With two days of testing completed at the Losail International Circuit and only three more left when action kicks off this afternoon local time, we’re now 40% through MotoGP’s entire pre-season action.
While there was lots to talk about from the two interesting opening days last week, there are still plenty more questions to be answered now that everyone’s had a chance to recharge their batteries with two days spent crunching numbers by the poolside.
With that in mind, here’s some of the key questions that we’re going to look forward to trying to find the answers to when the sun goes down and the floodlights come on at Losail this evening, just over two weeks before the racing begins.
Is Suzuki sandbagging?
So far, reigning world champion Joan Mir and his Suzuki team-mate Alex Rins haven’t set the world alight in testing. They’ve been riding away, completing lots of laps, but hardly challenging for the top spots, finishing the opening two days in eighth and 10th.
With everyone more than aware of their potential, that’s led to some friendly accusations of sandbagging, with the team not quite willing to show just yet what it’s capable of.
Part of that charge is definitely true, thanks to Suzuki’s focus being elsewhere as it already tests its 2022 engine, but how little it’s pushing isn’t quite the easiest thing to gauge.
Suzuki’s been adamant that it’s got plenty to work on, and there’s a whole host of new parts planned for the coming three days – but will we get the chance to see Rins and Mir push for a time attack?
Considering qualifying was the bane of their 2020 season, it’ll be an important metric to judge how Suzuki’s improved – but there’s every possibility it’ll keep us waiting until round one for it.
Will Yamaha’s new chassis make a difference?
Much pressure has been put on Yamaha’s chassis engineers this winter to deliver a cure-all for the team’s woes – even if the reality is more likely to be a sticking plaster until the powerplant department can really get to work once the engine development freeze is lifted.
Yamaha’s trying to shoehorn 2020’s engine into a 2019 frame to make a bike that’s more tolerant of differing conditions, but it’s clear from initial rider feedback that it hasn’t been the massive success that the team had hoped for.
But there hasn’t been too much work done with the new frame just yet, and it’s also entirely possible that the secret to making it go faster is still to be discovered.
Concentrating on his own riding style and on electronic refinements to the engine so far, Maverick Vinales has barely touched the new frame, and his feedback in the coming days will be very important to listen to.
Was Aprilia’s result last week a one-off?
The opening two days of testing were something of a revelation for Aprilia, as it finally looked to live up to expectations by bringing an RS-GP that was capable of running at the front.
Setting both fast lap times and being consistently quick over long runs, there was a lot for Aleix Espargaro to be cheerful about – but now he needs to complete the difficult job of living up to that hype.
Espargaro was adamant that there’s still lots of work to be completed in finding the right balance between engine performance, electronic control and aerodynamic effect, and that’ll be the focus of the next three days.
If Aprilia can get all its ducks lined up, though – and if it doesn’t get trapped into going in the wrong direction – then it could mean that there’ll be six manufacturers, not five, in the podium hunt this year.
Which of the rookies is adapting fastest?
It’s hard to pick a stand-out rider from this year’s crop of rookies, with Enea Bastianini, Luca Marini and Jorge Martin all running at similar pace so far on their largely similar Ducati Desmosedici machines.
It’ll be a surprise if it stays that way for long, though.
Normally there’s one rookie who’ll pop their head above the parapet with a fast lap time or two at the opening tests – and regularly, the one with the bravery to push hard first on a MotoGP bike is the one who’s making the adjustment best.
So far, they’ve all had their fair share of difficulties, from crashes to ergonomic problems, so it’ll be something of a confidence game – but it should give us the first marker of which of them will be the one celebrating come the end of the year.
Is KTM in real trouble?
The breakthrough success story of 2020 thanks to three impressive wins for Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, KTM looked to be in a fantastic place coming into 2021.
But testing so far has been nothing short of a disaster and it failed to place even one of its four bikes in the overall top 10 last week.
KTM has admitted it’s not finding things as easy as expected. It’s now got another three days now to try to address that – and if it doesn’t, then the opening two races of the year in Qatar could well be character-building experiences.
However, it’s also worth noting that Losail has never particularly been a track where KTM has gone well, and there’s no doubt that losing out on testing at Sepang as well as Losail thanks to COVID has skewed the numbers slightly.
A poor test here doesn’t mean a poor season ahead once we get to Europe – but that’s something that it could take a little longer to find out.
Will Marquez be fit for the first race?
OK, this is not something we’re going to find out from the first test itself – but it’s something that we might nonetheless find out during the next three days.
Marc Marquez is preparing for the all-important medical examination back in Spain that will determine whether he’ll be ready to take part in the opening round of the year.
Still recovering from the broken arm he suffered back at Jerez last July, Marquez’s check-up this week is to determine if the bone has regrown enough after his graft operation in December to bear weight properly – and to take on a MotoGP machine.
He’s not going to be in any rush to get back to action after what happened the last time he tried it, though, and he hasn’t sat on a motorbike of any sort since last July – so the odds of racing this month remain slim.