The two-day MotoGP test at Portimão is clearly going to be a test of two halves. Today, Saturday, was the last day of concentrating on new parts, while Sunday is to be the day the teams focus on preparing for the first race of the season, which happens here in two weeks time.
That is how it works for the factories and teams who have everything sorted. But not everyone has everything sorted, as was all too obvious from Saturday. The paddock falls into three groups: The Fast (Aprilia and Ducati), The Lost (KTM and Honda), and The Inbetweeners (Yamaha).
The timesheet would also appear to tell the same story, but the headline lap times are not as significant as they look. The number of riders who sat down and went for an outright lap time was limited, and some, such as Marc Marquez, didn't bother at all.
But even those who were fast were not necessarily chasing a quick lap time. Maverick Viñales was third fastest overall, and he did his best lap time on the first lap of a 10-lap run. Likewise sixth-placed Miguel Oliveira, who set his best time in the middle of a nine-lap run. But this rather proves the point: Viñales is on a 2023 Aprilia, Oliveira on a 2022 Aprilia, and they were both quick. Aprilia are in really good shape.
Ready to roll
Almost as good as Ducati. What was remarkable about Ducati is how little they were testing: with the bike mostly set, there were odds and ends they were trying – forks, revised ride-height devices, and a little bit of aero. But both the factory Ducati Lenovo and the Pramac squad were fast, and got most of the way through their testing program.
"This year we started already in a good level because we have to say that this is a track that I like, I really like the layout. And it suits very well to my riding style," Pecco Bagnaia said, a look of supreme serenity on his face. "But I feel very good on everything, on braking, entry, corner speed. So in this moment everything is working perfectly. We already almost finished our job with the new bike and we are already at 90% of our work."
Of course, not everything was going perfectly. One of the reasons to go testing is to make sure everything works, and the switch to the new Magneti Marelli ECU threw up a few glitches. Pol Espargaro had an issue with his dashboard, while Jorge Martin's bike kept stopping on track for no obvious reason. Pramac and Ducati eventually figured the issue out, and sent Michele Pirro out on Martin's bike to test that everything was working again. Martin was annoyed by the time he had lost, but still had a very good feeling with the bike.
So what were the factories testing? A quick run down of what they were trying and where the issues are. No photos at the moment – an extended photo analysis of some of the parts we saw will come next week – but for now, here's an explanation of what was being tested.
It felt like Ducati had very little to test, at least from the outside. Work is still ongoing at Ducati, but much of that is currently falling on the shoulders of Michele Pirro, who had some intriguing bits and pieces on his bike, of which more next week.
The only visible changes to the 2023 Ducatis were the fairings, which we had already seen at Sepang. The choice seemed to be split, between the fairing with the downwash ducts on the factory Ducati Lenovo bikes, and the wider ground-effect fairing on the Pramac bikes.
"I think the Ducati guys and me have different priorities in Sepang from last season," Jorge Martin said, explaining why he preferred the ground-effect fairing. "Where I was missing was in braking, and this is the fairing that is helping me in that point. And maybe they were looking for more turning or different things. But I think the other one fits them and this one fits me."
In the Mooney VR46 and Gresini teams, there was much less to test, though a few riders had different tank covers to try, to help them get into the right position. This is a lesson learned from Jorge Lorenzo, where adding structures to the tank to lock knees in place under braking can help make the bike more consistent.
Alex Marquez, for example, had a couple of knee pads in front of his knees and a lip on the tank cover to help him hold himself in place. "We tried some things to have more support, just because in Honda, I didn't have the opportunity to try something like this, so I said OK, I want to try it. But nothing special, just try to have a contact patch there, to always be in the same position as the brake point," the Spaniard said.
He then went on to play down excitement at him setting the fourth fastest time on Saturday. "I think everybody in the paddock is like really enthusiastic, but calm down, because it's just a test," Marquez warned. "We are still far from the first Ducati today, half a second. So still a step to do it."
But as Pecco Bagnaia said above, Ducati are pretty much sorted, having taken the opposite approach to 2022. They are pretty much ready to race tomorrow.
Like Ducati, Aprilia are already in very good shape, with three of the four riders setting really strong times. Only Aleix Espargaro lagged behind, complaining of arm pump. It is an issue he has already had surgery for, and he was very concerned at having a relapse.
"I’m a bit worried because it’s very strange. I had some problems, like the other riders in Malaysia, because it was the first test of the season. But today was incredible. I had to cancel because I couldn’t really hold the handlebars. I hope tomorrow will be better. If not I will go to the Dexeus to check on Monday." The Dexeus is the medical center in Barcelona where all of the MotoGP riders go to be treated.
Where Aprilia differed from Ducati, however, was in the things they were testing. Aprilia had a lot of new aero parts to test. In addition to the side vanes below the brake calipers – already having made an appearance at Sepang – there were extra winglets added to the front forks, a return of the wing on the tail of the bike (beautifully integrated with Dorna's onboard tail cam), and even side vanes on the side of the swingarm. Those made everyone check the rules again, to see if they are legal (they are – all parts that are in 'Area A' are allowed and part of the aero).
"It makes a big difference," Aleix Espargaro explained. "We tried a lot of new items. The fork ones. The rear one. And then also on the wheel. We tried different configurations. The engineers had the idea to try it on this way. And tomorrow I’d like to try a little bit of a different configuration. There are many things you can try. I’m not sure if the arm pump is because of that, because the downforce was huge. Actually with the full configuration the corner speed in the last corner and before the climb was super super high. It also makes the difference."
If Ducati and Aprilia are looking comfortable, the same is far from true for Yamaha. Both Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli were trying new aero packages, Quartararo testing a revised version of something which had previously been tried at Valencia, while Morbidelli had a second set of wings just below the wings first tried at Sepang.
The engine continues to be fast, but the problems for the Yamaha riders are much bigger. Fabio Quartararo is happy with how the new M1 brakes, but he is struggling everywhere else. "I mean, corner speed, stability, exit of the corners," the Frenchman said, before highlighting the fact that he is still having issues getting any performance out of a new tire. "And also it's difficult how to use the tire, like normally in the past I would use a new tire and you are fast everywhere. But right now in the braking is not better, in the pickup area is better, in the edge is not better, so it's difficult to understand also. But also the way the bike is shaking and everything is difficult."
Franco Morbidelli, meanwhile, is still half a second slower than his teammate. That is his main focus – and a massive headache for Yamaha. Morbidelli needs to be able to close that gap before he can make a difference helping Quartararo improve the bike.
The good news for Honda, if you want to call it that, was the fact that Alex Rins appears to be in relatively good shape in the LCR Honda team. Rins was eleventh fastest and quickest Honda, just under nine tenths off the best time of Bagnaia. But that's where the good news ends.
The Repsol Honda riders were using two different frames, one they had selected from the two at Sepang, and a new one previously tested by Stefan Bradl. The new frame is a bit better on corner entry, turning better while the brake is held on, but it wants to run wide when you release the brake, Joan Mir explained. He had a slight preference for that frame, while Marc Marquez tried it and put it to one side, preferring to concentrate on the Sepang frame.
This, in itself, is a sign of the trouble Honda are in. "More or less half a second a lap," was his deficit to the Ducatis, Marc Marquez judged. The more worrying aspect is the fact that Marquez seemed resigned to his fate, not really expecting much better. "Yeah, we are still far from the top guys, but now we didn't start the season yet. So I mean honestly, we cannot be very optimistic about the result. But you don't gain anything being angry."
The biggest problem seems still to be power delivery and electronics. "I’m struggling a bit on the connection of the throttle," Joan Mir told us. "And the last corner, I struggle to pick it up and make it good. Everything is there. I think we have a bit of margin with that bump. On the MotoGP that bump you have to close the throttle. When you don’t have a good connection with the throttle it’s difficult to do it. So in this area we have to work."
This has been a consistent bugbear of the Honda RC213V. Inconsistent power delivery has caused problems for all of the Honda riders, the RC213V notorious for spitting riders off, where highsides are almost unheard of for the other MotoGP manufacturers. The good news again is this is fixable without having to build a new engine. But the bad news is that HRC have been working on this for years, with little progress to show for their efforts.
Honda are aware of just how far behind they are, however, as witnessed by the number of things Marc Marquez was asked to try. "Today, for that reason, I didn't stop at lunchtime and I just kept riding because still we had many, many things to try. We had a tight schedule and then I tried to concentrate everything today, because tomorrow I would like to start a normal preseason, I mean work more for the first GP. Today I tried big things, especially aerodynamic, some big setup concept. Just to understand for the engineers," he said.
It is hard to tell who is in a worse position at the Portimão test, Honda or KTM. Both factories appear to have intractable problems: for HRC it is electronics, for KTM it is a lack of rear grip. "My feeling with this bike has been the same since I rode it for the first time at Valencia," Brad Binder said. "We’ve tried a lot of set ups and different things. Some things have helped me have a bit of a better feeling but I have one issue: we need rear grip. The bike is spinning a lot and when we brake we don’t have a lot of contact."
That had been the price KTM had paid for improvements in other areas, it seemed. "It’s tricky at the moment to be honest," Binder said. "The guys did a great job finding some of the things we’re looking for. The bike’s lighter, it turns a little bit more. but it came at the expense of a lot of rear grip. It’s difficult then because we’re not getting a lap time out of it. We need to find something."
Jack Miller had issues getting confident with the front of the bike, meaning he was struggling perhaps even worse than Binder. So the outlook at the moment for KTM is quite bleak, with no obvious signs of hope on the horizon.
What KTM have done well is chosen their engine configuration, all four KTM/GasGas riders now on the same engine. That had surprised the engineers, who had rushed to get enough engines ready for the Portimão test.
KTM have also brought another aero upgrade to Portimão, a revised version of the new aero debuted at Sepang. A lot of the riders seemed to end the day on that package, but in the end, aero won't help KTM. Their issues are elsewhere, and need solving.
But again, with the right engine chosen, at least that is a step in the right direction. Get the engine wrong and you are stuck with it for a season. But everything else bar aero can be changed and updated throughout the year, so KTM still have a chance to find more grip and implement it.
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Have patience in KTM. They…
Have patience in KTM. They are about to do what Aprilia just did. 2025 front tire? Orange.
Top Black rider race is gorgeous if you stare at it.
The cocky kid might blossom. Both Factory riders are on the same step -- one has flashes just above the others' baseline. And then we GET TO SEE MIGUEL OLIVEIRA on the current Era's Yamaha/Suzuki, the one you want to come into GP's on. Oliveira may Alien.
The Rulebook has been dipped in Red. Rins may pop up out of orbit. If anyone can override the Honda there now, it is A.Rins...he may be Astronauting in front of your eyes. Our next Dovisioso, you know? Honda would like to think they deserve it, that rider. And no, they don't. They deserve Andrea Iannone and Ogura.
Ducati has Top 5 in hand. No, not ONE Top 5, more like 4 of Top 5. Aprilia grabs one spot.
Yamaha is stuck. Rulebook, front tire. Ok, time to look elsewhere.
A Suzuki Hayate this yr would be 3rd bike. Not black this time, sponsor color. Missed opportunity! Shite rulebook to not get that Suzuki garage sold to a (you know that handful of teams ready to step up) next Customer Team. For fun conceptually, put Toprak on that bike!
Reality again, ahem. Everything has been said three times.
Warning DAYTONA 200 SPOILER BELOW! v. 😞
In reply to Have patience in KTM. They… by Motoshrink
"They deserve Andrea Iannone and Ogura"
That was pretty damn funny. Nice to have you back commenting, Mr. Shrink.
Yes and no, ‘Shrink……
Yes and no, ‘Shrink… actually, no and yes, lol.
Not sure what has gone on at Yamaha, all they needed was Fabio and more motor. They have both….but somehow it isn’t gelling. Hmmm, the urge to fix what isn’t broke is strong within engineers!
And yes, Hayate/Suzuki sprang to front of mind, was mildly surprised it didn’t happen in some shape or form. A Guy Coulon, with that sort of base would have delightfully stirred the pot. Opportunity missed? Or opportunity squashed by Dorna?
Ducati Looking to Fill
Looks like Ducati will really own the podium this year. And BTW, they won their first full length Daytona 200 yesterday. Hard fought win by Josh Herrin.
In reply to Ducati Looking to Fill by Richard
Thanks for the spoiler alert…
Thanks for the spoiler alert 😕
In reply to Ducati Looking to Fill by Richard
We don’t give race results away like that… had that race earmarked to watch tonight (I’m in Australia) and now I won’t bother.
We are all quite capable of learning race results in a manner of our own choosing.