Whenever MotoGP testing is underway, there is a ravenous hunger for times among fans and followers of the sport. Every update is greedily consumed, every time heatedly debated, as we search to make sense of the posted times.
Two factors stand in the way of making an accurate analysis of the times, however. The first is that only the fastest lap time set by a rider is posted to the results page, and the second - related - issue is that the full timesheets - containing the times for every lap set for each rider - are not made available to the public. The times are printed out and distributed in the media center, but they are not published on the official MotoGP.com website, unlike the results for each session during a race weekend.
Being at Qatar, we get to see the actual timesheets, and it is immediately clear that the final posted times do not tell the full tale. The order the riders finished in is distorted by a couple of riders who set a very fast lap. Here's how the top 7 riders finished, including everyone who set a time under the 1'57 mark:
Going by those results, Dani Pedrosa was clearly faster than Casey Stoner, and Ben Spies just edged out his teammate and reigning World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. When you add in the number of laps set under 1'57, you get a slightly different picture:
|Pos||No.||Rider||Bike||Time||Diff||# 1'56 laps|
What immediately leaps out at you is that of all those riders who ran a 1'56, only two of them - Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo - were able to run them consistently.
Looking at the times further, then the 0.268 gap which separates Stoner from Lorenzo is not as large as it at first seems. Examining the lap times in tenths of seconds, you get a better idea of what might be described as race pace. The fastest lap Casey Stoner was consistently setting was a 1'56.6, of which he posted 6, half of his total laps under 1'57. Jorge Lorenzo's pace, on the other hand, centered around 1'56.7. The Spaniard set 5 of his 13 sub-1'57s in either the 1'56.6s or the low 1'57s. The gap between the two is much closer than it appears on the headline results, and if they were to race tomorrow, then it would be a fair bet that the race would turn into a duel between the Honda of Casey Stoner and the Yamaha of Jorge Lorenzo.
While both Stoner and Lorenzo were capable of consistently reproducing 1'56 laps, only one other rider could string 1'56s together in a sequence. Dani Pedrosa, Colin Edwards and Andrea Dovizioso all produced multiple fast laps, but they did them singly, with 1'57s between them. Hiroshi Aoyama, on the other hand, strung all three of his 1'56s together in a single run, his last three laps of a run in the middle of the test. Aoyama has been quietly impressive during testing so far, and his ability to put a string of fast laps together may throw up a surprise or two during the 2011 MotoGP season.