MotoGP: David Emmett – Five notes from the Sepang Test
Throughout the 2020 season David Emmett, editor of Motomatters.com, will be providing Racing Lowdown with some exclusive analysis of what he sees in MotoGP.
This will take the form of the topics that David is most interested in before and after every Grand Prix.
The new Michelin rear tyre
Michelin brought a new construction rear tyre to the Sepang test. It was trailed at various tests in 2019, but will be used for the first time in races this year. What’s the main change? This tyre offers improved grip on the side of the tyre and seems to have improved tyre life too. In Malaysia this seemed to solve a lot of problems that have affected Suzuki and Yamaha in recent years. The Yamaha M1 in particular looks to be biggest beneficiary of this change.
If this is the case it might change the balance of power in MotoGP for 2020. In recent years the fastest way to ride in MotoGP has been a point and squirt style of riding, because this is what suited the Michelin. It seems that we are now seeing riders able to maximise the benefit of this improved edge grip and that might allow some bikes to catch up.
It will take time for the Ducati or Honda to understand the tyre but they should also get a benefit from this tyre. I spoke with Piero Taramasso, the Michelin Motorsport Manager, and he told me that while the edge grip is improved there is also more grip in the traction area on corner exit. This will mean that a point and squirt bike, like the Honda, will still see some improvements too.
Yamaha finally look ready to challenge for another title
Yamaha has undergone huge changes in recent years and they are genuinely throwing the kitchen sink at MotoGP. They are trying everything they can to find improvements because its a long time since they won the championship in 2015. Indeed, it’s even been a long time since they came close to winning the title.
The turnaround started in 2018 and 2019 with some major personnel changes, and you could see lots of these organisation changes by virtue of the new people brought in to work in senior positions for their MotoGP project. It’s a very different organisation compared to a few years ago. In Malaysia, Vinales was very fast on his race simulation in the middle of the day, when it was hot and the grip was low, and that’s very positive because this is what they’ve generally struggled with in recent years.
Maverick’s pace on the final afternoon, at about 3pm when there was absolutely no grip, was very impressive. It looks like this season Yamaha could be there or thereabouts all year.
A weekend of damage limitation for Yamaha
This will be Yamaha’s most difficult track of the year. They’re down on top speed and with this track layout you can’t really find too many places to gain an advantage from high corner speeds.
The Yamaha is a better bike than it was last year because it has more drive grip and the track also has more grip this year and that should make things easier for the Yamaha’s.
This will be a real test for the Yamaha’s but also for Fabio Quartararo and Maverick Vinales because they need to limit the damage this weekend and score as many points as possible.
Suzuki also benefiting from Michelin changes
The Suzuki has always been very kind on its tyres but in 2019 this came at a cost; they couldn’t load the tyre enough to get immediate performance. This really affected Suzuki during qualifying, when with a new tyre they couldn’t push that little bit harder to generate extra grip.
This meant that Alex Rins’ average qualifying performance was ninth and even though he’d come through to finish on average fifth in races, it just wasn’t enough. The bike is obviously strong in race trim but this year it looks to be faster over a single lap.
If that holds true it seems that they have found a solution to their qualifying problems. If Rins, and Joan Mir, can qualify better they’ll be at the pointy end during races.
Have Aprilia finally arrived?
Aprilia have been also rans since they officially returned to the premier class in 2015. They’ve been redesigning the bike over the last few years but finally the organisation changes are starting to pay off. Massimo Rivoli came in last year and completely changed the way that the team operates.
He is focusing on the organisation and that has given Romano more room to focus on the technical side. This is what Romano is good at and it means that the team might finally make steps to improve. The new engine has all the horsepower they need, the chassis is pretty good and the power delivery is good.
On the final day of the test, Aleix Espargaro had a very strong race simulation and wasn’t far off the pace of Vinales. That suggests that this bike could be really good. I’m very interested in keeping an eye on this throughout the year to see how it all plays out.
The condition of Marc Marquez’ shoulder
Motorcycle racing is tough and physical and you need to be at your best to compete at the front. To have undergone surgery on both shoulders in consecutive years is very tough for any rider. Last year Marc Marquez had a very invasive operation and he came away in a lot pain, but he was able to still perform superbly.
For 2020 the surgery was less invasive but, compared to last year, he’s lost more strength in his shoulder. In Malaysia he crashed twice during the test and that is obviously tough for a rider coming off shoulder surgery. Afterwards he said that both crashes were ones that he’d normally save on his elbow but without his usual strength he couldn’t, so this will be an added concern for him. The start of the season will also be tougher for Marquez because the races are more condensed.
This year there’s a race every two weeks for the first five rounds, compared to one race less in the same timeframe last year. In testing it was clear that Marc is still quick but it was also clear that he has started to think about his riding style. He knows that you can’t push as hard as he has forever and eventually you have to make changes.
Pic Credit: Polarity Photo