It is a slightly different run up to the start of winter testing for the 2022 season. For the past few decades, testing for the following season began a couple of days after the end of the current season, riders taking to the track on the Tuesday at Valencia after the final race. Dorna, the FIM, and IRTA had already decided to make a change before Covid-19 struck in 2020, but the global pandemic meant there was no testing at all at the end of last year.
So this year is the start of the new normal. The season ends at Valencia, everyone gets a few days off, and then the paddock heads south to Jerez for two days of testing. It's better all round for everyone: rider get a few days to recover from the final race weekend, teams get a chance to catch their breath again, and prepare for their new riders/bikes, and the factories have time to prepare the new bikes and parts to be tested ahead of the test.
Jerez is also a much better test track than Valencia. It has a bit of almost everything: slow corners, fast corners, hard acceleration in low gears, hard acceleration in high gears, etc. All that is missing is a very high speed back straight, but the Sepang test in February should soon put that right.
The only losers are the small group of fans who stayed on at Valencia for the first test of the following year. But given that those fans were the true die hards, with the will and financial means to stay on at Valencia are just as likely to travel to Jerez for a few more days of MotoGP action before the winter forces cold turkey withdrawal on them.
After two years of engine freeze and relatively limited aerodynamics, the factories have plenty to be getting on with. So here's a quick look at who is testing what at Jerez on Thursday and Friday.
Aprilia – work continues apace
Aprilia are the one factory which has not been subject to the engine freeze, as a result of still having concessions. As a result, the Noale factory has been able to bring a string of upgrades, including at least one new engine through this season. That leaves them with less pressing work to do. Aleix Espargaro and Lorenzo Savadori will continue to work on the 2022 Aprilia RS-GP, though nothing radical is expected. The focus is on refining the Aprilia to reduce or eliminate its weaknesses, and improve its strengths.
Maverick Viñales is likely to lose the crown of winter testing champion – the least significant unofficial prize in motorcycle racing, as he continues his process of adaptation to the Aprilia. Viñales has shown flashes of improving on the bike at some races, but has sunk without a trace at others. At Jerez, he has the time to work on understanding the Aprilia, and how to make it go fast. And to work on understanding the differences between riding a V4 and an inline four.
Ducati – don't ruin what you've got
How do you make a perfect bike better? The risk is that Ducati's ambition outweighs what they already have, and that they lose their way in trying to build something better. That was not a concern for Jack Miller, he said after the final race of the season. "We have tried some things in terms of parts for 2022 with the test in Misano and whatnot," the Australian told the press conference. "My honest opinion is everything is only better. So, the rest of them are all in trouble next year because it’s going to be a big one."
At Misano, the most visible change was a new fairing, and Ducati will undoubtedly bring a new aerodynamics package. There were new frames at the Misano test as well, and given Ducati's biggest weakness remains in turning, work will certainly continue here as well.
The biggest question mark is what Ducati do with their engine. Gigi Dall'Igna and his engine team have had their hands tied behind their backs for the past two years, and must have had time to develop new ideas and explore new areas. The GP22 will surely not be slower, the only question is just how much faster it will be.
Then there is the typical Ducati ingenuity. There were already rumors of Ducati breaking new ground once again at Jerez, of having found another loophole in the rules and driven a coach and horses through it. The one thing you can rely on Ducati doing is exploring new ideas.
In terms of riders, the factory and Pramac four will be hard at work with developing next year's bikes. In the Gresini and VR46 teams, Fabio Di Giannantonio and Marco Bezzecchi get their first taste of MotoGP machinery, and must start their process of adapting to a bigger, much more power MotoGP machine.
The real interest will come with the 2021 rookies. Jorge Martin has been exceptional, and no reason for him to be slow. Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini will be on much more recent machinery, and should make a big step forward. Bastianini, in particular has show flashes of brilliance on a two-year-old bike, so a greatly updated machine should make his life a little easier, and a little more interesting.
Honda – All in for the future
Honda is by far the most interesting prospect at the Jerez test. At Misano 2, we got our first glimpse of a radically revised RC213V. New engine, new airbox, new frame, revised weight distribution, new fairing, new air inlet. The tire pressure valves on the wheels might have been unchanged, but the rest was completely new. And I'm not 100% certain about the tire valves.
The problem Honda face is that they are desperately short handed for the test. Marc Marquez faces an uncertain fate after having banged his head during training and suffered what could be a career-threatening injury to the nerves in his eye. Double vision may once again leave him sidelined, for either the short or the long term. What we do know is that he will not be riding at the MotoGP test at Jerez, and his input will be sorely missed.
Pol Espargaro will not be missing from the test, but his participation will likely be limited. The Spaniard banged himself up with a cold tire highside during practice, and was forced to miss the race on Sunday. He is still having issues with damaged ribs, which will make riding difficult but not impossible. But his input is sorely needed to help determine the direction HRC's new machines.
While stalwart test rider Stefan Bradl will continue to grind out the laps, Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami are also likely to get drafted in to try the 2022 Honda RC213V. HRC need all the feedback they can cet.
KTM – seeking calm
KTM usually have a veritable mountain of parts to test, and this test is likely to be no different. At least with two days of track time, the chances are that Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira will have time to sort a lot of the wheat from the chaff, and determine a direction for KTM's engineers to follow. All too often in the past, KTM have lost their way making so many changes to the bike.
Over at Tech3, the KTM satellite squad welcomes an all new line up. Newly crowned Moto2 champion Remy Gardner and his teammate and erstwhile title rival Raul Fernandez get their second ride out on the KTM RC16, after already having swung a leg over the bike at Misano 2. There are a gaggle of outstanding rookies joining MotoGP for 2022, and Fernandez and Gardner are the best of them.
Suzuki – Catching up
Alex Rins and Joan Mir face a veritable tsunami of new parts, as Suzuki push to close the deficit that has developed in recent years. The Hamamatsu factory is all too aware of the gap its competitors has opened, and has worked hard to close the gap in the second half of 2021. A new holeshot device, and different frames have helped.
At Jerez, Suzuki will continue work on the new engine, and have new aero and frames to test too. After last Sunday's race at Valencia, Joan Mir was keen to emphasize just how important this test is. "Apart from that, the most important thing is not to be fast in the test, that is important, but the most important thing is the information. We have to do a lot of laps, Suzuki will bring the two test riders they have, [Takuya] Tsuda and Sylvain [Guintoli]," Mir explained.
"They have also things to try at the beginning of the test and everything, and then we will try the things that matter more, there are a lot of things, thankfully, or hopefully," Mir told us, doing his best to be optimistic. "And we have to focus in many areas. The interesting thing about this test is that we didn't have just one or two things to try, we have plenty of things to work on the details of the bike. I think we have margin to improve this year for the next one, and we for sure will try chassis, we will try the aerodynamics side, we will try the engine, because it's not frozen any more. And this is really important. It's even more important than this race, which was super important. But to give good information and to give the correct feedback to our engineers, it will be the key for next year."
Joan Mir couldn't manage to score a single win in his title defense this year. Mir appears to have vowed never to let that happen again.
Yamaha – stability wanted
It has been quite the year for Yamaha in MotoGP. Riders world champion, departure of an icon for Yamaha and MotoGP, the split with Maverick Viñales, the arrival of Andrea Dovizioso, and that's just the big issues they have had to deal with this year. What is needed, first and foremost, is stability, and a sense that everyone has a place in the teams.
What is needed in the second place is more horsepower. As simple as that. Fabio Quartararo is the latest lead Yamaha rider to complain of not having the tools to do battle with the Ducatis, and he will no doubt not be the last. But the Yamaha riders are having to ride out of their skins to match the pace of the Desmosedicis, and having a bit of extra free speed to make their lives easier on the straights and in the corners will be welcome. Yamaha's engineers have had two years to come up with something. They will very much have to deliver.
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