Credit – Repsol Honda MotoGP Team and CormacGP

The 2019 MotoGP is underway with testing taking place at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia with almost every rider. Those missing the action were Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa after succumbing to new and old injuries. Pedrosa underwent stem cell treatment on his collarbone which was performed by Doctors Soler and Orozco. They conducted a miraculous reconstructive surgery to stablise the fracture and used osteosynthesis material and a contribution of bio-graft with a dose of forty million autologous stem cells to help the rider recover. The advanced therapy drug is authorised by the Spanish Medicine Agency (Agencia Española de Medicamentos y Productos Sanitarios AEMPS). It has been a very up and down pre-season for the Spanish test rider who was hoping to bring 100% energy and full fitness at the Sepang test. The road to recovery is a long one for the former MotoGP legend. In comparison, Lorenzo is recovering after a training accident which resulted in him fracturing his left scaphoid. Talk about a painful injury and also bad luck. Lorenzo was ready to tackle the Honda though will have to wait until Qatar for that next opportunity. His recuperation is moving along at a faster rate than normal which is extremely positive. Lorenzo is not a rider who hangs up his boots after an injury, in fact, he pushes beyond the barriers and is aiming to be at a competitive pace by at least the third round of the season.

The test at Sepang was a very positive one for most teams and the weather held up which was a huge bonus. A couple of years ago, we were at the test and all it did was rain leading to a track surface that refused to dry out in a timely manner. It was nice to see in 2019, the bikes out on track more than anticipated. No doubt, the 2019 season is going to be more dynamic than ever with hungrier rookies, a Malaysian run team, rule changes and Marquez not on a bike as much as usual. At the end of 2018, Marquez opted to have surgery on his injured shoulder. You may have remembered when Scott Redding slapped his back and the shoulder popped out. Well, this was a common occurrence for the Spanish World Champion and it was an injury hidden behind closed doors. A lot of the paddock were unaware of the pain he was enduring race after race. Funnily enough, his family and team had to disassemble his motorcycles over the winter break to ensure he did not ride. That is the programming of the Marquez brain: to ride no matter what. Talk about discipline to ensure 100% recovery for a back to back World Championship bid.

As a result, there were doubts about Marquez going fast at testing. On day one, this was completely shut down as he went fastest! The faces of his fellow riders were priceless as they watched on with disbelief. He is a king of the MotoGP circuit for a reason and the natural ability regardless of injury to succeed is inspiring. The teams to watch this season for podium contention, race victories and the Championship are: Repsol Honda, The Mission Winnow Ducati Team, Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team, Alma Pramac Racing and LCR Honda in particular Cal Crutchlow. The reason why there are so many contenders is the fact that the competition has become a lot closer over the years through regulation and open technological advancements.

Credit – Repsol Honda MotoGP Team and CormacGP

Marquez: “was very positive, especially with my physical condition – I’m feeling much better. Yesterday I was a little worried about riding today, but I woke up and felt better. We were able to try many things for Honda today and I felt really good on the bike, comfortable and consistent. Everything we had planned to do this test, we have done. Of course I would have liked to ride more but we had to take it a bit easy. Even so, I’m happy because I was riding easy, not in my riding style but I was able to ride more. I didn’t crash and we tried the most important things for the Repsol Honda Team, I am happy because of this.” It is clear in the minds of his team that staying upright is key to ensuring a smooth progression to lights out at Qatar. A similar story is heard with Cal Crutchlow who suffered one of the nastiest crashes at Phillip Island late last year. The British rider had three months off with no kind of racing allowed. Crutchlow arrived in Sepang with clouds over his head, in that he had no idea on what was in store for him as a rider. Funnily enough and similar to Marquez, Crutchlow went faster than the official circuit best lap and enjoyed being onboard the new HRC factory RC213V machine.

Credit – CormacGP and LCR Honda MotoGP Team

Crutchlow: “My ankle by the end was getting sore, hot, and swollen. I feel in good shape however, and the ankle feels good on the bike. It doesn’t bother me on there, it bothers me when I stop. I think the 2019 bike is definitely better, but my feeling is I just need to adjust it a bit more. I ride quite a neutral bike, but I haven’t found the perfect setting with the front end just yet. Overall HRC has done a great job with the package. I think it can be competitive for the championship, and it’s one I’m looking forward to riding this year”.

In comparison, the Ducati and Yamaha manufactures are on the hunt. To those who have not yet seen the Ducati, it is a completely different looking bike from an aesthetic point of view. Some will say: it looks nothing like a Ducati and others will embrace the change. The red beast is definitely trying new techniques in attempt for a World Championship. Danilo Petrucci appeared nervous at the start of the test and by end of day three, he was well equipped to be on board that machine. His main battle will be with the rear tyre and his weight limits. Both riders tested a new fairing with a different aerodynamic profile which they feel was positive and something to integrate where required on a circuit by circuit basis. In addition to this, the main Ducati team was analysing Jack Miller and rookie Francesco Bagnaia closely as both younger riders surpassed the older generation!

Credit – Mission Winnow Ducati Press

Petrucci: “Today we started off on the right foot: I was supposed to try two ‘time attacks’ but one attempt, done with a medium rear tyre, was enough. When I saw the lap time on the dashboard, I was really happy. After that, we resumed our work on some new items. Unfortunately, however, I crashed while I was trying a new fairing around midday. Given the fact that I was also experiencing some issues with blisters in my hands, we decided to stop a bit ahead of schedule to recover and make sure we’re at our best in the next tests in Qatar. Overall, it’s been a really positive test.

Credit – Mission Winnow Ducati Press

On the other side of the garage Andrea Dovizioso felt good and satisfied with his performance. “All in all, this test has been positive. It was important to push to the limit again today because we only have another test before the season starts, and we managed to post a competitive time even on a flying lap after being really consistent in yesterday’s race simulation. Also, to see so many Ducati bikes at the front confirms that we have a good base. We also tried a new fairing, with positive feedback. It’s still early to draw conclusions, but I’m happy with the work done here and now we’ll look for more ways to improve ahead of Qatar.”

In terms of the rookies, Bagnaia was a standout and one we have watched closely over the years. He is a quiet achiever and dedicated to the job. He is coached by Valentino Rossi as part of his VR46 Academy and Moto2 World Champion. Both Miller and Bagnaia are going to be strong in 2019 with such drive and ambition on board the Ducati package. Ultimatley, staying on track and working to obtain quality results will be a pivotal component in conquering goals for both on the Australian and Italian side of the garage.

Miller: “Our speed is really good. I’m very happy about that. I’m not very happy with the race simulation but the temperature was really high and I had little feeling with the tyres. It’s a shame about the crash. I am especially sorry for the guys of my team who have worked very well these days”

Bagnaia: “I’m very happy with the work we’ve done. We’ve created a good base of settings that will help us to have a good start in Qatar. We still have to work on some electronic details but I have to admit that I’m really happy. The time attack was very good and the pace is not bad either. We will do the race simulation in Qatar”.

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team

Without a doubt, Rossi will be watching Bagnaia closely both as a coach and fellow rival. You have to remember that the Doctor is aiming for another World Championship and will have to deal with multiple roles in amongst the title race. One of favourite livery designs for this year is the new Yamaha and Rossi looks cooler than ever. The test was a success for both Maverick Vinales and Rossi. Both riders aimed to enhance the bike settings, paying attention to the performance of the Michelin tyres and race simulations to determine the ultimate level of the Yamaha package. We are really excited to see Rossi pick up and aim for race wins because 2018 was a season to forget for Rossi. The emotions were high and he definitely struggled to be his competitive self. Hopefully, Yamaha have brought the goods for him to push harder than ever for victory.

Rossi: “I’m half happy because some things worked well and we improved our performance, other things from which we expected a lot unfortunately didn’t bring us what we need. So, for me, it’s good, because it’s the first test and we improved some things, but we have a lot of work to do. The gap is quite big, so we need time. I’m happy about the atmosphere and especially about the ideas inside the garage, it looks like Yamaha are very much concentrated on improving, so this is important.”

Credit – Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team

Vinales: “The test was really good. I actually missed one time attack in the morning which I planned to make in the afternoon, but finally it was so hot that the tyre was sliding a lot, so I couldn’t improve my lap time from the morning. Anyway, I’m happy because on the race simulation I felt really good. I was really tired, but I felt good on the bike. Day by day the bike was working pretty similar, as in the last test. You always get positives and negatives testing new items. Now we have to come to a conclusion to see if we should bring the new fairing to Qatar. I also made some laps behind our rivals, so I could compare how our bike is working, and it’s not bad. There are just some small details left and that’s the most important. Last year they were some steps ahead, and now we are closer.”

The psychological battles are only just beginning and we are in for a season that is guaranteed to feature highs and lows. Not only will the rookies have to perform to keep their jobs, the well-oiled senior riders are also being watched closely. So, who are you looking forward to seeing perform at the optimum level in 2019?