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 MotoMatters.com 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.
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