MotoGP: Revolutions In Progress

Six takeaways from the second preseason test at Sepang.

Andrea Dovizioso test action shot

The second preseason MotoGP test at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit has brought dramatic developments:

1. Ducati goes "Open!" As predicted some time ago, Ducati decided today to accept the "penalty" of using series-spec Magneti Marelli software with the spec ECU in return for the benefits of 12 engines per rider rather than five, 24 liters of fuel per race rather than 20, and the option of being able to make powerplant design changes during the year. Ducati's Andrea Dovizioso was third quickest on day three of the test with a 2:00.067 lap; Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa were tied for first at 1:59.999.

2. Bridgestone crushes Jorge Lorenzo's riding style! At this test, only the 2014 Bridgestone tires were available, and using them, Lorenzo could only manage to be seventh-fastest on day three. He said they offered less edge grip on corner entry, at the apex, and during exit acceleration than did the '13 tires. As his style is uniquely dependent upon corner speed, big changes either to his Yamaha YZR-M1 or to his style will be required.

3. Rossi on top! How can this be? The rider who so notoriously failed to adapt to the Ducati in 2011 and 2012 has changed his riding style so he can make the 2014 Bridgestones work. He said, "I have tried to modify my style a little bit so it does not stress too much the tire on the edge and try to stay more out of the bike and study the way to improve." This means he has moved away from corner speed, toward what Cal Crutchlow (eighth on day three) calls "Honda's V-shaped line." If Rossi can do this, can Lorenzo?

4. Is Yamaha having second thoughts? This was the last day on which a team could declare its intention to "go Open" as Ducati has done. Yamaha management, seeing the inexperienced Aleix Espargaro on an "Open" Yamaha (a leased M1 pneumatic-valve engine in a 2013 M1 chassis) set fourth-fastest time at 2:00.101, may be having second thoughts about not following Ducati's lead. Having 24 liters of fuel means a richer, smoother, and more powerful engine map can be used.

Nicky Hayden test action shot

5. Honda's production racer, basically an RC213V with metal valve springs instead of pneumatic, is still not fast. Nicky Hayden's Aspar example is just out of the top 10. Don't think of hyper rpm as the only capability of pneumatic valve springs. Pneumatics can make valves follow short-duration, high-lift cams that combine strong acceleration (from the short duration, which broadens torque) with top speed (made possible by the high lift). The metal valve-spring Hondas are surely suffering the performance-sapping effects of longer timings and lower lift.

6. I hear you, Kenny! Way back in the 1990s, Kenny Roberts inveighed against corner speed, saying that relying on edge grip all the way around a corner exposes the rider to unnecessary risk and uses up edge grip, which veteran Öhlins tech Jon Cornwell calls "a wasting asset." Honda's V-shaped line is really the modern version of Kenny's dirt-track-derived point-and-shoot style. The rider enters at substantial but not extreme lean, concentrates his turning at the apex and on the tire edges (this is when Marc Marquez gets his elbow on the pavement), then lifts the bike dramatically to begin hard acceleration for a high exit speed. This reduces risk and conserves edge grip, while giving a fast, accelerating corner exit. This year's Bridgestones favor this style and not Lorenzo's.

Bridgestone’s response to Lorenzo’s criticisms? Chief Coordinator Thomas Scholz said Lorenzo must adapt for “two years ago, we had theater with Honda” over its problems with that year’s front tire. Scholz noted that the new tire is different from before only by three percent and only on one side. This kind of sensitive dependence on conditions is a feature of highly developed machines.

What about Marquez, whose broken leg will keep him out of this and subsequent preseason tests? We hope and expect he will prove to be the incredible rubber man that so many 21-year-olds are, returning to form at the first race in Qatar.

The ingredients of change are in play, and we will soon see what results.

Aleix Espargaro.

Andrea Dovizioso.

Cal Crutchlow.

Dani Pedrosa, Pol Espargaro, and Jorge Lorenzo.

Dani Pedrosa.

Jorge Lorenzo.

Nicky Hayden.

Valentino Rossi.