Sepang MotoGP Test Subscriber Notes: The Tightest Field Ever, New Tires, Suzuki Smells, Yamaha's Revival, And More

What can you learn from the Sepang MotoGP test? A lot, and not a lot. The balance of power on the MotoGP grid already seems to have shifted, for all sorts of reasons. The construction used on the 2020 rear Michelin tire is having a major impact on the performance of the bikes, with more grip available in all conditions, and more durability. But because the tire has changed, it will take at least the first part of the season for the factories and riders to figure out how to get the most out of the tire. That means we are likely in for a fair few surprises throughout the year. This could be like 2016 again, some inside Michelin believe.

That doesn't mean that we can share the championship spoils out among the bikes which are ahead at the Sepang test already. The test raised more questions than it answered. It's not so much that factories and riders were sandbagging, more that so much is new this year that most factories are closer to the beginning of their development project than the end. Add in the complication of Marc Márquez coming off his second shoulder surgery in two seasons – and Miguel Oliveira and Taka Nakagami in the same boat – and there are more unknowns than knowns. The balance is likely to shift several times though the 2020 season. Which is good for fans, though it tends to annoy the manufacturers.

One thing is clear, however: the MotoGP field is closer than ever. At end of the 2019 test, there were twelve riders inside a second of the fastest rider, Danilo Petrucci. Combining the times over all three days of the 2020 test, the first twelve riders were covered by just 0.415 seconds. There were nineteen riders inside of one second in 2020, while in 2019, the nineteenth fastest rider – then rookie Miguel Oliveira – was 1.710 seconds behind Petrucci.

Even the test riders are much closer this year: In 2019, Suzuki stalwart Sylvain Guintoli finished 2.751 seconds behind Danilo Petrucci. In 2020, Guintoli was precisely one second closer to fastest man Fabio Quartararo. Aprilia's Bradley Smith was 2.756 behind in 2019; this year, he is 1.492 behind. Similarly, KTM's Mika Kallio is also a second closer to the front than he was last year.

So where does that leave the factories? For subscribers, a few quick notes and reactions at the end of the Sepang MotoGP test. Things seen, heard, and in one case, smelled at the first preseason test of 2020, including:

  • The Michelin effect: do we even know what that will be yet?
  • Yamaha: ignore the headline times, and fear Maverick Viñales pace
  • Yamaha's weird holeshot device
  • Suzuki: the sweet smell of success?
  • Honda: still a handful. We think. But do Honda even know yet?
  • Ducati: the good, the bad, and the TBD
  • KTM: Year 4 could be the year they had hoped for in year 3
  • Aprilia: the 90°V4 is genuinely quick. If it will hold together.

Read on:

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Love it. I feel like I'm there. I can almost hear the little noises the bikes make as they cool.

Nineteen riders within a second. Sounds really promising.

I know, it's just testing, but combine that with the excitement of a new season...and all the manufacturers show promise. Aleix Espargaro on Cloud 9! And we want to hear from Johann Zarco, barely .6 off fastest man FQ20. I wonder how he's working out with his new Pramac staff?

Just out of curiosity, who's the wanker that would rate this article a one-star? smh.

of the stars if people aren't actually allowed to show their displeasure/disagreement?  It smacks of "The Emperor's New Clothes" and I'm sure Emperor Emmett would rather genuine feedback than be caught with his pant's down?

I hate the whole idea of stars/likes etc, it just leads to groupthink echo chambers and removes the incentive/opportunity for genuine feedback/disussion.

To avoid any further debate of the voting system, I have disabled the voting system. People will now have to show their pleasure/displeasure by either frowning or smiling at their screen, and our Advanced Facial Recognition System* will respond accordingly.


*Warning: Advanced Facial Recognition System may not actually be advanced, recognize faces, or exist as a system in the real world.

Disabling the star rating system forces commentors to put their opinions into words. Avoids instant kneejerk reactions to comments. In the process one may actually contemplate a comment and actually see it from another's perspective.

What are the coolant regs for MotoGP? When I club raced (or even when I was a pro), we had to use just water and with maybe one or two approved additives (water wetter?), but certainly no glycols. I wonder if the smell could simply be a bit of radiator overflow which contains an additive? The other thing is, maybe the rules are only for races and not tests in which case it could be propolene glycol or some other exotic.

Most likely it is some component in the cooling system or a sealant of sorts.

Definitely not an evaporative component applied to the engine surface, a lot of such a component will be required.

Agree. The description, especially the floral part, sounds very much like ordinary coolant on a hot surface. The question is if that is allowed in racing bikes, as mtiberio correctly points out, because of the slippery nature in case of a leak. Also, I guess that David recognises that typical hot coolant smell. By the way, a few times I came across a sort of low-growing shrubbery that during late summer smells an uncanny lot like hot coolant. Forgot to make a pic and look it up, unfortunately.

I also agree that it seems highly unlikely that an evaporative component on the engine surface could have a useful cooling capacity, unless you evaporate many kilos of it. Not even thinking about the possibly unpleasant nature of such vapours, and what if they are inhaled by the poor rider.

& other additives prohibit a coolant's use on tarmac, it'll be used for storing & transporting the bikes but water for track use. I'm not abreast of how the FIM present that rule, but Gigi has probably found the chemical formula of a sherbet dip matches a performance coolant that presents and tests like water! 
Regarding the person allegedly giving David's latest excellent opus one star; I find it sometimes difficult to press the buttons quick enough to stop it saving a low mark, may have been an accident. Finally, only my opinion, but however fed up we get, I'd like to think this site is too good to call fellow contributors w@*k**s. There are sadly a multitude of habitats for this kind of discourse. 
Thanks David, the best way to download the smoke and mirrors of testing. 

I love the smell of Ecstar in the morning! Could the smell be from a lubricant additive?

I'm with Brian.  The most likely culprit is their choice of engine oil.  Most race engines vent crankcase blow bye to atmosphere, so any lubricant with certain additives will be detectable by smell.

I bypass my crankcases and my Motul 5100 produces a very nice aroma for a few hundred kilomters after an oil change, where it eventually dies off as all the detergents and additives start getting used up.

I would guess very unlikely to be an engine coating........ maybe its the silver paint on the new paint scheme... :)

It's just testing.  None of us will know anything until back on European soil, Jerez to Catalunya will tell the tale of the season.  Which factory's got it right and who is going to be in it for 2020.  So many new parts, new bikes, limited testing, means bikes are just at their infancy in development.  Then throw in new spec tires as a big wrench.  

Coolant - Doubt there would be anything in the way of additives in the cooling system when they run the motor in anger if they have cooling issues, plain old soft water is by far the best medium for the transfer of heat, giving the best compromise between high heat transfer rate against micro boiling resistance. The only thing I can think of off the top of my head is they might run a domestic toilet descaling agent to reduce/remove water deposits developing around exhaust valve seats etc.

Oil - I'd be surprised if they aren't all running some form of positive crankcase evacuation trickery to reduce case pressures as much as possible - F1 considered this to be very important ('specially if you can add something to the lubricating oil that 'might' find it's way into the inlet tract  .....) 

I'm a fan of KTM and I'm loving that they are finally getting closer to the front.  While a sinlge podium to show for their efforts isn't much, I'm hoping there's some hardware on their shelf to show off at the end of this season.

Hi David,

Has anything been noted about Ducati's holeshot device being used in the straights?

I know Rins was speculating that Ducati had come up with a way of engaging it whilst moving after following Jack around in the Sepang race and I've seen pics from the test of the back straight where Dovi and Miller's rear ends are super low when compared to Pecco's bike at the same place...



Before the test my 1-2-3 for 2020 was MM, Dov, Quartararo.

Post-test I'm thinking 1. Marquez 2. Quartararo 3. Vinales

Athough Marc didn't do a lot in Sepang, he's a complete genius and will probably still win it, albeit by a smaller margin than the 6 (!) races of 2019. Vinales put in that amazing long run on day 3, but I personally believe Fabio is just straight-up faster than him. And he hardly ever crashes.

I thought the same as your post test but pre test, but thought everyone would think I was in cloud cuckoo land. I wouldn't put any money on positions 2 & 3 but think wherever they end the year it'll likely be in that order. Fabio looked pretty consistent in the second part of 2019 and I'd expect him to be quick out of the blocks this year. Whereas I'm never quite sure which Mav we'll see each weekend. Maybe he'll ride on a wave of new self-confidence this year and maybe, just maybe, take the battle to Marc. Or he may again be up and down like a yo-yo. My guess is that, for him to be at his best he has to believe he can beat Marc and rarely does, whereas Fab is already starting to look like the next champion.


Me three

The new tire has pushed Yamaha and Suzuki fwd, and pushed the front end of the Honda all the way through braking and the apex.

Curious how much motor Ducati has brought, and expect it to turn and be well balanced. They are top of the game on tire simulation and adaptation.

The riders that have exhibited the greatest mental and emotional fortitude in the heat of the battle during their careers are Rossi, Dovi, Marquez and Lorenzo (although Lorenzo began and ended his Motogp career as a crasher and it remains to be seen if he will and can express his sublime, effortless riding style once again). Quartararo is an unknown quantity. He may be a phenom and in time the understanding will be clearer. He does have a habit of comparing his results to that of "an 8-time world champ" when narrowly missing out on the win. Comparing can lead to vanity. Viñales and Petrucci have shown weaknesses. Crutchlow has a propensity for crashes (and to a lesser extent so has Rins). Ducati riders continuing to point at the machines turning woes (which is intrinsic to its DNA going all the way back to the bike's inception in 2003 and is so far exacerbated by the new Michelin rear tire) and the management believing the problem is down to the rider's inability is not a happy combination. Stubborness may be playing a role here. Believing Viñales, Quartararo or Rins is going to jump on the Duc and win a championship requires a leap of faith. By my count there are only two men that have won a Motogp championship that steer the bike with the rear wheel - Stoner and Marquez. And Stoner did it in the Bridgestone era when rear tire wear management was not as critical - the tire usually lasted the race distance regardless of abuse. The riding styles of Rossi, Hayden and Lorenzo have all required a firmly planted front end with good feeling. Both Stoner and Marquez have had an extensive dirt background (Hayden too) that translated to a rear biased riding style. Stoner has said in an interview that Motogp was when he could revisit his dirt roots. After a heroic quali when Marquez sprinted back to the pits for his 2nd bike before displaying an incredible pole position performance with the front sliding all over the track, he said that the front wheel wasn't really important. As long as there is an impasse between the riders and management at Ducati the only guy that I see winning a championship at Ducati is Marquez (Marc not Alex). And why would he leave what he has at Honda and jump into the Ducati boat. It is true that anything can happen in life, but this is an assesment of plausibility not possibility.  

Absolutely nailed the post test analysis for me - FQ is a fast constant, but has yet to prove himself in the long stretch of a championship season. And I thought your Ducati commentary was harsh, but entirely accurate. Well played.

I really hope for some close, exciting racing this year in Motogp. It's exciting to see KTM and Aprilia making steps forward in competitiveness. Thanks for the writeup, David.

Watching Quart this year will be very interesting. Nothing was expected of him last year and he performed brilliantly! This year is TOTALLY different....he'll be EXPECTED to podium every race and push Marc. That's a lot of 'pressure' and it'll be an interesting study of how he handles it. Pressure seems to make Marc faster/tougher/harder, but, quite frankly, he's so much better, over the course of a season, then everybody else, someone pushing him/beating him on a semi-regular basis would be ....interesting! With that said, the only person that can beat Marc this year is Marc....him getting hurt. I'd be shocked if some one other then Marc won the title, but....that's why they race. 

Being a Ducati fan, I'd love to see them win, but they'd need Marc on the bike and.....


I wonder if we are already seeing the repercussions of Yamaha's off-season poaching of Ducati's electronics guru Marco Frigerio. Viñales putting up the best race pace while the Ducati guys are having trouble with matching electronic and engine settings to the new rear tire. Uh oh...

Well that could all change by Qatar. Or not.

This poaching used to not occur.  Honda poached two of Yamaha's electronics engineers (from Jorge's team) a few years ago.  So this is a new thing.  Years ago the Japanese would never do this.  It's so competitive now they are all going to keep poaching from each other.  Yamaha should have hired someone from MM years ago.  

The question is.  What IF the Honda is the 3rd best bike this year; and somehow MM93 fails to win the title this year to a Yamaha.

With his contract still up in the air, it is clear he is waiting to see the competitiveness of the bike of 2020 before committing to 2021 and 2022.

Ideally the development of a Motogp bike continues unabated all year long. The riders communicate the weaknesses and strengths of the bike after each time the bike is ridden. The technicians and mechanics check, adjust and change the settings and components of the bike on a continuous basis. The engineers and brains involved are getting new ideas for both the present and future. Workers back at the factory are busy making new components. Even at Aprilia when things looked stagnant the minds were busy at work dreaming. That is the function of the mind - to dream. As a whole everyone is trying to perfect the bike for the rider. But, trying to create a perfect bike is like trying to hit a moving target because the track layout, track conditions, tarmac, weather and the competitors competitiveness is always changing. Jaron Lanier, called the father of virtual reality, has said that if one looks deeply enough at a very successful business they will find a supercomputer. Nowadays, the guy with the biggest computer wins. This concept must already be playing a part in Motogp. It sounds like Marquez has a ton of control at Honda; that they do whatever they can to make him happy because he has brought them six championships in seven attempts. It would be shocking news if Marquez left Honda. It will be interesting to see if having his brother on the same team becomes a distraction.

Are we near having a system where you can select the features you wish to see/use, like voting, and limiting the comment length? I agree that knee-jerk insults (even well-considered ones!) are something we do not want to see. I am impressed by the proportion of thoughtful site supporters we now have too.

All-in-all it's still way the best.

I am currently drawing up a document with requirements for a site redesign (this will probably take a while), but I am very open to suggestions for what people (especially subscribers) would like to see. I will organize a spot for feedback.

Bear in mind this is not a democracy, however, and I will make the final call. But I love hearing good ideas. 

I don't know what this website should look like, but I am very interested in how Michelin determine tire evolution that is fair for all teams (as per Manuel Pecino's suggestion).

.....or should I say 'Italians'? 

A buddy of mine was on an Italian cycling team decades ago (35+ yrs ago), racing those 'pedal' things, and the stories he's told me are very similar to Ducati handling their riders. Quite frankly, after the Stoner debacle, you'd have thought they'd learn something, but their ego is so overwhelming HUGE, they can't see the trees for the forest. Stunning, actually. Ferrari is in the same boat, but look at the common denominator.....


IMHO....The only way Ducati is going to win the WC is by getting MM, and if they do, Honda is in for BIG trouble! Take MM out of the equation and they'd be a second tier team trying to get a top 5.....but that's another topic. 

The M family problem now is that if he leaves HRC his brother probably gets canned too. Great influence brings its problems. I wonder if either KTM or Ducati can generate sufficient sponsor-cash to achieve it, though, and the whole entourage will aslo need to bought.

Of course, VR46 might also make him an offer. That would be a coup!

Of all the Rossi-linked enmities over the years this one looks the most personal. I'd say it's more likely that the only relationship the Marquez clan would want would be the one where Vale works for them!

I was going to write that Marquez would only leave Honda with his pension and a gold watch. Look at the effort he's put in to getting it how he likes it, getting his people into the team and keeping them there. But once you've got all you want, do you stop wanting? I can't see MM going for the Ducati shopping trolley, even with really really reinforced elbows in his leathers. Surely the bigger challenge would be to repeat his winning ways on the KTM. Red Bull have very deep pockets, and sponsor both MM and KTM, so all the pieces of the puzzle are there. Red Bull financing the Spanish Bull to tame the Austrian bucking bronco? Thats my bet for 2023!

so my 2 cents:

MM will never be offered a ride in the future VR46 team for all the obvious reasons but also because VR is competitive by nature he will still want to beat MM.

Like wise pinching an electronics engineer from MM's team might not be impossible but probably very unlikely.  His team appear to be very loyal to HIM and I suspect anyone who is not part of that mindset probably doesn't last very long in his team and as such would likely have little useful information for another team.

new format David?  are you bored? :-)

love this site