The final days of testing have concluded with teams utilising time, winter strength training, varying conditions and aerodynamic packages to be ready for race one of the 2019 season. Two riders keeping the media on their toes are Maverick Vinales and Alex Rins who exchanged times on day one and day two. The two Spaniards are known to go head to head at times and they were certainly pushing one another mentally.
Rins has been testing a lot of parts. Rins: “We’ve been doing a great job; in Sepang we tested a lot of parts, but here we’re confirming that those parts are good. But the important thing is the way I’m riding, step-by-step with a nice rhythm, and using worn tyres as well. The aim is to get everything 100% clear when we come back for the first race. I feel that our package is better than last year, just by changing small things. I feel happy with the bike.” The transition in to the 2019 is key because their extra concessions and advantages have been removed due to their success in 2018. Rins is a strong test rider which makes team manager Davide Brivio very happy!
In contrast, Vinales appears to have a completely different mindset and this is showing in his testing results. The teammate to Valentino Rossi is doing a fabulous job of shaping up his positive points and working through his negative areas. Vinales: “We were working a little bit on the race pace and honestly I'm quite happy, because I think we made good improvements today. It was important to feel the bike a little bit more, to find a new set-up to go fast. I think that job has been done and I'm quite happy about that.” In amongst the happiness there is sadness with Vinales regarding grip. The Spanish rider on the last day of testing was clear about the issues: “I don't have really good grip on the edge, so we need to keep working, especially in that area. On the acceleration side we improved quite a lot since Sepang, and at the moment I'm quite satisfied with what we have in the braking area. My race pace is not bad, I tried ten laps just to understand how the bike is doing, but it was very cold for the medium tyres. Anyway, I rode quite well, with quite a good rhythm. Maybe I could have pushed a little more. However, we still need to improve for the race. I think we are going to be ready. The race will be very important for us. Our bike has really positive points, but also a few negatives, so we now need to come to a conclusion and see where we can improve.”
In the world of two wheeled motorsport, you have to be comfortable and strong. If the rear grip is giving you grief, the bike is not turning properly or you feel slow, riders and teams have the responsibility to find a solution. Rossi did not find his feet on day two and was struggling with rear grip. He felt slow which is a concern for the Doctor. This issue has arisen over the last two seasons and no easy answer has been achieved. The work on the fairings is key as the new season draws near and a choice must be made. A new tail unit was spotted so which direction will Yamaha go… The decision will be one that is going to keep several team members up late and overthinking that is for sure. On day three, Rossi was a bit more upbeat which was nice to see. Rossi: “we worked in a good way and I was quite strong. Also, with the race tyres my pace is quite good, and in the time-attack I was also OK. I'm in P5 at the end of the three days, which is not so bad. For me, also the race pace is quite good, although I think we will need something more to be able to try to fight. But today we already closed the gap by a lot, as we put it all together, with all the staff. I think that, for this night, we're done, and we'll see in two weeks if it's enough.”
On the other side, the sister team Petronas Yamaha SRT had superstar French rookie Fabio Quartararo wake the sleeping giants up! His bike is not that far away from the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team. Talk about showing up and putting your all out on the track for everyone to see. Way to go Fabio. The ability to go fast and be consistent will be a true test for Quartararo and we look forward to watching him grow throughout the season. The first race is going to be vital to his mindset and focus as a key rider within the Petronas Yamaha SRT team.
Turning to the Repsol Honda garage, we had Jorge Lorenzo return for the first time on the bike since 2018. He looked the part and was focused even though he is not 100% fit. Lorenzo and his crew focused on adjusting the ergonomics of the Repsol Honda bike to suit his riding style and body shape. Lorenzo: “Today was better than yesterday. We modified the bike to improve my feeling and confidence across the whole circuit.” The Repsol Honda riders are fighting pain in order to lay down the laps and create a package for 2019 that allows them to win and challenge for consistent points. On day two, Lorenzo was able to complete 44 laps and improve his time by a substantial 1.348 seconds to a 1’55.742.
Marquez: “I’m very happy today because it was my first ‘normal’ day of testing. I did a lot of laps, there was a little pain in the shoulder but it’s manageable. We also made a big step with the setup of the bike, I’m happy overall with my condition and the bike. We’re getting closer and closer at a circuit that’s usually not the best for us.” The Repsol Honda team are ready for the journey to begin in 2019 and have positive thoughts around the bike set up, potential and know that when their physicality is back to 100%, the strength of the duo is a force to be reckoned with. Lorenzo ended the test in sixth with a total of 115 laps under his belt. Marquez finished with 144 laps completed and ended the test in fourth. Regardless of injury, crashing at the test and being tired at times, both riders performed at an optimum level and are already smiling about the start of the season.
In terms of the riders struggling mentally and physically with their machine, it is Johann Zarco who has a big task. Things are slow and Zarco is not used to his new working environment. In fact, he is used to jumping on the bike, finding his feet and going fast. The complete opposite is taking place. Zarco: “The second day has been better for me and straight away we were able to understand why I could not improve any more on the first day. It’s important to feel that on the bike, and the positive and negatives things of our work. We moved a few steps forward for my sensation when riding and it made me smile. We’re still one second away from the first guy but we made improvements. We made many laps here and while I’m not sure if we are fully set for this race yet we can do the best job we can. It is just about finding the right set-up for my riding style and when we put our finger on something I can immediately make progress. We are taking a while to find it…but this is just the beginning of our story. I would like to get inside a second tomorrow: that would be interesting. I want to get closer.” The French rider is slow now which is not good news for the KTM squad as Zarco needs to be mentally strong in order to perform. It will be very interesting to watch the progress of Zarco across the 2019 season.
Standouts were Takakki Nakagami who is appearing to be more at ease with his LCR Honda bike. The Japanese rider is improving step by step, tapping in to his skillset and showcasing his potential on another level. There are aspects of the bike and riding style that need improvement. The bonus here for Nakagami is that he has a team around him willing to work through those issues with him.
Turning to Australian rider Jack Miller, he has been focused even with a new teammate arriving and entering his domain. At the Qatar test, Miller had his goals set and that was to find an effective set up, work on the geometry of the bike and improve his time in amongst humid conditions. The pressure is on for Miller as the level of competition in 2019 is extremely high. Miller is satisfied with the three days spent in Qatar and their race pace was very good. This is promising and a good sign for the Ducati manufacturer.
Friend and rival, Cal Crutchlow is recovering well after his nasty Phillip Island crash. As always, his LCR Honda team have been working around the clock to ensure demands are met, the testing schedule is completed, and he is competitive. The Brit was clear that there is still a way to go in order to make sure they are at the front. Crutchlow: “We’re very pleased with the work we have done, and while we’re not pleased with the position, we never went after a lap time today. Overall, I think we have a better pace than what the position says because we just stuck with the medium compound tyres tonight. We’ll see what we can do in a couple of weeks’ time back here in Qatar, but we are all looking forward to being back racing.”
Finally, Mission Winnow Ducati team were consistent at Qatar which is quite a good track for their bike. Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso appear to be working well together as teammates from a testing point of view. Petrucci: "I was happy with the feeling with used tyres, both the medium and soft compounds. Our pace is competitive, while we still need to improve in terms of pure speed on new tyres. I still have to look into detail at our rival's lap times, but we all seem to be quite close. Tomorrow we'll keep working on the setup and we'll also run a race simulation to make another step forward, which is crucial to fight for the podium during the race." The journey to the top step at Ducati has been intriguing for Petrucci with his weight loss journey being one of huge sacrifices implemented during his pre-season training. The dedication is truly inspiring and Petrucci wants to do his team proud. It is not every day that you get to jump on board a factory Ducati with a passionate team at your side.
His teammate, Dovi, will be watching closely! Dovi: "What matters the most is that my feeling with the bike is good. We did a race simulation split into two runs. It's a very important task ahead of the opening race, even if it will unfold in slightly different conditions, and it allowed to gather interesting feedback even though it's still difficult to gauge the true potential of our opponents. I think we're working well and methodically, and tomorrow we'll continue to focus on some details to find more ways to further improve." At the end of day three, Petrucci felt the conditions were extremely challenging although by changing the setting of the bike, they were able to gain more data and insight before the Championship kicks off. DesmoDovi however did struggle with the wind and their testing program interrupted by the weather changes. The final words as the garage was closed: “Honestly I can't say I'm completely satisfied, but I'm also convinced we have strong potential and I'm confident we can have a strong race. We collected plenty of interesting data and it will be important to make the most of it to make sure we're as ready and competitive as possible in two weeks' time.”