Valencia MotoGP Test Tuesday Round Up: Premature Conclusions, New Engines And Frames, And Strange Crashes

What conclusions can we draw from the first day of testing for the 2020 season? Not much, other than a lot of factories have brought a lot of new parts. And it really does feel like a lot of new parts, with new chassis for KTM, Yamaha, Honda, Ducati, new engines all round, and a host of other bits and pieces in preparation for the new season. New riders, too, with Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona, and Alex Márquez all moving up to MotoGP for 2020.

It is particularly tempting to jump to early conclusions about the rookies. There is a clear pecking order, an easy way of deciding who is adapting quickly, and who is taking their time. By that measure, Iker Lecuona is the man to beat, the Red Bull Tech3 KTM rider finishing just under 1.5 seconds off the leading gaggle of Yamahas at the test. Brad Binder, in the factory Red Bull KTM team, is just under 2.4 seconds behind quickest rider Fabio Quartararo, while the latest addition to the class, Alex Márquez, was last, 2.7 seconds slower than the Petronas Yamaha rider, and nearly 2.2 seconds slower than his brother Marc.

King of the rookies

Should we now proclaim Iker Lecuona the rookie of 2020? He may well turn out to be just that, but a look at the first day of last year's Valencia test may prove instructive. In November 2018, Pecco Bagnaia was the fastest rookie on the first day of testing, less than a second behind Maverick Viñales. Joan Mir was second on the Suzuki, 1.371 behind Viñales, while Fabio Quartararo ended in 23rd, 2.434 slower than the factory Yamaha rider, and Miguel Oliveira sat at the bottom of the MotoGP pile, with a gap of 3.7 seconds to Viñales.

By the time the 2019 season finished last Sunday, Fabio Quartararo headed the rookie pile, finish second in Valencia and fifth overall. Joan Mir was second best rookie, ending twelfth in the standings, 100 points behind Quartararo, while preseason favorite Pecco Bagnaia ended the year as fifteenth overall, two places ahead of Miguel Oliveira.

The lesson of all this is that it is way too early to say very much about the prospects of the rookies. Sure, it is not a good look for Alex Márquez to be at the bottom of the timesheets after the first day, but you shouldn't read too much into it. That Iker Lecuona is thirteenth is a solid showing, but not necessarily significant just yet. There is more to being competitive than ending the test near the top of the timesheets on your first time on the bike. We can't all be Marc Márquez.

Rookie mistake

Alex Márquez hadn't helped himself by ending his first run out of the pits with a crash, losing the front at Turn 10. Brother Marc diagnosed it as a typical rookie crash. "Already when I saw him, he started too early," the elder Márquez said of Alex. "He was maybe the third or fourth rider on the track and I said 'he doesn't know what these Michelins are like!' And a MotoGP bike on a very cold track. Because when you don’t have experience, you feel like you can go. Michelin is working very good because they bring very soft tIres but when it's very cold, it's very difficult. This morning was extremely cold and I already said, 'turn 4 and 10 will be dangerous' and he lost the front there."

"It’s not the best way to start for sure," Alex said on Tuesday night. "I said 'Wah, it cannot be possible' but in the end it’s a rookie mistake, it can happen. Alberto said to me 'you crashed, don’t worry, we are here for that' and the most important thing now is to learn, to find the limits of the bike and to keep growing as a rider. Compared to Moto2, here there are a lot of things to learn and I will try my best from the first day to Qatar to learn everything before the first race."

He had been riding well within his comfort zone, Alex Márquez told us. "In these lap times everything is comfortable. I need to find more the limit, find more my way, and then for sure the problems will come but at this moment I’m enjoying on the bike and that’s it."

KTM lessons

That was the secret for all three of the rookies, to work on themselves rather than the bike. Iker Lecuona explained the changes he need to make coming from Moto2. "For sure it is a different world," the Red Bull Tech3 rider said. "I need to change my style a lot. I keep the braking and the position on the bike but finally the pick-up and the power is different so I need to change a lot of things."

Brad Binder was positively radiant after the first day of the test, in awe at the opportunity to ride a MotoGP machine. "Today was super cool," the South African said. "I had a fantastic day and it was so much fun. In the beginning I was almost a little bit worried because it was insane, but then with the more laps you do the more comfortable I felt and it started to click. I have an insanely long way to go."

For Binder, the biggest challenge was relying on the electronics to manage acceleration. "The hardest thing for me was the wheelie," the factory KTM rookie said. "When you come out of a corner you pick up the angle and I kept rolling the throttle all the time and then opening it. I’d make it harder for myself. It was really hard for me to trust the electronics and know it will be fine, I still have a long way to go but I got a taste of it."

Steel beam trellis?

On the other side of the garage, Pol Espargaro was testing a new chassis, a rather different design to previous iterations. The lower part of the steel trellis had grown a cover, becoming part steel beam frame, the top remaining entirely made of tubes. The objective had been to gain stiffness but lose weight, to make the bike easier to throw from side to side.

Espargaro was enthusiastic about the improvement, but defensive about the DNA of the KTM. "It feels not normal for me," he said. "Normal is tubular and I like it but yeah it’s a hybrid. I think it is 80% tubular still. We have done the form on the side so that it looks a bit different but not as much as it looks. We still have the KTM DNA with the tubular chassis which I think puts us in a good way but we are still trying to understand things."

The frame was still steel, Espargaro insisted. "The material is the same but super lighter. Dani [Pedrosa] tried this one in some other tracks and he felt some improvement but also some negative points and the new one is made based on these comments; trying to improve on stopping areas and trying to make it a bit more rigid which is important when you go down such a big step in weight. I’m interested to see what is next."

"I think it is the line we need to work with," the factory KTM rider said. "The chassis feels very good but I think the room to play with it is much better. It is much, much lighter and we are gaining a lot. There are only benefits. We will go to the new one tomorrow which I think will bring something."

Engines and frames for Yamaha

At Yamaha, the work was being divided between the various riders. Franco Morbidelli was given the task of testing the carbon swingarm again, a component he felt had more benefits than disadvantages.

The factory Monster Energy Yamaha riders were very busy. Both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi had the latest version of the 2020 Yamaha chassis to assess, as well as a new engine. The new engine also came with a new fairing and a new air intake.

The intake is taller and narrower, a break from the shape which has barely been altered in over a decade. The different shape looks designed to fill the airbox better, a necessity for a more powerful motor. The difference was small, but better, both Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi said.

"For me it works good," Viñales said. "The bike was working fantastic today so we will see tomorrow." Valentino Rossi played down the changes, though he too was optimistic overall. "The first impression is quite positive because we improve a little bit," Rossi said. "But the way is long because the difference is quite a lot, especially in the top speed. But I like the way that Yamaha work because there is less confusion than in the past, the program is more clear. This is still a prototype so maybe next year we can have also another step, something more. But the feeling with the new bike is positive."

Both riders were happy with the new chassis, but Rossi said it was not their main point of concern at the moment. "First of all, for me, the electronics and engine are the area where we have to improve," he said. "Especially the engine. But looks like now Yamaha is agree. But also in the chassis they try for better agility or when you brake, a little bit faster to the entry. More precise. The new chassis is good. I like it."

Honda hampered by crashes

Honda's testing plans were upended due to crashes, Marc Márquez completely destroying the prototype 2020 machine he was riding in a strange highside at Turn 13, an unusual place to crash. "It was a very strange crash," said a befuddled Marc Márquez. "I mean, I was going out of the box, slow, but when I shifted up the gear just I flew. It was with the prototype bike, still with a few things to understand. It was not any mechanical problem. But sometimes when you try new things you don’t expect that kind of reaction and it was a very strange crash."

Honda have a new engine and a new chassis to test, and have divided up the work between Marc Márquez, LCR Honda rider Cal Crutchlow, and test rider Stefan Bradl. Márquez had focused on the engine and electronics, for the most part, while Bradl had spent the early part of the day setting up the electronics for the two contracted riders to use.

All that work is extremely time-consuming, the electronics taking time to dial in just to create a baseline, before they could even start to work. "I think the bike is a step forward, but we haven't even touched the bike, we haven't changed one setting on the bike," Crutchlow explained. "It's all been electronics and parts that we've tested."

Setting up the electronics was the most work, the LCR Honda rider said. "The electronics is the hardest and longest thing, because what works on your bike over the weekend, you can't just transfer that and it's going to work immediately. It takes a long long time to do it. That's why Stefan was first out on track this morning, to do a couple of runs on the bike so we had some kind of information before we went out. But all the engines are also their own engines, so they all have to be set up for that engine. We all have the same spec engine, but they take their own time to set up, and some of these changes can take 30 minutes. They take a long time to figure these things out."

The feeling had been good overall, Crutchlow told us. "I felt quite positive on the front of the bike, which maybe is where we've been struggling a little bit more this year. And maybe we'll start to put some settings into the bike maybe tomorrow and over the Jerez test, and then we'll maybe understand, because at the moment, the bike is maybe a little bit softer than what I would have raced over the weekend, because we're not pushing like in a race weekend. We're trying to evaluate things."

Smoother and more agile for Ducati

The work was divided up at Ducati as well. Unfortunately for the Italian factory, Danilo Petrucci was suffering with a shoulder injury he had exacerbated with a couple of crashes at Phillip Island and Valencia, injuring his ligaments. That left most of the test work to Jack Miller and Andrea Dovizioso, ably assisted by test rider Michele Pirro.

Miller's focus was on a partial update of the Desmosedici's engine and electronics, aimed at making it smoother. "I think it’s not really the complete engine but more or less a step of the 2020 engine and very happy with how that worked," the Pramac Ducati rider said. "Pretty satisfied with everything that we’ve put on the bike today there have been no real negatives."

A less aggressive engine delivery was aimed at improving tire life, Miller said. "Just trying to be smoother in general I think, especially with the way the Michelins are, we need to be smooth on this tire and I feel we are able to gain some extra grip there. Understanding how to get the maximum power out of the tire at what lean angle and trying to be as smooth as possible on the rear tyre to try and benefit us in races, where we struggled this year."

The aim was to help save the tire to give the rider a bit more speed in later laps, Miller explained. "Faster at the end of the race but also I think even on the qualifying laps, the biggest thing to take the most advantage out of the bike is try to be as smooth as possible on that tire so that’s where we’re working, trying to gain edge grip. Our problem is always turning, so trying to get a little bit more of that happening as well. Like I said, I haven’t tried the chassis but the parts that I have tried today have been a big improvement."

Andrea Dovizioso, on the other hand, had been tasked with testing a new chassis. Though the Italian tried to play it down, it was clear that the new frame was already discernibly better. "I'm happy," the factory Ducati rider said. "The right word is I think 'interesting'. I won't say something more, because also for us not everything is clear."

Testing at Valencia, with very few long fast corners, made it hard to feel the precise difference the new chassis made, Dovizioso explained. "Also because Valencia is not the best track to understand that, and it will be important to try in a different track. Jerez will be a good track for that, I think, if we find good conditions there. It was nice to feel the difference of the chassis, looks like we are a bit better in the middle of the corner, but how much, it's not clear. So, happy about that."

Why the crashes?

Dovizioso had been intrigued by the crashes on the first day of the test. The weather was generally better than during the race weekend, yet Alex and Marc Márquez, Fabio Quartararo, Bradley Smith, and Stefan Bradl had all found a way to crash. "A bit strange," Dovizioso said. "I was a bit surprised, because the condition today was much better than any of the days during the race weekend, and the temperature wasn't low. I mean, it was low, but it was warmer than the weekend. So I don't think it was the temperature of the weekend."

The crash had perhaps come from overconfidence, born of improved track conditions. "I think those type of corners, if you lean the bike and you don't put pressure on the tire, you lose the front," Dovizioso explained. "If you put the weight on the tyre with less angle, you can really put the weight. But if you see the crashes, everybody was with too much angle and not enough weight on the tire, and the Michelins don't like that."

One more day of testing at Valencia remains, before the paddock packs up and heads down to Jerez. The positive news is that the weather for both Wednesday and Jerez looks stable and dry. The factories have a lot of testing still to do, and need all the time they can get.

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I really enjoyed reading your MotoGP Test Round Up. It's very informative, easy to read and understand for non-native English speaker.

For me, Motomatter is the best place for a fan who loves MotoGP. 


I’d say it is worth mentioning that Lecuona already has a full race weekend under his belt at this very track just a few days ago, when comparing him with Binder and Alex Marquez. The time deficit of Binder and A. Marquez now is about the same as that of Lecuona at the end of Friday.

Having said that, Lecuona has been very impressive in his first MotoGP race weekend, jumping in at the deep end without any testing beforehand! Improved quickly and rode a good race too until that windy Turn 6 crash. And now he’s already mid-pack, on a KTM for that matter, as if he’s been on it all year. 

Makes me wonder what Binder will be capable of on that bike. Could get very interesting, especially if the new frame is indeed a step forward! is, plus a motor, plus more, and he will be!

Betcha a pint Binder beats A.Marquez for the season Pvalve! (Really! Paypal the price of a Guinness imperial pint).

Makes it fun. (Even though last time a bottle of Amerone lost by some goof here re Lorenzo's Duc performance went unpaid, ahem).

Whaddaya think?

Well Motoshrink, although I like a Guinness, that's not much of a bet I'm afraid, because I think the same... Binder will beat Alex Marquez next year. ;-)

I'm not too impressed by the younger Marquez. Not only did it take him five years in Moto2 to win the title, but just like in 2014, when he won the Moto3 title, he was not the fastest or best rider. Then it was Jack Miller, now in Moto2 it was Brad Binder who I consider the better rider. Still, surprising things can happen, see Fabio Quartararo. My money is on Binder though. And I think Alex Marquez will struggle to beat Iker Lecuona in 2020. Hondas in MotoGP and World Superbike have a tendency to cripple careers anyway.

^ Agreed. And, this A.Marquez putzing way back in the field will unfortunately be something we will have to endure a bunch of dumb drivel about for the indefinite future. Let's skip it from the get go.

Here comes KTM! Binder has the ingredients. Orange looks to have a rate of improvement putting it potentially into Suzuki range on visible horizon. Binder beating Pol by Summer break. And yes, A.Marquez fighting behind w Iker the Biker. Between the rear pack and mid pack. Zzzz.

The puzzler comes over at Ducati. The bike is signaling having the possibility of being the best bike out there. Miller is on the gas towards Dovi. What the heck can we expect of and say about our friend Bagnaia?! (Other than wish he had a Suzuki).

Everyone just lambasted Zarco re leaving KTM, "doesn't deserve the Honda" etc. I thought it was good to divorce. On Suzuki or Yamaha that guy has the shown potential to pointy end donthe big business. Bagnaia, can the marraige work? Should he blunder around, then go to Aprilia, then crawl into a hole or go WSBK? The kid is REALLY GOOD. Alien raw material is there.

Rins seems to have a Mir-only target on his back. Mir is on it, eh?

The Ducati developments are PROMISING. Much more than the Yamaha motor as of yet.

Maybe we can bet a pint on the 2021 Jr Team taking the Avintia spots?

Alex Marquez is already carrying enough extra weight on his shoulders being Marc's brother without Marc weighing in on Alex's performance.  Marc should respond with "Alex is his own rider.  I won't comment on his performance other than to say I'm happy to have him as a teammate." 

Spot on, I winced when I read Marc's comments.

I’m curious about this statement. In the 18 seasons of Motogp contested thus far Honda have captured 10/12 riders championships and 12/18 constructors titles. If you look at Grand Prix motorcycle racing history in total Honda have far more constructors titles than any other manufacturer and the numbers aren’t even close. To say that racing for Honda in MotoGP is “career crippling “ is inaccurate at best.

Now, riding for Honda in WSBK is another matter........

Of course Honda has a very rich and succesful history in the GP's (ever since the brilliant 60's, except the 'sabbatical' in the 70's of course), but I was thinking about recent years. Yes, they won a lot of championships with Marquez and before that one with Stoner too (two exceptional riders), but a lot of riders have struggled - sometimes painfully - with all the incarnations of the RC213V, including the short-lived 'production version' that Hayden and Redding rode and hated, among others. Of course, Lorenzo is an extreme example that is colouring the picture quite a bit at the moment, I must admit. But I think Pedrosa's career ended a bit prematurely too because of the bad results last year. Anyway, just my feeling.

Marquez and Stoner are/were absolutely exceptional riders, and their results reflect that. But add guys like Morbidelli and Luthi to your list of riders that struggled (FM somewhat less so than TL, it has to be said). Both of them were pretty damned good in Moto2, yet were pretty much nowhere on the Honda. Marquez and Stoner could plow through the less than stellar features of their RC213Vs. I'm not going to be surprised if Alex struggles; based on his history it might take a while before he gets his head around the new bike and class.

2015, 2016, 2019 MotoGP for sure.
WSBK 2013 or so through 2019.

It isn't the most important point in Pvalve's post above, and debatable w/o clarification, but I get it and agree w the above dates. The bike tried to fooking maime any rider on it for a few yrs in GP's, and has been utter shite back marker in WSBK for a good while. The 2020 bike is much like the 2019 apparently, and Alex is looking like he is going to flounder on it while everyone asks Marc about that. What a shite show!

Pull Marc from the equation, and the Honda is the 4th best MotoGP bike closing 2019. That V5 was a long time ago. So is HRC having a lock on our rulebook, thank heavens.

WSBK is about to get a front running Honda finally. And BMW. And Duc. Even the Yamaha just got a big engine boost. It's not easy being Green. The times, they are a-changing.

I can see what you mean, the Honda may not be for everyone but let’s be honest, Motogp is not supposed to be for everyone. It’s supposed to be a contest between the world’s best riders on the world’s best bikes. If you have what it takes, Honda certainly has the resources to get you to the top.

The Yamaha may be easier for everyone to ride but it has also taken exceptionally talented riders to win on it. Only VR46 and JL99 have been able to bring home the big prize for Yamaha in the MotoGP era. Maybe Fabio??