Last call: what can we expect at the Qatar Test?

After three days of testing at Sepang, it’s over to Losail for those last changes before the season begins…

From the 23rd to 25th February, MotoGP™ makes its first visit of the year to Losail International Circuit in Qatar for the second and final preseason test of 2019, two weeks before the season opener at the same venue. After the first outing in Malaysia teams now have to make their final preparations for the year on everything from aero to engines, and they’ll be trying new things as well as comparing new data with their findings from the very different venue of Sepang. So what are we looking out for?

Engines, for those without concessions – which now includes Team Suzuki Ecstar after their stellar 2018 – are one of the biggest keys. From the start of the season factories aren’t able to make changes and the very same Suzuki showed in 2017 how a slight misstep can wreak havoc on the season as a whole. There’s no sign of that from the Hamamatsu factory so far in 2019 though, and Ducati and Honda both also seem happy after Sepang, the latter trying two specs. Yamaha, after a more difficult couple of seasons, also saw plenty of positive comments about the engine coming from Maverick Viñales (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP) in Malaysia. They’ve had one to work with and no direct choice in 2019 per se, but the Spaniard specifically pointed out improvements in acceleration. That’s been a key issue for the Japanese factory, so that bodes well…but will that remain true at a different venue?

Aerodynamics – formerly winglets, now “aero fairings”; specificity important – are another key component that teams must make a final decision on during the Qatar Test. This year it’s a simple choice of two fairings for the year, one of which must be decided upon before the season begins, the other mid-way through, and neither of which can be changed once homologated. And this time around, they also have to fit in a specially designed homologation unit that judges the legality of the fairing – if it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t race. At Sepang, Danilo Petrucci (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) and Jack Miller (Alma Pramac Racing) crashed on their different aero fairings they were trying so they’ll want to get a little more track time under their belts in Qatar before decisions are made, and past Ducati, traditionally the masters of aero innovation, we saw plenty of different options up and down pitlane. “There are always positives and negatives,” said Viñales of aero, and the Qatar Test is the last chance for teams to decide which positives outweigh which negatives.

Then there’s the general work of improvement and progress, which is one of the only constants in the ever-changing world of MotoGP™. Andrea Dovizioso (Mission Winnow Ducati Team) worked with an updated chassis at Sepang, and Team Suzuki Ecstar’s Alex Rins and rookie Joan Mir also spent some time focused in that area. A different exhaust appeared on the Repsol Honda in Malaysia as well, and in the three days prior to the Official Test, Suzuki test riders Sylvain Guintoli and Takuya Tsuda also had a new exhaust on the menu. In addition, Ducati riders both factory and Independent worked with different fuel tanks after Jorge Lorenzo (Repsol Honda Team) advocated a new shape last season to much success, and the Borgo Panigale factory also had a mysterious switch appear on their Demosedicis. Will they finally confirm what that is at Losail? (The rumours say it’s a ‘holeshot device’ designed to keep the bike planted off the line.)

After Repsol Honda introduced a carbon swingarm last season, that’s also seemingly starting to catch on. Aprilia have a very different machine this year and were seen testing one, and they’ll be looking for more of the impressive reliability they showed in Malaysia. KTM have also been spotted with a carbon swingarm, but then KTM have been spotted with a lot…

The Austrian factory had a new fairing, carbon front forks and a new tail on the RC16 including a redesigned exhaust, as well as the mountain of everything KTM are continually evaluating as they chase the same success in the premier class that has made them a name to beat in other disciplines.  That’s a whole lot of information to sift through and a whole lot of choices to be made – in addition to the mammoth task of deciding on an engine spec for the grid’s newest manufacturer, although they aren’t locked into it like those without concessions. New Red Bull KTM Factory Racing rider Johann Zarco also tried out some seat modifications at Sepang as he continues to adapt, and he seemed to make some good progress in Malaysia.

Another man who will finally be able to continue his own adaptation in Qatar is Jorge Lorenzo. After breaking his scaphoid and being forced to miss the Sepang Test, the five-time World Champion will be able to get back on his new Repsol Honda machine at Losail and continue getting up to speed. So as well as the final adjustments to the machinery, he’s sure to be a key talking point of the Qatar Test come struggle or shine, as will new teammate Marc Marquez after surgery on his shoulder. Will their fights back to fitness steal the headlines from Honda’s testing program? And is that because – cue the Jaws music – it’s all going so scarily well behind the scenes?

From the rookies to the veterans, innovation, re-evaluation and acclimatisation will be buzz words up and down pitlane as the final decisions are made ahead of the first Grand Prix of the year. Make sure to keep up to date with everything from the Qatar Test on, and let it whet your appetite for another stellar season of competition in the world’s fastest motorcycle racing Championship.

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