Two days of riding before the 2023 MotoGP season will start. Two days to test, and two weeks to analyze all the data collected and finalize the MotoGP bikes ready to open their 2023 campaigns. The MotoGP factories have a lot of work to do, and very little time to do it. So what is on the testing agenda for the Portimão test, which starts on Saturday and ends on Sunday?
One of the biggest things that all of the teams – factory and satellite – have to test is the new weekend format. With hot conditions and track time lost to the weather at Sepang, the riders didn't really get a chance to try a sprint race simulation. Some teams will be doing just the sprint race simulation, most will be aiming to try both.
"The plan is to use this test to prepare for the first race of the year," GasGas Tech3 rider Pol Espargaro explained. "In the first race especially this year where Saturday is going to be the Sprint race and everything is going to be so new that you need to go into it with everything ready."
Preparing for the new format
Part of that is getting used to the feeling of a bike set up for a Sprint race, which will be different to the normal full-length grand prix race. "The bike is going to feel different," Espargaro said. "I mean the fuel capacity inside the tank is going to be different because you don't need to put as much fuel in the tank. So with half of the weight on the full tank, for sure, you're going to feel the big difference."
Sprint races won't require tire management either, Espargaro explained. "You don't need to care about tire management when there is only half of the race distance. You don’t need to take care of the tire, actually, because the tire efficiency is not going to drop so much."
Fewer laps means more fuel to burn. "And also we know that there are quite a lot of bikes in the championship that are quite strong when they don't care about the fuel. So also the torque delivery of many bikes are going to be full in many places where with the long race, they will lower the torque level."
The teams will be working out what this means during the two-day test, but in the end, only race weekends will show what works best. "I think we all will adapt through this process of racing," Espargaro said. "I'm sure you will need to be more wake up and more efficient working with the team. The relationship in between technical part, electronics and the rider will be so important to understand the problems faster and improve them faster. As you are going to have less time on the bike."
Ready from the off
The arrival of Sprint races, sacrificing setup time in practice, means that having a base setup will be absolutely crucial. Having a bike that is 95% ready at every track will be far more fruitful than spending time looking for an extra half a percentage point of peak performance, if you don't have a setup which allows you to use that extra peak performance everywhere.
The change places an extra onus on qualifying as well. With two races riding on qualifying, getting on the first three rows of the grid will be crucial. In a race, anything can happen, but relying on others making mistakes is a risky strategy.
Beyond preparing for the Sprint races, what will the factories be working on? Portimão is the last chance to test aerodynamics before they are homologated ahead of the first MotoGP race in two weeks time, so everyone will be working on aero. Likewise, engine designs must be finalized before the first race, so factories will be looking to confirm that the engine configurations the factory riders preferred at Sepang work well in the much cooler temperatures at Portimão.
Ducati appear to have the least amount of work to do. The engine tested at Sepang was an improvement, though it was still a little aggressive, so the Ducati Lenovo and Pramac teams will be working on setting electronics and engine maps to optimize performance.
The Bologna factory also has a decision to make on aerodynamics. At Sepang, Pecco Bagnaia favored the revised version of the downwash ducts used last year, rather than the ground-effect fairings copied from Aprilia. This test will be vital in nailing down that choice.
Aprilia also have engine work to do, but it is to test the updated engine which has been put through its paces on the dynos back in Noale. Aleix Espargaro was disappointed not to have the engine ready for Sepang, but Portimão may be a better place to test it. A long straight and some steep climbs may give a clearer idea if the power delivery is better.
Aprilia, too, have aero to finalize. The Italian factory debuted a triplane front wing at Sepang, but Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro spent most of their time on the older design wing. But that is the final decision to be made, the slimmer, more carefully shaped fairing being praised by both riders as an improvement.
Once again aerodynamics will be key, with another revision of the fairing expected to make its appearance at Portimão. While wandering up pit lane on Friday afternoon, I spied an aero set which looked slightly different poking out from under the garage door at KTM. The fairing and wings had a sticker saying "Aero C", meaning that there must also be an Aero A and Aero B set, at the very least.
KTM also had a new engine at Sepang which the riders felt was an improvement, and the Portimão test will be used to confirm the configuration which the riders preferred. But there is also still a lot of work left to try to make the bike feel more consistent, more like it was designed as a whole entity. Pol Espargaro was the fastest KTM (though the bike wears GasGas colors), just ahead of Brad Binder, but both riders were 0.9 behind the fastest man of the test Luca Marini. There is still work to be done.
With just two riders in 2023, Yamaha have their work cut out for them. The Japanese factory has to confirm that the performance gain of the 2023 M1 is real. A preliminary analysis of top speeds at the Sepang tests shows Fabio Quartararo averaging a best top speed on a flying lap of 329.8 km/h, where Pecco Bagnaia's best flying laps saw him average 331.4 km/h. That is close enough to be competitive. But is it a speed that Yamaha can sustain?
The Yamaha factory also apparently have new rear aero to test. They tried the stegosaurus wings which have sprouted from the tails of Ducati and Honda at Valencia and Sepang, but have an "F1-style" wing at Portimão to test, according to Motorsport.com.
Electronics will be important for Yamaha at Portimão, as the power delivery of the new, more powerful engine needs to be set up and ready for the opening race. There were issues at Sepang, which Yamaha's engineers have had time to attempt to rectify and improve over the last month.
HRC have a lot of work to do. After going back to basics at Sepang, as new Technical Director Ken Kawauchi tried to understand the bike he is working with. But besides the experiments – rolling out a throwback bike using parts from 2018 and before, and having Marc Marquez ride the 2023 bike without any aerodynamics at all on it – the Repsol Honda riders narrowed down a choice of chassis and tested a new engine. I saw Marc Marquez' bike being rolled to a photoshoot fitted with the frame (without a weld in the main beam) which he and Joan Mir had selected on the final day of Sepang.
In the meanwhile, Stefan Bradl has been testing new aero at the Jerez test, and some revised parts which are reported to be a small improvement. Those parts will be handed to the Repsol Honda team, while the LCR riders Alex Rins and Takaaki Nakagami will get a chance to try the new chassis the factory HRC riders had preferred.
The feeling you get from Honda is that they are still in test mode, and there is a lot more work to do before they can truly be competitive. Of the five MotoGP manufacturers, Honda is the factory which is likely to be most interesting to observe.
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