Photo courtesy of Sepang International Circuit
Three of the permitted four sessions of testing are done and just weeks away before the opening of what should be a very, very exciting season -- the battle for the 2017 crown is looking to be another Spanish duel again.
Yes, it will involve defending champion Marc Marquez. But, no, it would not be three-time MotoGP champion, Jorge Lorenzo. In fact, Lorenzo is in danger of falling into the same slump as Valentino Rossi when the Italian decided on a glamorous move to Ducati.
At the just concluded test in Phillip Island, Lorenzo and his Ducati was struggling – finishing eighth in the combined three-day timesheet in his Desmosedici GP17 machine with a time of 1 minute 29.342 seconds and 0.793 second slower than compatriot Maverick Vinales, who is like a duck being put to water on the YZR M1 machine. Even, Rossi, who was not even in the Top 10 bracket, is getting understandably worried with the sensational performance of his new team-mate.
Yes, the pre-season, so far, has been all about Vinales, who is again topping the timesheet at the winter testing. After topping in the first pre-season test in Valencia and continuing his supremacy in Sepang, the young Spaniard ended the three-day testing in Phillip Island at the top of the timesheet with a spectacular time of 1 minute 28.549 seconds on the final day.
Celebrating his 38th birthday in Phillip Island, Rossi was in no celebration mood at the Australian track where he finished 12th on the three-day combined timesheet with a best lap time of 1 minute 29.470 seconds and 0.921 second slower than his Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team-mate. With age against him, Rossi’s dream of adding another world title to the nine world crowns in his collection now looks hard and further added to his growing anxiety of the challenge ahead.
While acknowledging the quickness of Vinales, the Italian had declared that Marquez will be the rider to beat this season. The Yamaha rider was fastest over one lap; but, the Repsol Honda man was more consistent for race pace based on the tests in Phillip Island and Sepang.
“In all these tests, Marquez and Viñales are the faster [guys], but Marquez more, especially in the pace. It looks like Viñales is very good with the new tyre. It looks like Marquez, with the race rhythm, is the man to beat,” Rossi said in an interview at the conclusion of the test session at Phillip Island.
The Doctor agreed that it would be challenging this season if he were to beat Vinales; but was quick to add that it was no different in his contest with former team-mate, Lorenzo last season.
“About the atmosphere [in the garage with Viñales] sincerely it's not a big difference. It's the same – different character. The important thing is on the track and Viñales is very fast and has a very good feeling with the bike. Sincerely it was not a surprise because everyone knows that he is fast. But he's been very fast from the beginning. It's difficult. I think that we can work well [together]. We share the information to improve the bike. I think that he's very, very strong.
“He's very fast but he's very fast everywhere. He feels very good with the bike. For sure it will be hard to beat him but you know also last year with Lorenzo it was also difficult. We have to work and try to arrive ready for Qatar,” added Rossi, underscoring his strong desire of challenging for the world crown this season.
Unless his Ducati team could work miracles over the next few weeks, it is highly unlikely for Lorenzo to be among those challenging his Spanish compatriots for the overall crown this season. In Phillip Island, Lorenzo was struggling and the team was still searching for that illusive set-up change for their rider.
While there had been improvements, the rate was clearly not quick enough as desired by Lorenzo as the two-time MotoGP champion found his corner speed to be well below the level expected and his entry into turns and their exits still not as smooth as he had hoped for.
And, with the first race coming up very soon, Lorenzo and Rossi – the two dominant forces of MotoGP before the arrival of Marquez, should be worried. Not just of Marc; but also of another Spaniard named Maverick Vinales.