It has been a fascinating first day of testing at Sepang. And like all fascinating days, it has been long, tiring, and utterly inspiring. There were surprises, disappointments, and rumors confirmed and denied. It was, in short, a good day at the office.
Marc Marquez was fastest – it goes almost without saying – the 2013 world champion picking up where he left off. He was quick from the off, and put in a final burst of speed at the end of the day to open the gap on the rest, finishing with half a second advantage. Braking stability was the watchword for the Repsol Honda team, especially rear grip on braking and corner entry, with both Marquez and Dani Pedrosa working on a slightly revised version of the 2014 RC213V which both men had tested at Valencia last year.
Their main focus – like those of everyone on their first day back on a MotoGP – was just to get used to the speed again. The switchover had been toughest for Cal Crutchlow, the Englishman claimed. He had ridden a motocross bike for exactly one day, he said, spending the rest of his winter training on his bicycle. The speed differential between a 20-speed racing bicycle and a 6-speed Ducati Desmosedici is nothing if not cavernous.
The test ban is over, and the MotoGP season is about to get underway. Bikes are already circulating, as the test riders put the first versions of the 2014 models through a shakedown to ensure that everything is in place, and working the way the engineers intended. In a few hours, we get the first glimpse of what the 2014 season could hold.
The rule changes for 2014, though at first glance relatively small, could have a major impact. For the front runners, the fuel allowance is dropped from 21 to 20 liters, a change requested by the manufacturers to give them the engineering challenge they demand to justify their involvement. All of the Factory Option (the designation for the bikes which have been referred to as factory prototypes for the last two seasons) entries must now use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU, but they retain the ability to develop their own software for the computer which sits at the heart of every modern vehicle. That reduced fuel allowance will place a premium on fuel conservation, meaning the manufacturer who can reduce friction, thermal efficiency and combustion efficiency will hold the upper hand.
It's not just the factory bikes that have a new designation. The CRT category has disappeared, replaced by the Open class. The change is not as big as the renaming would appear. Like the CRT bikes, they have 12 engines instead of 5 to last the season, and 24 liters of fuel to last each race. And like the Factory Option bikes, they must also use the spec Magneti Marelli ECU. The difference, with both the Factory Option bike and last year's CRT machines, is that now they must use the Dorna-controlled software, written by Magneti Marelli to Dorna specifications. The switch to control software means that the claiming rule, which defined the CRT class, has been dropped. Anyone can enter anything in the class, from modified Superbike (as long as, like Aprilia's ART machine, it uses a prototype chassis) to full-fat factory engine, as long as they use the spec software.
In the final part of our look back at 2013, we review the performance of the factories. How did Honda, Yamaha and Ducati stack up last season? What were their strong points, and how did they go about tackling their weaknesses? Above all, what does this mean for 2014? Here's our rating of MotoGP's manufacturers.
|Manufacturer's Championship Standing:||1st|
It seemed as if every technical rule change and tire decision swung against Honda in 2012. First, they found themselves outfoxed over the minimum weight by Ducati, after the MSMA first told the Grand Prix Commission that they had unanimously rejected a proposal to raise it from 153kg to 160kg. It turned out that only Honda and Yamaha had rejected it, with Ducati voting in favor, which meant the rule should have been adopted and not rejected. As a concession to the manufacturers, the weight was raised in two stages, to 157kg in 2012, and 160kg in 2013. Then, after being tested at Jerez, the riders voted to adopt the new, softer construction front tires, despite complaints from the Repsol Honda riders.
Honda struggled for much of 2012, first working out where to place an extra 4kg (a problem the other factories did not have, as they had struggled to get anywhere near the previous minimum of 153kg), and then running through chassis and suspension options in search of the braking stability they had lost with the introduction of the softer front tire. After the test at the Mugello round, they had most of the problems solved, and Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa went on to win eight of the last nine rounds.
Come the 2013 season, and Honda were well-prepared. They already had their braking stability issues under control, and the only point left was the extra 3kg they had to carry. Having had all of 2012 to prepare for the extra weight, they arrived at the start of the season with few issues. Dani Pedrosa took a little while to get used to the extra weight, his slight frame a disadvantage when it comes to flinging the extra bulk around, but he soon had the situation under control.
In the last of our series looking back at the riders of 2013, we come to the unluckiest man on the grid. Ben Spies' season was a thing of nightmares, ending with his decision to retire. Here's a review of his year.
|Ben Spies||Ignite Pramac Ducati|
|Score||Attitude 9/10, Luck 1/10|
Up until Qatar 2012, Ben Spies' career had been something of a fairytale. Talent spotted by his later crew chief Tom Houseworth, he took the fight to Mat Mladin in the AMA and beat him fair and square. He won the World Superbike title at his first attempt, on tracks he hadn't seen until Friday morning practice. He grabbed two podiums in his rookie MotoGP season, then a win in his second season after moving up to the factory Yamaha team. And then it all went horribly wrong.
After a series of bizarre mechanical mishaps throughout the 2012 season, Spies suffered major shoulder damage in a crash at Sepang. He had already decided to leave the factory Yamaha team, signing with Ducati to race at Pramac. After surgery to fix the damaged tendons in his shoulder, Spies turned up at Sepang in February 2013 only to find the going tougher than expected. He skipped one day of testing, then tried to make a return three weeks later, but found himself struggling once again.
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Here is a view of Colin Edwards and Danilo Petrucci, two riders who both exceeded expectations in 2013.
|Colin Edwards||NGM Mobile Forward Racing|
Colin Edwards was thirty-nine years of age when he lined up on the grid for the first race of 2013, and facing questions over his ability to keep competing. His performance had been slipping since losing his spot in the factory Yamaha team, reaching a low point in his first year with the NGM Forward team on the Suter BMW. Was he perhaps too old? Did he really have the motivation to compete at this level?
After rating the top ten finishers in the championship, it is time to turn our gaze to those outside the top ten worthy of note. Below is a look at the seasons of Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, in the news in 2013 for very different reasons.
|Aleix Espargaro||Power Electronics Aspar|
Aleix Espargaro became the poster boy for the CRT class in 2012, beating out his teammate Randy De Puniet. The two Aspar riders showed that even with less than a year of development, a slightly modified Superbike could compete with the slower of the satellite prototypes. 2013 saw the Aprilia ART take another step forward, but it was a step only Espargaro could follow, De Puniet complaining of a lack of feeling all year, his performance plummeting.
In the final chapter of our series running down the top ten finishers of the 2013 MotoGP season, we come to Bradley Smith. Here's a look at how his first year in the premier class went. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; part 8, Andrea Dovizioso; and part 9, Nicky Hayden.
|Bradley Smith||Monster Tech 3 Yamaha|
Pity poor Bradley Smith. The young Englishman came in to MotoGP as a rookie, and did exactly what he was supposed to do: learn slowly, not crash too much, see his times and results improve gradually throughout the season. In any other year, Smith would have received quiet praise for the steady job he did.
But this was not any other year. This was the year that Marc Marquez moved up to MotoGP, destroying records and utterly redefining what is expected of a rookie. While Smith was steadily improving to go from finishing in the top ten to ending in the top six, Marquez was amassing podiums, wins, and well on his way to taking the title at the first attempt. Smith found himself being compared to the phenomenon that was Marquez, rather than the more realistic comparison with the rookie seasons of other MotoGP riders.
In the penultimate part of our restrospective on the season just past, we look back at Nicky Hayden. Here is our view of his final season with Ducati, and his move to Aspar for 2014. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; part 7, Stefan Bradl; and part 8, Andrea Dovizioso.
|Nicky Hayden||Ducati Factory|
It's been a tough few years for Nicky Hayden. Since joining Ducati in 2009, his results have been in steady decline, along with the performance of the Desmosedici. The 2013 season was the second season in a row where the American did not score a single podium, Hayden finishing in the same position as 2012, with four more points than last year.
This year was probably his toughest with the Italian manufacturer. Hayden found himself battling with teammate Andrea Dovizioso just about all year long, starting from the first race in Qatar. The Ducatis were a match only for each other, not for the other prototypes. In twelve of the eighteen races, Dovizioso and Hayden finished behind each other, the only other rider they regularly tangled with being Bradley Smith, a MotoGP rookie. More times than not, Hayden emerged as loser of the intra Ducati battles, finishing behind Dovizioso nine times, and ahead of him only seven times.
In the eighth instalment of our series looking at 2013, we come to Andrea Dovizioso. This is how the Italian got on in his first year at Ducati. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; part 6, Alvaro Bautista; and part 7, Stefan Bradl.
|Andrea Dovizioso||Ducati Factory|
After losing his factory Honda ride at the end of 2011, Dovizioso made the switch to Yamaha, joining Cal Crutchlow in the Tech 3 team. A strong year with six podiums saw him win the slot in the factory Ducati team vacated by Valentino Rossi. Dovizioso felt he deserved a factory ride, and he had got what he wanted.
That proved to be something of a poisoned chalice. The year after Ducati was taken over by Audi proved to be a year of stagnation, with new head of Ducati Corse Bernhard Gobmeier never really able to impose his authority on the race department. A lot of work was done with chassis stiffness, a new aerodynamics package was unveiled, the engine received a minor upgrade with improved throttle bodies. It all helped, a little, but the bike still had understeer, still wouldn't turn.
Continuing our look back at 2013, we come to seventh place man Stefan Bradl. Here's how he fared in 2013. To read the rest of our reviews of last year, you can read part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; part 5, Cal Crutchlow; and part 6, Alvaro Bautista.
|Stefan Bradl||LCR Honda|
In his first season of MotoGP, Stefan Bradl did exactly what was expected of him, learning slowly, building speed, and getting better week after week. He impressed his team, crew chief Christophe 'Beefy' Bourguignon expressing admiration at his calm and intelligent approach after the first test on the bike. He did not crash too often, finished inside the top six on a regular basis, and even got close to his first podium.
After such a strong start, he was expected to do even better in year two. The target was the occasional podium, and to be the best of the satellite riders. Strong support from Honda meant that Bradl had the tools to do the job, though starting the season using Nissin brakes instead of Brembo put him at a slight disadvantage, the Nissins offering fractionally inferior brake release.