It only seems like yesterday that the gossip columns of many motorbike journalists was crammed with juicy tidbits concerning the Repsol Honda team. The flagship of HRC was struggling with an inherent lack of pace and it was only during the recent documentary from Marquez that we learned of how many issues they really were facing. Having to try the ’15 engine in their updated chassis during testing, but that only made things worse and the 2016 season was characterised by the Honda’s lack of acceleration.
Acceleration – is a vehicle’s capacity to gain speed and from ‘Cervera to Tokyo’ it seemed to be the buzzword in the Honda garages throughout the pitlane. Something that was painfully portrayed during the final sprint to the line at Mugello where Lorenzo just about took the victory.
The issue with having a talented and at times otherworldly rider such as Marquez, is that it is very difficult for other riders using the same/similar machinery. There could be questions such as, “Well he’s using the same stuff so why can’t you do the same?” Despite this lack of acceleration and the physical effort that it took to manhandle the machine at times; Marc won the championship. After a season such as ’15, the early season tussles with Valentino and the eventual fallout of Sepang: It was a fitting reward.
There is evidence to suggest that this isn’t a season of déjà vu for the Honda mounted riders, if the times from testing are anything to go by. Out of the three tests in 2017, it was only in Qatar where only 2 of the riders (Pedrosa and Crutchlow) featured in the top 10. It is perhaps unfortunate that this happens to also be the venue for the first round but given that Marquez also views the track as a ‘bogey’ round for him also; perhaps it isn’t too much to get excited about.
As I write this, the FP1 session ended just over 2 hours ago and despite the track being somewhat dusty/green; the pace shown by both Pedrosa and Marquez would be very reassuring. Given that Vinales is already knocking on the door of the circuit’s best lap, it’s probably fair to say that they are easily the best of the rest despite the half a second gap. (FP1 Classification)
The session as a whole was very interesting, I generally like to follow every session and record them if I can’t watch them live. It was hard to fully appreciate what was significant about the action however as Qatar is a special circumstances circuit and one that has in recent years heavily favoured the Ducati; which isn’t really shown on the timesheet despite the incredibly strong showing by Baz and the somewhat surprising initial pace of Lorenzo.
I think what is staggering is the comparisons in top speeds and just how irrelevant it is over an entire lap. Jorge Lorenzo was clocked at 342.9 km/h which was nearly a full 8 km/h faster than that of the Yamaha of Vinales, although I have just highlighted that it isn’t effective to merely focus on this fact; it illustrates perhaps why the beast from Bologna is so handy around the circuit. It also ties in neatly to how I initially started this article!
If I was to offer my opinion of what we’re going to see this weekend, and I’m somewhat reluctant to as we’ll get a better impression of how things are really shaking out after FP3 tomorrow:
- Rossi does seem to be struggling, to be so far off of a team mate on the same tyre combination would be quite worrying. If anyone can figure out where he is losing time and counter that though, it’s Valentino. He is also more of a Sunday man and a one lap blitz has only become part of his arsenal in the past 3 years or so.
- Lorenzo looks very comfortable on the Ducati, but whether the gap to Vinales will cause his Mallorcan eyebrow to raise is perhaps my biggest question. Will he be able to get anywhere near to the limit whilst still being new to the machine?
- The Honda’s look strong! Whether that is because the likes of Dovizioso, Rossi and Iannone were all relatively further down than they would of liked? This time last year in FP1: Pedrosa was 7th, Marquez 8th and Crutchlow 12th. The HRC riders kept and improved their pace in the later sessions but Crutchlow eventually finished 15th in FP3 and was unfortunately a member of the Q1 fight for a portion of the season. With Cal so much further up, is this a sign?
- The Suzuki isn’t doing what Iannone wants it to. Again, I don’t want to make any assumptions but based on the time alone and the amount that he seemed to be working the bike. I hope I’m wrong! 18th for Rins isn’t terrible, he didn’t fall off (unlike Lowes) and he completed 16 laps; so here’s hoping for an improvement.
- The Circuit Best Lap is going to be absolutely destroyed this weekend, if Vinales can lap within under half a second during the weekend’s first session… how low can it go?
Just to show the nature of motorsport in general, after being impressed and full of praise for Alvaro! I’m sure he’ll get quicker as the weekend progresses, as will the whole field once the track is cleaned.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my floating prose, and that the first/second sessions have been an enjoyable watch. But for now,
Thank you for reading!