In Qatar, the final tests were held in view of the preparation for the 2020 season in MotoGP. All the teams put every available resource on the track to get ready for the start of a world championship that for the first time in a few years could really shake up the established order.
The regulations have remained pretty much unchanged from last season, so the engineers have been unable to give vent to their imagination, except for Gigi Dall’Igna who, as usual, managed to come out with some particular and spectacular solutions for their simplicity and practicality.
Yet, in our opinion, one element will be decisive for changing the face of the MotoGP world championship and that is the Michelin tyres built for 2020. We remember a phrase spoken about tyres by Ross Brawn when he was in charge of the Ferrari project in Formula 1: “For months we engineers study entire solutions in the wind tunnel that allow us to make up 2 tenths per lap, when things are OK. Then we come to the tests and Bridgestone brings a solution that on its own gains 1.5 seconds per lap. Tyres are more important than anything else."
It’s a phrase that after what we saw in Losail appears to be absolutely true. The new Michelins were in fact able to completely alter the values on the track, and if what was seen in the tests will be confirmed in the race, the status quo of MotoGP could undergo a profound change at least in the first phase of the championship. Some manufacturers have in fact managed to exploit the characteristics of these 2020 tyres perfectly, while others have shown great difficulties in trying to get the best out of them.
Yamaha flies with its youngsters, while Rossi ends with a crash and disappointment
Maverick Vinales was unstoppable for everyone during the Losail tests. The Yamaha rider seemed to have magically returned to the incredible form he had shown in the first part of the 2017 season, when he made his debut on the M1. Constantly the best on race pace, in Losail he was also quickest in the time attack of all the tests, carbon copying two laps that remained unmatched by his rivals.
Fabio Quartararo also confirmed that he was very fast but perhaps the biggest surprise in Yamaha was Franco Morbidelli, who despite having an inferior spec M1 to his colleagues, was able to set both a benchmark time attack lap and a series of long runs on podium pace, at least on a par with those of Vinales.
The 2020 Michelins might have helped the M1, which has always suffered from a lack of grip when exiting corners, but this only appeared to be true for Iwata’s youngsters. Valentino Rossi actually had a very strange test. Fast and consistent on the first day, Rossi was not the same on the second and on the third he also ended with a crash before going on his time attack on the second soft tyre. In his debriefs at the end of the test he said he feared that he could find himself in the same situation as in 2019 as regards the tyres. A situation in contrast to that of his fellow Yamaha riders, who all seemed enthusiastic about the technical package available.
Suzuki ready for the final step, but work continues on aerodynamics
The GSX-RR also benefited greatly from the changes brought about by the new 2020 Michelins, tyres that clearly manage to enhance the characteristics of the bikes powered by four-cylinder in-line engines. Probably the greater grip available with these tyres can be exploited to the full by these engines which are sweeter in their delivery than the V4s, something that was also highlighted by Piero Taramasso of Michelin in our exclusive interview in Losail.
Alex Rins and Joan Mir always went well over the three days and in addition to its chassis improvement, the GSX-RR seems to have partially made up the horsepower gap to its rivals. The only aspect on which both riders agreed is aerodynamic development, which does not seem to have worked much for Hamamatsu's bike. Suzuki could start the season with an aerodynamic configuration similar to that of 2019, and then bring a development to the track during the year.
The attitude of Joan Mir was very impressive, the Spaniard really flexing his muscles despite being only in his second year of MotoGP. One of the elements that leads us to say that he is a potential protagonist, at least like Rins, is that during these tests Marc Marquez did many laps behind him. When Marc follows a rider in this way, he is studying him and if he did it in Losail with Mir, it means that he considers him a potential threat to keep an eye on.
Honda, one last test day of fear and delirium in Losail
When a manufacturer takes the bike of the previous year from the garage of a satellite team, paints the fairing with a spray can and then sends the rider on the track for almost one day on that bike instead of on the 2020 version, there is clearly something wrong. It looks like the script from a film, instead it is exactly what happened in the Losail pits.
Marquez lapped on Nakagami’s bike, i.e. an RCV in 2019 spec, and he was much faster with this bike than with the other. Marc also confirmed that he wanted to test the previous year's bike to see if the problem was the Michelins or the new bike, because before the third and final day the Spaniard was complaining of a constant lack of confidence in his bike.
Cal Crutchlow was slow over the three days, crashed violently on the second day and never expressed any particularly nice words about the new bike. Alex Marquez is a rookie and seems to have arrived in MotoGP in the worst possible season for Honda. His brother Marc said he sorted things out on the last day, and it is likely that this means that he will have a bike made up partly of 2019 components and in part with components designed for 2020.
Marc will undoubtedly be up at the front in Losail, but even the rather nervous words of Alberto Puig on the eve of the first round of the world championship confirmed to us that Honda is probably the manufacturer who worse than any other has made the transition to the new tyres. Marquez can for sure be a candidate for the title race, but for the moment it is difficult to imagine him becoming champion four or five races before the end of the season.
Ducati back at its best at the end of the long straight and Dall'Igna continues to amaze
We have already pointed out that the problems with the new Michelins have mainly been felt by those manufacturers that use a V4 engine and Ducati form part of this list. Dovizioso repeatedly pointed out that the extra grip available somehow ended up by penalizing the balance of the GP20, which however has improved a lot thanks to the increase in horsepower of the Bologna factory’s V4. The new beast from Borgo Panigale returned to be the fastest bike in the field at the end of the straight and GP20 machines monopolized the top speed ranking every single day.
The new device designed by Gigi Dall’Igna also intervened to help in this feat, i.e. a system capable of changing the height of the rear of the bike during the entire lap and not only in the starting phase. Miller is the rider who has been using it for the longest period of time and he consistently recorded the highest speed. The system also limits wheelies in corner exit, and this obviously increases acceleration. For the moment, Jack is the rider who is making the most of it, but the other Ducati riders will also be there soon.
Petrucci was very satisfied with the race simulation completed using a soft tyre and Dovizioso also seemed really happy with the work done especially on the last day of testing. The GP20 has improved and still seems to have some margin. The new aerodynamic configuration works and there is a lot of horsepower to be exploited thanks to the new Michelins. The package is there, the problem is to see how much Ducati’s rivals have improved.
The KTM gains more power but suffers too much from the new Michelins
The KTM riders offered very discordant versions of the situation. Pol Espargarò is the soul of the project and there is not one single declaration in which he complained about the bike, while Miguel Oliveira did not particularly seem to agree. The reality is that the step forward shown at Sepang was not confirmed at Losail, a track less favourable to the characteristics of the Austrian V4.
Espargarò said that this engine resembles Ducati’s for its power, but the introduction of the new Michelin is likely to be worse in KTM. The Austrian bike has always been famous for not being particularly docile and this technical development could have made this characteristic even worse.
Good news on the rider front for KTM, because Brad Binder managed to set an excellent benchmark time on the last day, easily finishing in the top ten. A good sign for the rookie who at the beginning of the winter testing season appeared to be in clear difficulty.
Aprilia can amaze, the new RS-GP has a lot of potential
It has to be said that the new RS-GP has had a good start, and Aleix Espargarò confirmed at Losail that it is truly a project on another level for the Noale manufacturer. It was impressive on its Sepang debut, but some predictable technical problems also emerged. In Qatar there were some more problems, but the Spaniard set the highest speed behind the Ducati at the end of the long Losail straight and this is an excellent aspect of the new V4 from Noale.
In Aprilia the dream was to be able to create a bike that would combine the rideability of motorcycles with a 4-cylinder inline engine with the power of a V4. It is too early to see if they have done it, but it is clear that in 2020 Aprilia can have higher ambitions than in the recent past. In his race simulation, Aleix was as fast as Jack Miller, and it is easy to imagine him in the top ten in the first race of the 2020 world championship, with a large margin for improvement at his disposal.
We must underline that in Losail the technicians from Noale kept the engine’s power in check, to avoid breakages that could have slowed down the work in the garage. When reliability increases, it will be possible to 'release' all the bike’s available power, allowing the RS-GP to make a further step forward.
The sore point comes from Bradley Smith, who still seems unable to make the transition from test rider to the factory rider mentality. Bradley was always too far away from Aleix and this is disappointing because in the past the British rider has proved to be very fast in MotoGP. Hopefully the situation will change soon, even though there is a lot of curiosity to see how well Iannone will go on this bike.
Unfortunately, the rider from Vasto is still awaiting the judgment of Wada, whose result is uncertain and whose delay undoubtedly penalizes, in addition to him, the entire project.