Round one of the 2020 season is nearly upon us, as riders and teams will have the opportunity to conclude their preparations, with the second three day test of the year in Qatar.
As has been the case in recent seasons, it was Yamaha who dominated the timesheets at Sepang, with Fabio Quartararo leading the way at the end of each day.
There are various storylines to follow on the eve of tomorrow’s test, such as Quartararo and whether he can consolidate his status as quickest? Can Monster Energy Yamaha and Ecstar Suzuki build on their impressive Malaysian outing? Or will Ducati and Honda challenge the young Frenchman?
Sepang was not all about Quarataro though, as teammate Franco Morbidelli showed good signs on the second Petronas Yamaha.
The test will go a long way in determining where both riders will be come round one in early March, as Quartararo looks to build a strong championship challenge.
Keeping with the Yamaha theme, it was a busy first test for Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi, with the former completing the most laps over the entirety of the test.
Vinales didn’t top any of the weekend’s running like we’ve seen before, but the Spaniard acknowledged his change of mentality and not going for the all-out attack time.
Instead, the test was about consolidating last season’s upturn in form, while improving the feeling especially with race pace for this year’s bike setup.
It was a positive test for Rossi, who led his younger teammate on day three, but also spent a considerable period of time working between three different machines.
The 40 year-old has started previous season’s very well, and will look to replicate that trend before any future decision on whether to return for 2021.
Next up we have Suzuki, and their championship hope Alex Rins. The two-time winner in 2019, produced staggering long run pace at Sepang, and will look to do more of the same in the Qatar test.
The consistent speed impressed many throughout the paddock, however, it wasn’t just the 24 year-old who shined for the team, as teammate Joan Mir was equally as impressive.
Mir’s best finish at Sepang was fourth on day two, and like Rins, put a lot of miles on the new 2020 bike.
The defending champion Repsol Honda and Marc Marquez, had a tough but steady Sepang test.
Fresh off a new four year deal until 2024, Marquez will look to regain as much strength over the weekend’s running in his right shoulder before the opening round.
Both Marquez and team boss Alberto Puig raised concerns regarding preparations due to the injury, which led to a heavy workload for Briton’s Cal Crutchlow.
The LCR Honda rider was in great form and got through a huge amount of the team’s program.
It will be much of the same during the three day test at Losail, as Honda look to iron out the last few details, with ride-ability at the top of the list.
On the other half of the Repsol garage is Marc’s younger brother Alex Marquez, who finished as the top rookie in Sepang.
Similarly to Marc, Japanese rider Takaaki Nakagami has also been recovering from shoulder surgery.
It will be an important test for Nakagami in relation to where he was a few short weeks ago.
The slightly surprising outcome in Sepang, was Ducati’s lack of competitiveness on the timingsheets, except for Pramac’s Jack Miller.
Given the team’s success in recent years at Losail, it will be a crucial test for Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci.
Dovizioso will be looking for his third win on the bounce at this venue, and the upcoming track time could provide a big insight as to where the Bologna outfit sits in the pecking order.
Francesco Bagnaia is expected to make a big second year jump in 2020, so immediate improvements will be important for the former Moto2 champion.
Finally for Ducati, and the Reale Avintia team, it was a productive test in Sepang with Johann Zarco steadily improving throughout the three days, and consistently topping Tito Rabat.
One of the teams that impressed the most in Malaysia was KTM. Pol Espargaro put together his most consistent season in the premier class during 2019, and picked up where he left off.
The Spaniard concluded his running in the top ten during all three days, but it was Dani Pedrosa who really showed the progress that the Austrian manufacturer have made.
On day two, Pedrosa finished third and completed his fastest ever lap around the 3,445 mile circuit.
Rookie Brad Binder also showed promise, while the Tech 3 team of Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona will hope to make further strides forward in 2020.
With both KTM and the Tech 3 team recently presenting their new bike livery’s for the new season, expectation to join the podium challenge on a more consistent basis will surely be the aim heading forward.
Aprilia were another team to impress during the test, as the ever dependent Aleix Espargaro was a top ten finisher on a couple of occasions.
The team showed potential at various races last season, but will hope the 2020 machine can get them closer to the top teams.
It will be an important test for Bradley Smith, as the Brit is likely to start the race season in place of the suspended Andrea Iannone.