Numbers Don’t Lie: You’re Better Off on a Ducati in MotoGP

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Normally, when comparing times from a test, it makes the most sense to stick to a single year. But sometimes, there are good reasons to look back at past years, in search of a larger and more universal pattern.

Comparing the best laps of riders who were in the championship last year and this year proves to be a highly instructive exercise.

Doing that, there is one thing that immediately leaps out at you. The two riders who improved the most between the two seasons are the two who switched between a Honda and a Ducati.

Honda riders will freely tell you that the RC213V is very physical to ride, and the fate of rookies who have come into the championship on a Honda has not been great. Tito Rabat came to MotoGP as Moto2 champion, but struggled to make an impression on the Honda.

On a Ducati, he finished the test ahead of factory riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, and just seven tenths behind Lorenzo on the Ducati.

Jack Miller’s improvement is not quite as impressive as Rabat’s but he too took over a second off his time from last year. The Pramac Ducati GP17 really suits him, which is reflected in his results. At Sepang in 2017, Miller finished seventeenth overall. This year, he left as fifth fastest.

The two KTMs are also among the most improved, but that is to be expected given that the RC16 was an entirely new project in 2017. More interesting is the fact that the most improved riders also include two men on a GP18.

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Jorge Lorenzo made huge steps forward, but that was to be expected, given the difficulty he had at first in adapting to the Ducati. But Danilo Petrucci also made a big step forward, going nearly eight tenths faster this year than he went last year.

Petrucci’s 2018 time was set on a GP17, which is also a testament to his attitude this year.

The Italian has lost a lot of weight – he told us 4kg, but other journalists say he told them as much as 8kg – but he has also been working on his riding style, to try to be smoother with the throttle and not slide the tires so much. That probably gained him a couple of tenths as well.

At the other end of the table, the names of Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales are worth noting. Marquez never really went all out for a quick time this year, finishing seventh on all three days.

But Viñales is in a more difficult place: the 2018 Yamaha is much better in terms of race pace, but neither Rossi nor Viñales managed to set a quick lap time on the final day, when most riders were chasing a fast lap.

Worthy of note are the contrasting fortunes of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. Rins improved his best time from last year by over seven tenths, while Iannone was over a tenth slower than last year.

It is hard to draw conclusions about the Suzuki GSX-RR from those numbers: Rins was a rookie in 2017, and so should be expected to have made a big step forward. Iannone, on the other hand, was exceptionally quick in 2017, but failed to impress at the test this year.

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This anomaly could also be explained by the fact that Suzuki focused on testing the engine in Sepang, rather than chasing a time.

The Japanese factory learned their lessons last year, when their new riders chose an engine that turned out to be wrong for the bike, and hampered their campaign. Both Rins and Iannone are convinced that the 2018 bike is better, so we may have to wait until Qatar to find out the reality of the situation.

Alvaro Bautista lost the most time between the two tests, despite going from a bike that is supposed to be a clear improvement. One explanation for that could be due to his weight: Bautista is one of the lightest riders on the grid, and was complaining that he was struggling with rear grip on the Ducati GP17.

If Bautista can’t get heat into the rear tire in Sepang, it could be a difficult year, though the Spaniard was confident his team would solve the problem with setup. He will only really be able to tell how bad the problem is once the paddock arrives in Qatar.

The next test is in Buriram in Thailand, where the tropical heat will warm the tires. In Qatar, a colder track awaits.

Best Laps 2017 vs. 2018:

 20172018 
RiderBikeTimeBikeTimeDiff.
Tito RabatHonda RC213V2:02.190Ducati GP171:59.547-2.643
Jack MillerHonda RC213V2:00.439Ducati GP171:59.346-1.093
Pol EspargaroKTM RC162:01.338KTM RC162:00.262-1.076
Jorge LorenzoDucati GP171:59.766Ducati GP181:58.830-0.936
Bradley SmithKTM RC162:01.338KTM RC162:00.520-0.818
Danilo PetrucciDucati GP172:00.310Ducati GP181:59.528-0.782
Alex RinsSuzuki GSX-RR2:00.057Suzuki GSX-RR1:59.348-0.709
Cal CrutchlowHonda RC213V1:59.728Honda RC213V1:59.052-0.676
Dani PedrosaHonda RC213V1:59.578Honda RC213V1:59.009-0.569
Andrea DoviziosoDucati GP171:59.553Ducati GP181:59.169-0.384
Johann ZarcoYamaha M11:59.772Yamaha M11:59.511-0.261
Valentino RossiYamaha M11:59.589Yamaha M11:59.390-0.199
Aleix EspargaroAprilia RS-GP2:00.108Aprilia RS-GP1:59.925-0.183
Marc MarquezHonda RC213V1:59.506Honda RC213V1:59.382-0.124
Maverick ViñalesYamaha M11:59.368Yamaha M11:59.355-0.013
Karel AbrahamDucati GP152:00.445Ducati GP162:00.574+0.129
Andrea IannoneSuzuki GSX-RR1:59.452Suzuki GSX-RR1:59.615+0.163
Scott ReddingDucati GP162:00.645Aprilia RS-GP2:00.812+0.167
Alvaro BautistaDucati GP161:59.628Ducati GP172:00.205+0.577
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Photo: Ducati Corse

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

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