Satellite Yamaha star Fabio Quartararo may have won the timesheet battle on each day of the Sepang MotoGP test, but Monster Yamaha’s Maverick Vinales was most impressive in terms of a race simulation.
Although only 18th quickest and the slowest M1 rider over a single lap, Vinales’ 16-lap race simulation was longer and faster than his competitors, starting and finishing with a 1m 59.8s.
It was enough for many of his rivals to pick last November’s Malaysian Grand Prix winner as the man to beat, alongside Suzuki’s Alex Rins.
“I’m very positive, because today we improved the bike quite a lot, especially for the race,” Vinales said. “On a race tyre, race set-up, we did a good pace, which I felt quite competitive.”
Sixth quickest on the previous days, Vinales admitted: “In the [final] morning everyone put ‘supersoft’ tires and went for a time attack. I didn’t know how I could resist! I was like, ‘no, no, no, [I want to do a] Time Attack!’
“But the team calmed me down, said, ‘OK, you are here to work’. That’s what we did, we worked quite a lot. The feeling is still not at the best, but I’m getting there, and that’s the most important.
“We are trying to achieve the maximum settings for every case that might happen: no grip, lots of grip, so that was important today to work on that.
“It’s difficult because we always race after Moto2, when the grip is not unbelievable. But [also] when I did the long run, the grip was very low, I saw most of the riders in 2m 00, and they could not go lower.
“Now we are going to see if the bike works in the same way as here in Qatar.”
One of the top priorities for all riders at the opening test was to learn more about the new Michelin rear tire construction.
“I think we still don’t understand the tires as best we can, so we have to work a lot on that and on the set up,” Vinales said. “Because the tire changes a lot from lap 1 to lap 20, so we need to understand.”
In the case of Sepang at least, the extra grip seemed to boost the corner-speed dependent inline four-cylinder bikes from Suzuki and Yamaha. Petronas rider Franco Morbidelli felt the tire ‘filled in the bits of grip they were missing last year’, did Vinales agree?
“A little bit, yes. But that’s why I said we have to understand the tires, and how to work on the track. When we did the long run it was a good setup for me, but not yet perfect.”
The big difference between a race simulation at a test and the real thing is the absence of other riders battling for position.
But Vinales did get to ‘fight’ with some other riders during the test, where he found the extra top speed from the 2020 engine helpful for overtaking, but is looking to improve further in the braking zones.
“We always have weak points and sometimes trail braking is difficult for me, especially with a full tank, but it’s getting better. That’s why I’m happy, because every time I’m getting better on the brakes, and it’s important to better on the brakes because I need to fight.
“If I need to fight, I need to brake late. And that was good. Also, a little bit more top speed helps. I was fighting with some riders and I felt I could overtake.”
Teammate Valentino Rossi was fifth quickest, but like Morbidelli did not do a long run. Fabio Quartararo, fastest over all three days, did a 12-lap run, with his lap time generally rising.