MotoGP has returned to the track for 2017, this week, with the first official pre-season test at the Sepang Circuit in Malaysia.
Of course, we can never fully trust the lap times which are set by the riders due to a number of reasons: variable fuel loads, dual-compound running of tyres, aerodynamic data gatherings etc. However, what is clear from this test is that two teams in particular have made serious ground on the traditional front runners of Honda and Yamaha.
Without doubt, the first two days in Malaysia have confirmed that Ducati have produced a bike capable of running at the front. The Bologna-based team have clearly worked tirelessly in improving on their successful 2016 machine. The Chassis has been lowered to assist drag reduction, and the wheel base has been drastically shortened (see: https://motogpunlocked.com/2017/01/20/motogp-breaks-cover-for-2017/ – for full analysis).
Additionally, the factory has also leased 2017 chassis to select satellite riders – Danilo Petrucci (Pramac), Hector Barbera (Avintia) and Alvaro Bautista (Aspar). The latter turning in impressively consistent long-run stints, and with the pace to secure a top 10 position.
Any doubts about how the bike would perform without the winglets have been dispelled, with the duo of Casey Stoner and Andrea Dovizioso securing a 1-2 finish on the opening day. Both the only two riders to lap the circuit in under two minutes.
The bike is not without it’s issues. Whilst it is still a missile in a straight line, the bike still struggles with stability on the exit of corners, with the rear wheel spinning up upon the application of the throttle.
New signing for 2017, Jorge Lorenzo has discovered just how different the Desmosdici-17 is to handle than his old Yamaha M1. The Spaniard has frankly looked all at sea this week, as he’s struggled to understand the handling and power output of his new steed. Its early days, and with two more pre-season tests before the QatarGP, Lorenzo has time on his side to make the necessary adaptions to his riding style.
2017 could well be the year when Suzuki ditches the unwanted tag of being ‘Japan’s third team’. In recent years, Honda and Yamaha have been the toast of Japan’s Grand-Prix success, almost exclusively dominating the premier class championship ever since its rebranding as MotoGP in 2002. However, this year, if the first test is anything to go by, Suzuki might be the team bringing the bacon home.
It seemed unlikely that Suzuki would be looking so strong so soon, after they announced both their 2016 riders would be signing for new teams this year. The new signings appear to have fitted in seamlessly. Andrea Iannone has made the swap from Ducati, whilst Alex Rins has been promoted up from Moto2.
The blue and yellow machines have featured strongly throughout the test, with Iannone catching the eye on day two with a series of blistering lap times which saw him post the fastest time so far of the test, and was not far off the outright lap record. The bike will certainly be a regular challenger for pole position.
Both riders spent the majority of the first day focusing on potential race setup, with feedback being completely of a positive nature. The bike gained a reputation last season for being the most ‘rider friendly’ machine, and it appears to be the same this year. The bike’s greatest strength is cornering stability and soft suspension setup to dampen the vibrations and chatter through the bike. All of which makes for a smoother ride, giving the rider a very high level of confidence.
Although Rins still needs to be given time to acclimatise to the demands of riding a MotoGP bike, and the team still express a desire to increase their straight line speed, everything in the garden is looking rosy for Suzuki in 2017.