The testing has concluded at the Sepang Circuit for the MotoGP grid of 2020 with eyes fixated on Marc Marquez’s fitness levels, Jorge Lorenzo returning as a Yamaha test rider and sitting by Valentino Rossi’s side with intel and a fabulous Fabio Quartararo racing to the top of the timesheets on all three days. The talk of the paddock is the real threat of Quartararo and his ability to stay strong even with new parts being tested to determine the set-up he feels comfortable for the entire season. Both Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team riders were utilising the A-Spec Yamaha YZR-M1. To start the season off with strength is very important because momentum is everything in a sport like this one of racing on two wheels. If you are in a negative space, it becomes a lot harder to work through the issues and find solutions. The test allowed Quartararo and his teammate Franco Morbidelli to focus on their job with no distractions. The only pressure that exists is that which they create for themselves as riders. It is a psychological game out there on track when it comes to testing because riders can easily fall into a trap of thinking “it is just testing” when in actual fact, it is setting up the entire season from the very beginning. Marc Marquez will have observed the French rider closely and will continue to utilise his time to focus on where the positive and negative points are for his rivals. As we know in 2019, the Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team had issues with tyre wear and at times being slower, so they are looking to make changes that enable a stronger race pace whilst retaining their explosive qualifying advantages.

On day three, Quartararo was frank about his test and that there is always room to improve. FQ20: “Today was a difficult day for us, it was not easy to get into the pace and make a good lap this morning, but overall I’m really happy. We did a long run of 12 laps in the hottest conditions when there was nobody on track. It was not bad: our pace was high 1min 59sec and low 2mins, it was 55 degrees on track and nobody else was riding so it was probably the worst track conditions we had today. We are working in a really good way to improve the speed and hopefully in Qatar we will take another step forward. My goal now has changed a little bit; we want to have better long run pace, because we now know over one lap we are fast. Overall, I’m really happy with the first test of the year with the 2020 bike.”

In terms of World Champion, Marc Marquez, his season will determine on his level of fitness going into the first few races. In the past, Marquez has entered a season not 100% and still managed to win a World Championship. He is clever, a master with strategy and also psyching out his competitors. In addition, 2020 will feature his brother Alex Marquez alongside him which will definitely help in keeping positive and wanting to excel. The morale within the garage is guaranteed to be more energetic, happy and of course fuelled by competitiveness. They share the same last name and no doubt the drive to win is evident across their faces!

MM93: “I finished the day with a good feeling as this morning we had a good rhythm and I put in the most effort today. I had a small crash at Turn 15, but this was down to physical condition. It’s good to know where the limit is, of course it would have been better to not crash but I am OK after it. Today I did 47 laps again, but it was with a different rhythm. I tried a few things but there is still work to do. The runs today were a little longer today but our speed was still good.” In comparison, A Marquez started his testing debut with a positive outlook as opposed to when Jorge Lorenzo joined the team and it was constant stress. AM73: “The general feeling everyday was better, we were faster and felt better. This is the most important thing. There are only three more days of the pre-season left to be ready for the Qatar GP but we are closer every day. Still we need to learn more but every time we ride my knowledge is growing and I’m pleased with everything we’ve achieved. For Qatar our aim is to continue to understand the setup of the bike for myself and in various conditions. We’ve tried a lot this test so I leave happy.”

No doubt, the return of Jorge Lorenzo as a Yamaha test rider is guaranteed to be intriguing to watch play out and where he assists those working under the Yamaha umbrella: Rossi, Maverick Vinales, Quartararo and Morbidelli. Of course, Rossi announcing that his plans are still yet to be formalised in the future was slightly concerning for fans as Quartararo takes his job in 2021. The changes have been made early as well in order to allow the riders to focus. Rumours are that Rossi may jump over to the other Yamaha team, retire, create his own team or have a management position. We will have to be patient as no announcements will be made until at least midway through the season.

JL99: “I‘m very happy with the decision to join the Yamaha Factory Test Team. I was always planning on staying involved in MotoGP and returning to the paddock, and I think this is a suitable role for me. I know the team and the M1 well. The Yamaha really suited my riding style, and it will be very interesting to ’meet up with my old bike again‘. Returning to Yamaha brings with it some good memories. We secured many podiums and victories, and three titles together, so we know where our strengths lie. I want to thank Yamaha for this opportunity, because this allows me to do what I love – riding motorbikes and pushing the limit – whilst enjoying a slightly calmer lifestyle than I did in previous years. I‘m very motivated to get to work and can‘t wait to start riding. I want to do my best for Yamaha‘s future, and I hope my riding experience will be helpful to Yamaha‘s engineers and riders to bring the title back to Yamaha.”

2020 will be a vital year of development and progression for Monster Energy Yamaha. They have experienced a real low and results not reflective of what they are capable of as a cohesive unit. If they can improve and with the assistance of Lorenzo’s insights who was one of the most successful Yamaha riders, it will make a world of difference chasing Honda, Ducati and Suzuki.

VR46: “We are happy with these three days. Today was a good day because I did a very good lap time in the time attack. It’s the first time for me to be in the 1’58s, so this is positive, also because we are in P5 and very close to the top. We worked a lot, also on the pace, and we tried different things. Some were good, others weren’t. We have to work hard because everybody is so fast, but the test was positive.”

MV12: “I’m feeling very positive, because today we improved the bike quite a lot, especially the race set-up. I didn’t have enough time left to make one hot lap but, doing things like this, I kept a bit calmer. We were really concentrated on working on the feeling and it seems to be good. On race tyres with a race set-up we had a good pace, I felt quite competitive. But we also noticed points that we are going to try to improve in Qatar. I didn’t set up for one lap just yet. For me, at this test it was really important to concentrate on the feeling and understand what I need to improve on. We are now going to work very hard to accomplish those improvements and we will see if the bike works the same way in Qatar as it did here.”

Those to look out for this year who have also showcased their growth are:

  • Jack Miller: “A positive final 3-day test in Malaysia, we made many changes today, we were lucky that it was dry until the last 20 min. We are always happier with how the bike works, there are still a few details to work on but in general we have always been fast over the three days and we have done what we wanted. Today I had the best time with the medium rear tyre and I was very surprised. We have worked well with the team, now a couple of days to relax and then I will start preparing for Qatar.”
  • Alex Rins: “Today was the last day of the test, and we’re happy how all three days went. We tested everything we had on the list and now we go to the Qatar Test with a better bike than last year. I improved my rhythm and race pace here, and also my best lap time, so I’m happy with that. We’ll continue working and see how things are in Qatar, when we arrive there we will try the new parts again to compare how they work on a different track layout.”
  • Cal Crutchlow: “We had a good and positive third day to get through a long list of items that we needed to test for ourselves and Honda. We had some test items on there throughout the day and also some geometry settings. I felt good today with the pace, although I still didn’t feel fantastic with the bike. We need to improve the pushing on the corner entry and the turning of the bike for me to feel more comfortable. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that at the Qatar test, but thank you to my team for such hard work over the last three days here in Sepang.”

There is questions however as to the Ducati performance with Andrea Dovizioso questioning the tyre wear and performance. It is now or never for Ducati to capitalise on their bike structure and speed. When DesmoDovi is not happy it affects his results, the way he rides the Ducati bike and overall success. He has already had to adapt his riding style as a result of struggling a lot with this aspect and as the performance got better the tyres dropped off so it was a catch twenty-two situation for the Italian rider. AD04: “We still need to understand how they will work on a race distance and here in Sepang, where the conditions are peculiar due to the high temperatures, is really difficult to make a complete evaluation. Now we still have a test before the opening round of the season in Qatar. I am sure that the final classification of these three days doesn’t completely reflect what will happen in the Championship this year”. The season will be up and down with injuries waiting to heal as with Takaaki Nakagami who is still struggling with his fitness levels. The physical condition of his right shoulder is not ideal and this is weighing upon his mindset. He will aim to rest as much as possible although there is still a lot of work to be done if he wants to compete with the top guys! The pre-season is close with 0.345 covered across all six factories which is impressive considering the gaps that used to exist across the various teams. To put this into perspective, every rider down to Iker Lecuona who was in 24th position ended up below the two-minute mark at the Sepang circuit which is very positive. This reflects how the season is going to unfold and provides some insight as to the confidence levels of the teams. There are two teams who have definitely managed to play catch up and be successful in their mission: KTM and Aprilia. It is a rewarding achievement considering how dominant Yamaha, Honda and Ducati have been over the past few years. With Andrea Iannone out after being suspended for steroids plus an ongoing investigation, it is the news Aprilia has been waiting for: a breakthrough with their machine. Next up will be the Qatar test where new insight will be gained, teams will decide on their strategies for the first race and teams are eager to get underway.

About The Author

Myanna has an incredible grasp and knowledge of the sport in detail and continues to secure lead stories every week. She is in constant contact with team and rider media management. She is an admitted lawyer with two degrees and is currently writing a biography on Alan Jones MBE 1980 F1 World Champion. She is a fond lover of two wheel motorsport, predominantly MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3.