The three days of testing in Sepang gave some indication of the state of play in this 2023. They shouldn't be taken as a faithful reflection of what will happen this season, but as a starting point to understand how the year can start. The first rule is that in a test you shouldn't look at the times, because it's virtually impossible to know exactly how much work each rider has done, but in the end everyone breaks it. So, we decided to go even further and make an 'impossible comparison' between the times set by the riders in testing and those in qualifying at the last Malaysian Grand Prix.
Obviously, it is an 'extreme' comparison for many reasons. The track conditions, after 3 days of testing, are optimal compared to those experienced by the riders in the race. Furthermore, on practice days, they can take advantage of the cooler hours to attack the time trial, then the tension they feel is different. In other words, there are many differences, but nevertheless some interesting indications can be obtained.
First of all, in the tests nobody beat the 1'57.790 set by Jorge Martin in October, the rider coming closest being Luca Marini, who stopped the clocks 99 thousandths from the Spaniard's record. Almost all of them, however, improved their benchmarks, and we put in the word 'almost' because only 4 did not succeed.
The first was the aforementioned Martin, who went 'worse' by a good 4 tenths, but here we are talking about the record holder who was up against himself and all in all this gap is not very indicative. More interesting is the fact that 2 out of 4 of the riders who didn't repeat their qualifying times were on a Honda.
For Marc Marquez (0.212s slower) it was the mirror of the many tests done, which by his own admission did not allow him to do a real 'qualifying simulation'. Not to mention that the Spaniard had been very fast on Saturday at the GP, getting on to the front row. The 3 and a half tenths that Rins was missing, on the other hand, were probably the sign that getting to grips with the RC213V is not a foregone conclusion. It went better for Mir, who instead was 0.361s ahead of his performance on the Suzuki, but it must be remembered that in qualifying Alex was 5th fastest (0.785s behind Martin), while Joan was 11th (1.355s), which puts the Majorcan’s improvement in a different light.
The last rider who didn't improve was Morbidelli. In Sepang Franco had concluded a good qualifying with the 7th quickest time, contrary to Quartararo only 12th (and well above 1’59"). On balance, the two Yamaha riders are less than a tenth from each other in the flying lap and this indicates the limit of the M1 on the flying lap that they complained about.
At Ducati, there is an indication that may be taken for granted, but which is also backed up by the numbers: the GP22 is a very competitive and balanced bike. The riders who switched from the GP21 to the Desmosedici with which Bagnaia won the championship improved: Di Giannantonio by almost a second, Bezzecchi by more than a tenth (but he headed the second row in the GP, Fabio was 16th). Luca Marini, on the other hand, already had the bike, but was finally able to get the best out of it, while for Alex Marquez it was a miraculous cure. The Spaniard is the one who improved the most: by 1.623s, practically an eternity in MotoGP. Naturally, the Ducati is a better bike than the Honda, but probably the psychological factor of finally being where he wants to be also counts, while in the penultimate GP of the season he was by now living apart at home. The same sort of thing could also be said for Raul Fernandez, who switched from KTM to Aprilia and reduced his benchmark time by 1.367s.
Bagnaia's time with the GP23 is also interesting. The almost 9 tenths of an improvement compared to qualifying in 2022 counts for little, because on that occasion Pecco was slow by his standards: 9th almost a second behind Martin. If anything, that time shows how the new Ducati is already at the level (or almost) of the previous one and after just 3 days of testing that is something that doesn’t necessarily go without saying. Remaining in the all-red team, Bastianini's step forward was less clear-cut, but he started 2nd in the GP and jumped two years from the GP21 to the ’23 bike, not to mention that it was his first real test in the official team and with a new crew chief.
Good improvements also for the Aprilia riders on the new bikes: more than 7 tenths for Vinales and more than 6 for Espargarò, but here the situation is a bit complicated to interpret because the RS-GP was also fast last year in the tests of Sepang (2nd with Aleix and 5th with Maverick) to then struggle a lot during the race weekend. What is certain is that Oliveira with the RS-GP (2022, his) made a big step forward compared to the KTM (we're talking almost 9 tenths of a second), a bike that had its Achilles' heel in qualifying.
In fact, it didn't go particularly well even in the tests, with Pol Espargarò (on the GasGas-branded RC16) who was the fastest, but he didn't go beyond the 3rd fastest time. The improvement compared to the Honda is in any case clear (more than half a second). Binder also did something better than in qualifying, but he wasn't even able to get into Q2 in the GP. Finally, it might be a bit of a surprise to see Miller faster on the KTM than on the Ducati, but here too there's a reason: Jack had a bad Saturday, not even managing to get below 1'59" in Q1, so the improvement is all things considered rather irrelevant.