Sepang certainly gave us a tantalising first glimpse of the season ahead, and now it’s time to up the ante even further as Losail International Circuit in Qatar welcomes MotoGP™ for the second and final preseason test of 2019. Final decisions on engines, aero fairings and more await – it’s three full days on track, but there’s plenty to get done.
One of the biggest talking points ahead of the Test is the return of Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team). After breaking his scaphoid near the end of the winter break, the Spaniard was forced to sit out of the Sepang Test and lose valuable time on the Honda, but now he’ll be able to get another three days of familiarisation under his belt.
His teammate Marc Marquez is also a talking point this season and not just for win rate. The reigning Champion put in a much lower lap load in Malaysia than usual, and although he was pretty quick, he said his shoulder is still not 100% and he’s not riding in his usual style. Will the seven-time World Champion be fully recovered by the Qatar Test and, after that, the race weekend?
Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) was actually the fastest Honda at Sepang. The Brit, despite breaking his ankle at Phillip Island last season, impressed on his return and managed a solid 60+ laps on the final day. His teammate Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda Idemitsu) also had a positive Test in Malaysia and was a consistent presence in the top ten. Now on the bike that Marquez rode to the 2018 crown, the season is looking bright for the sophomore and he’ll be one to watch.
It wasn’t actually reigning Champions Honda who stole the headlines at Sepang, however – it was Borgo Panigale’s Italian armada.
Ducati machinery locked out the fastest four in Malaysia and Mission Winnow Ducati Team’s new arrival Danilo Petrucci was the man on top. Qatar will be another chance for him to evaluate an aero fairing he crashed on. The 2018 Qatar GP winner was the fourth quickest and seemed happy, now we’ll see if Italian machinery can repeat the feat at Losail.
‘Pecco’ Bagnaia laid an early claim on the title of Rookie of the Year with his stunning lap, just 0.063 off Petrucci, but he says he needs to focus on longer runs now and be able to run with the pack for more laps.
And then there’s Yamaha. Monster Energy MotoGP’s Maverick Viñales and Valentino Rossi were both pretty positive in Sepang, but the former a little more so than the latter. Viñales praised better consistency in the data from the 2019 M1, as well as improvements in acceleration they’ve managed to find. Rossi said it was more mixed, but the mood was definitely positive.
The Qatar Test will give us a lot of answers but there will also be more exciting questions ahead of the first race weekend of the year. Is Repsol Honda ready despite their injuries? Can the rookies run with the pack? Will Suzuki and Yamaha prove key threats for the win this year? From the 23-25 February, we’ll start to discover a few more answers at the Qatar Test.