MotoGP’s long-awaited first preseason tests of 2021 ended in Qatar this evening, with all four Honda riders very happy with the technical progress made by HRC during the off-season.
Fastest of the RC213V riders during the two-day session at Losail was HRC (Honda Racing Corporation) tester Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team RC213V), who continues to take the place of injured six-times MotoGP World Champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V).
Bradl was a close fifth fastest, less than three tenths of a second off the best time, working as hard as ever to continue development of the mighty RC213V, which has won seven of the last nine MotoGP Constructors World Championships. The 31-year-old German rode superbly, running a great pace, during both long and short runs.
Marquez isn’t in Qatar because he is awaiting another medical check on his upper right arm, which he fractured at Jerez last July. The 28-year-old Spaniard hopes to compete in the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix at the end of this month, but that depends on the latest medical advice.
Honda has an impressive array of new parts to try during preseason testing at Losail, which concludes with a three-day outing on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
Bradl, Honda newcomer Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) and Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) are evaluating new chassis, new bodywork and new electronics strategies but not new engines. Last year all six MotoGP manufacturers agreed that riders must use 2020 spec engines throughout 2021, to reduce costs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Espargaro was delighted with his first outing on a Honda MotoGP bike, which fulfils a childhood dream to ride with the legendary Repsol Honda Team. The 29-year-old Spaniard was immediately at home, his aggressive riding technique producing some very promising lap times from the RC213V. Espargaro’s best lap was three tenths inside the current Losail race lap record.
Now the former Moto2 World Champion has two days off during which he will work closely with HRC engineers to decide the programme for the next tests, when he plans to get deeper into the bike, testing further chassis solutions for the 2021 season.
The first test of 2021 marks another important forward step for Nakagami, who for his fourth season in the premier class is for the first time equipped with the latest spec RC213V. Today the 29-year-old Japanese focused on improving corner-exit performance and trying new bodywork. Last year Nakagami used a 2019-spec machine, so he has also been adjusting himself to the superior horsepower of the 2020 RC213V engine. The Moto2 race winner is also working more closely than ever with HRC technicians.
Nakagami ended the two days 0.017 seconds behind Espargaro and 0.262 seconds ahead of the younger Marquez. Like his fellow RC213V riders Marquez is working his way through a selection of new parts and has already done comparison tests with HRC’s latest chassis specs.
The 24-year-old Spaniard, who was 2020’s MotoGP Rookie of the Year, rode some great laps but his progress was interrupted by two crashes, one yesterday and one today. During testing riders need to push to the limit to fully understand how the machine behaves in race mode, so crashes are an inevitable part of preseason preparation.
Marquez was unhurt in both falls and during the two days gathered lots of data and information that will help him find the right direction for the start of the new season.
The 2021 MotoGP World Championship commences with back-to-back races at Losail: the Qatar Grand Prix on March 28 and the Doha Grand Prix on April 4. Staging two races on consecutive weekends is the best way to guarantee racing when the ongoing global pandemic creates huge logistical issues for moving riders, teams and motorcycles around the world.
Following the two races in Qatar the MotoGP paddock moves to Europe, for the Portuguese GP at Portimao on April 18.