benefits. The entry/exit seems most important to me, as this seems to be where you are most likely to pass, is it not, unless your quarry runs wide mid-corner? Thoughts anyone?

Much negativity has been bumping around my brain re Yamaha handing Zarco the 2017 shitebike chassis - and in doing so handing Zarco to KTM. I hadn't thought about Zarco keeping the 2016 chassis. If they can give him a 2018 engine with the power boost, and good electronics development he may surprise with having a really strong bike! Stranger things have happened.

Too early to tell the nature of the 2018 Yamaha. Waiting and watching.

Honda looks good overall. Engine character needs sorting for rideability yes, but this does not necessarily mean it is in the same rut. Cal likes it. I think they will have it together sufficiently but not ideally, and a significant step forward from last year. Hoping it isn't ideal...they have Marquez, and I like a close championship. The bike works.

Aprilia is as expected unfortunately re power. But they are still working on their next engine so let's wait and see. The difficulty lay in that the rest of the circus is not waiting. Most notably Ducati.

This may be the year for Ducati. Dovi is there. The bike has been there at some tracks and not there or near it at some others. Now Jorge may be there (yes, just testing, but WOW!) - he has been on this trajectory and evolving. The 2018 bike? Looks to be there.

We have been focusing on the rider's concerns mid corner. The bike at lean feels like it must be fought to turn. At this time the brake comes off and throttle opens, and the bike was disrupted by a rough transition from closed throttle.

The power delivery as throttle opens has been smoothed out. Funny, we all know this from overly lean idle settings coming on our production bikes trying to meet emissions right? Or just having idle rpm set down where non-race bikes are normally. So we can relate? But here now, the 2018 Ducati is notably better just BEFORE that. It gets into the apex much better. Again we might say, since the pre-Gigi Duc did not initiate turns well nor give much feel until beginning drive out of the turn. I am watching to see if the riders say this new bike does the business as is, getting them in with less effort and more feel, then not having disruptive power cracking the throttle open. Thailand has a few corners to display this, yeah? We can expect a Dovisioso to continue his form. And Jorge does look great right now. Keep it up folks, you are making things interesting! I am ready for a Red title.

Rins! Excellent friend! Suzuki may be stepping forward relative to Aprilia. Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha are unfortunately taken a big step forward now as well. I don't expect big things in their program. Rins may have other wonderful ideas.

KTM is a question mark. As usual. Pol was doing great here! But was not out today to continue. Kallio has done some good work. Hard to call isn't it? I expect an inconsistent/variable/unsmooth Orange growth curve their first several years. But growing. And surpassing both Aprilia and Suzuki down the track a bit.

We saw races last year with SO much close racing. As per Sepang at least, no reason to expect less. Good start for a few rookies at the test. Let's keep hoping for 3 way battles - Jorge, Vinales, Rossi or Zarco joining Dovi and Marquez for late race gloves off swapping of position.

The testing in Thailand will be quite different from your normal test no? Will the teams really be able to get good data from all the various new bits and fine tuning at a track they've never been to before? For example can #99 and #04 figure out if the incoming chassis DOES perform better in the middle of the corner? I guess they'd just be testing all the "known" things and the rest figuring out the track and save the good stuff for Qatar? And are these all dumb questions?

2.8 mile clockwise Tilke designed track. Few corners, thought of by riders as rather uninteresting. Easy to learn. WSBK has gone for a few yrs. Notable for two long straights, we will get a good measure of the horsepower drag race w speed traps. The track is pretty flat. A few bumps from cars braking at the end of the straights. One turn (3?) takes some balls.

They sure need data for here, having none. They can't compare bikes from last yr, but that is more of an exercise for us than them in some ways eh? Half way through the first day they will be seeing how they can get a bike through a certain type of turn. Odd track surfaces and conditions can be worse than a new track for development and testing. The nature of the track is important. Comparative data to
the previous year is another thing.

Not much is out there to see partially because folks aren't entranced by Chang. Here is a car lap guide. Apparently cars have two extra wheels and can't lean, which is dumb and makes it a sport rather the likes of billiards or darts for me. But hey, on board lap. I would enjoy going for the vacation value around it. It looks like a fun accessible track to those with average skills, MotoGP riders should learn it quickly and arrive at pace at which to do development work. I would like a track day! Not unlike the red light district, just about anyone can enjoy themselves here for just a bit of money. But you aren't going to marry the place.

It has several kinds of corners that can get a bike showing it's basic colors. The track does not get a rider showing their colors, this is no Phillip Island.


I really appreciate it.

Also, I've done a bit more research on these "racecars" you speak of. Not only do they have 2 extra wheels and don't lean, but apparently the pilot is quite literally strapped into their vehicle... cowards

At the end of the Sepang test, must surely have left him feeling very bucked-up!

Almost the same as for the end of the Sepang test last year, except for one letter..



much has been said about KTM's progress but I think they have a lot to go to surpass Suzuki. Suzuki's lacklusture 2017 has been due in part to the low motivation of Innanone. Notice how his results improved since Rins came back after injury. Aprilia has a good bike and a much more complete bike than ktm. but they only needed to sort out the motor's reliability.

Yamaha's problems seem to stem out after a specific amount of rubber is laid out on track. With more rubber their bike seems to spin more. Only smooth riding can mask their problems. Honda and Ducati are again set to fight out for the championship. I hope Dani and Jorge joins the fray too. Expect some surprises from the rookies of previous years and this year. 2018 looks to be a much more moith watering prospect than 2107. Game on.

Honda seem to be concerned about finding out which engine is better before they get to the Qatar test because it's too late to change it between the Qatar test and the start of the season.  If the two engines (Valencia and Sepang spec) are so close, couldn't Honda afford to produce 6 of each for each rider, test at Qatar, and then submit and seal the spec which are best?  Surely they aren't waiting until after Buriram to start producing their engine allocation for the year?

Following on, both the Valencia and Sepang spec engines are better than the 2017 spec, so I'm sure MVDS would appreciate receiving whichever one HRC discard.

I would like to see an in-depth analysis on the the weight race that is going on with the riders (David, nudge nudge :) ). I mean, where did half of Petrucci disappear to? If I remember correctly, the F1 drivers have complained in the past that the weight requirements for being competetive are getting close to being a health and safety issue in their sport. MotoGP is very physical and the season is even longer now with more races. The stress on the riders bodies, espesially at places like Sepang, is huge. Is there a risk for riders health? I've also been thinking about the pros and cons. Riders talk about reducing rear tyre wear by being lighter but what about the negatives of not being able to weight the rear enough to generate heat. Just think of all the problems Pedrosa was having with this when the track temperature was cooler. Is their a "magic" weight that gives the optimal balance between the two? Personaly I don't like the way things are going, I mean fit and well trained riders, yeah, of course it's a part of the job, but turning into anorectic ski-jumpers, well, maybe not so much. Also makes me wonder if it had anything to do with Jonas Folgers illness (I don't really know exactly what kind of illness he has)?



Folger's illness is genetic a faulty gene, riding in Motogp didn't give him Gilbert's syndrome. No cure or treatment for it but stress can make it worse and we know Motogp is highly stressful and physically demanding.

Remember Cordoso? While he was filling out the back of the grid here he was also filling out his leathers...you could see him getting chunky around the middle like an apple in an armored banana peel.

Watch Cal - he was biking all Winter and is lean, down in weight. He will put on 4 kilos or by the second or third race. How? Building muscle via riding a MotoGP bike.

More relevant perhaps than that there is a best single body type or weight. Rossi looks like a twig but is within the parameters. Pedrosa may be just outside of it in some conditions. Cardoso was out of parameters. It isn't just the size/weight, it is the nature of it and how you use it. Quite a range works apparently.

I found it difficult to read much into Sepang. The usual suspects and factories are up there and the weather played ball. The next test at the new circuit will be very interesting. It is very much like a flat, tropical version of the Austrian Red Bull ring in terms of layout. I don't think anyone is going to take much home from that test either. Qatar showdown? Your guess is as good as mine. Can the Noale factory give their blokes a reliable 25bhp boost to bring them on par before season starts. I hope so. Enjoyed the pod cast thoroughly.