The sensation of the MotoGP test in Malaysia was Jorge Lorenzo's 1:58.830 lap on the new Ducati—the only sub-1:59 of the three days. But this is testing, and each team has its own methodology, revealing the nature of new equipment in different ways.

Yamaha finished the 2017 racing season needing improved tire condition late in races. The Hondas were fast but exhausting to ride, with strange engine weak areas that were never definitively revealed as either electronic phantoms or hard parts problems. They shook, they wobbled, yet Marc Marquez took the title.

Ducati’s problems were in part overshadowed by Andrea Dovizioso’s winning six races and new-hire Lorenzo’s mighty efforts to remake his Yamaha-based riding style. But problems remained. The bikes are wonderful on the brakes, but the moment that extra load leaves the front tire, not so good. And, in midcorner, noted Lorenzo, their turning deficit is 5 kph of missing corner speed.

Lorenzo, topping the three days of testing, has clearly learned to use the Ducati’s strengths. During 2017, braking stability and corner speed began to appear as though they are a choice; pick one, because maybe no one chassis can combine the two.

Jorge Lorenzo Sepang
Jorge Lorenzo has clearly learned to use the Ducati’s strengths to his benefit.Photo courtesy of Ducati

Just as so many marriages would perk up on an extra $50K a year, so might the prospects of the “other” teams, given an extra $10 or $15 million—Suzuki, very promising in this test; Aprilia, making steady progress; and KTM, whose orange-shirted fans expect nothing short of world domination. Young engineers, still able to get by on three hours of sleep, may dream of putting brilliant ideas in the place of millions in methodical development testing, but we have yet to see it win races.

Dani Pedrosa Sepang
Dani Pedrosa said he was able to go into corners with more confidence on the latest Honda.Photo courtesy of Honda

Valentino Rossi, eighth on day 3, noted, “The bigger improvement is my feeling with the bike. Last year I suffer more with the degradation of the tire.” He also noted this test chassis’ weight distribution and stiffness are changed from the 2016 chassis. Rossi praised the downforce version of the new fairing: “What you feel when you try this type of fairing, you feel more front contact.”

On the second day, Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales and Rossi were first and second, but on the third day, they mysteriously failed to improve. Often that’s the nature of testing; you choose a direction, discover a dead end, and haven’t the time to start afresh.

Viñales, too, liked the new chassis: “I feel constant grip from lap one to 20. That’s the positive thing. What I’m missing is the first part of acceleration.” About the downforce fairing, Viñales said, “I think the new fairing is really positive because I felt an improvement in acceleration. It’s going to be important at tracks like Austria and Le Mans, with a lot of wheelie. At some other tracks, we will not want to use it because maybe in some part of the corner it is worse.”

Pol Espargaró was 10th on day 1, but his KTM later locked and darted into a wall, rendering him unable to ride. Teammate Bradley Smith (22nd overall) said only, “We learned a lot.” Alex Rins rode a new chassis and engine from Suzuki into an impressive sixth overall. A race simulation went well.

Marc Marquez Sepang
Marc Marquez warned that Sepang’s unique qualities can lead to false conclusions.Photo courtesy of Honda

Marquez (seventh overall) was busy with three engines to test, but Honda riders preferred one with increased torque. He summed up the task: “Do many laps, long runs, see how the tire drops, see how the electronics work when the tire drops.” He warned that Sepang’s unique qualities can lead to false conclusions about performance elsewhere.

Of the downforce fairing, Marquez said, “The main target of the new fairing is the wheelie. Of course then you lose a little bit of top speed. Braking stability becomes better, but then when to start to enter the corner it looks harder on the bike. In the fast corners it also looks a little bit harder.”

Marquez also mentioned the possibility of added downforce overheating the front tire. Overall, he sounded like a man yet to make up his mind about the wealth of new information just gathered.

Cal Crutchlow Sepang
Cal Crutchlow described Sepang as "one of the places where the bike is hardest to ride physically."Photo courtesy of LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow was third on day 3. When asked if the new Honda is less physical to ride, he said, “This is one of the places where the bike is hardest to ride physically with regard to the corners. In the end, if we can make it a little bit better here, which we did, then it will be better in other places as well.

“It’s got some more torque,” Crutchlow said, adding cheerfully, “if we have more power, then we can always turn it down, instead of not having any power and we can’t turn it up” [the 2015–’17 situation].

Pol Espargaro Sepang
Quick early in the test, Pol Espargaro was unable to ride after his KTM locked and darted into a wall.Photo courtesy of KTM

Dani Pedrosa, fastest on day 1 and second on day 3, usually says the minimum: “I am able to go into corners with more confidence,” and “the engine is a bit more powerful than last year’s.”

Lorenzo, topping the combined times, said of the 2018 Ducati, “The bike turns better, and I can open the throttle earlier. This time, as I told you, the chassis improves, the engine is more smooth in the corner.”

Alex Rins Sepang
Alex Rins tested a new Suzuki chassis and engine and recorded the sixth-quickest lap time.Photo courtesy of Suzuki

Previously, commenting on problems of 2017, Lorenzo had noted that the engine responded harshly to initial throttle. This is more important to a corner-speed rider who feeds throttle gradually than to a rider who is more decisive with the grip. Lorenzo was prevented from making a race simulation run by a technical problem.

Dovizioso (fourth overall) noted on the first day, “The front is better, especially in the last part of corner entry. I’m able to enter a bit faster. When I release the brake also affects turning [midcorner] a little bit. There is also a bit more power.” Dovi is always very careful to qualify what he says, never citing a plus without also listing the concerns that come with it.

Valentino Rossi Sepang
Valentino Rossi said the "bigger improvement is my feeling with the bike.”Photo courtesy of Yamaha

Riders and teams have now gathered a mass of data and have yet to determine all that it implies. The vague shapes of change we’ve seen at Sepang will emerge more clearly at the next test on February 16–18 at Buriram in Thailand, a track that is new to this paddock.