What did we learn from 2020's pre-season testing? Some appear to be ready, some appear to have struggled. Some have taken remarkable strides forwards, whilst some appear to be stuck with the same issues that have troubled them over recent years. Yes, it's true that many of the questions that pre-season has thrown up can't be answered until we've seen a wheel turned in anger. However, here's a rundown of everything that we learnt in Malaysia and Qatar but, most importantly, everything we now know heading into the first round of the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship.
First, the reigning Triple Crown Champions: Honda. Up to the final day of pre-season testing, they were struggling. After a few moans and groans in Malaysia, I don’t think anybody expected the crisis that HRC would see themselves in going into the final day in Qatar. Yes, the 2020 RC213V has an engine that offers a slightly better top speed, but it didn’t stop Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol) from being critical of the front-end feel, with Crutchlow even going as far as saying it was worse than the 2019 RC213V; a bike that was already notorious for not offering a great deal of front-end feel. Taka Nakagami’s 2019 Idemitsu LCR Honda was rolled into Marquez’s garage for the final day of pre-season testing and with just hours remaining it appears like they found the problem: 2020’s aerodynamics package. So, that’s what they have found: the problem. It still leaves several questions to be answered with the 2020 RC213V, with the opening round acting in some part as a ‘third test’ for the factory Honda riders. At least the eight-time World Champion was at least able to depart the Doha desert with “a small smile” on his face.
"We were completely lost but today we found the way"
Hoping to take at least one of Honda’s crown in 2020 will be Ducati. The Bologna factory have severely suffered with mid-corner speed throughout recent years and, according to Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team), it doesn’t look like it’s an issue that has been fully rectified despite a brand-new chassis. One thing they will definitely not be lacking in 2020 is top speed. Somehow, they’ve managed to extract a few more horses out of the Desmosedici and with the added inclusion of the new Ride Height Adjuster, the genius innovation that got tongues wagging in Qatar, Ducati once again dominated the top speed charts. Ducati also appeared to be the factory that, so far, have struggled most to adapt to the new Michelin rear tyres for the 2020 season. However, with the amount of power the four riders aboard a full factory GP20 will have in their back pocket, they will most certainly be in contention.
Let’s take a look at Yamaha and if there’s one thing we’re taking away from the Iwata factory’s 2020 pre-season, then it’s this: they mean serious business. It’s simple, Yamaha want their premier class crown back and getting the signatures of Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo in January – two of the most sought after riders in MotoGP™ - for the 2021 and 2022 season was a huge gauntlet to their rivals. On track, the much-anticipated updated engine seems to have made a difference. All four riders – especially Viñales and Quartararo – are heading to the Qatar GP in good shape. From pre-season alone, Yamaha look like they’re going to take some stopping.
Preseason? Completed it! Catch up with the Qatar Test
When it comes to Suzuki, the biggest thing we learned is that they are ready to be title contenders. The GSX-RR has taken another step forwards in 2020 and they now have two extremely hungry and, going on pre-season form, highly competitive riders in the form of Alex Rins and Joan Mir (Team Suzuki Ecstar). 2019 marked their best year yet with Rins securing two victories and fourth in the World Championship. An updated engine with slightly more top-end speed, an updated chassis that will allow the Hamamatsu brand to continue to match Yamaha for speed through the corners and an extra shot of motivation with 2020 marking 60 years in Grand Prix racing all means that Suzuki are ready for a sensational season.
Pre-season most definitely taught us that you would be silly to totally dismiss Aprilia’s chances in 2020. The Noale factory may have been in the doldrums over the past two years but a total revolution with their RS-GP means they will, without doubt, be fighting inside the top five at points throughout the season. Questions still remain over the reliability or durability of their brand-new machine under the strains of Grand Prix racing, but one thing is for sure: Aprilia looks to be as strong as they have been since their return to the premier class five years ago.
A brand new Aprilia in 2020?
As always, KTM have been arguably the busiest factory in terms of parts tested. Heading into their fourth premier class campaign, it looks like the Austrian factory can really start to penetrate the top six – or maybe higher – on a regular basis. New fairings, chassis, swingarms and more has seen Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) head into the opening round “super happy” with KTM’s preseason. The Spaniard was just 0.261 off Viñales at the Sepang Test and rookie teammate Brad Binder slammed in a very impressive one-lap time in Qatar to place him P9. Sophomore Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Tech 3) will be a force to be reckoned with when he’s fully fit too as the orange army look to have taken another leap towards the top factories. It seems they’re ready to taste a little bit of the podium bubbly once again.
Rate your offseason from 0-10
But the biggest takeaway from both tests is just how competitive the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship looks like being. Marc Marquez may have dominated 2019 but all five of the manufacturers chasing the Spaniard’s, Repsol Honda’s and HRC’s three crowns have made considerable progress and improvement over the winter months and look better prepared than ever to topple the eight-time World Champion’s reign at the top of MotoGP™.
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