MotoGP

5 Questions we want answered at the Sepang MotoGP test

The 2020 MotoGP World Championship kicks off with official testing at Sepang... here are 5 questions we want answered this week

After a long, cold and boring racing-free winter, the initial steps towards the 2020 MotoGP World Championship season begin with the first of two official pre-season tests taking place at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia.

Though the grid is fairy similar to that of 2019 – despite Johann Zarco’s best efforts – there are plenty of talking points to delve into from Andrea Iannone’s drug suspension to the question marks over Valentino Rossi’s future.

Here are the questions we’re keen to see answered over the next three days…

Valentino Rossi – All the questions...

While there are several different questions likely to be directed this way over the next few days, many will circle back to one query – will this be Valentino Rossi’s final season in MotoGP?

Indeed, in the wake of the confirmation Fabio Quartararo will definitely take his factory seat in 2021, Rossi will no doubt be facing questions over whether Yamaha’s decision will influence his, his thoughts about potentially moving to Petronas SRT and whether Yamaha should have given him more time to decide.

If journalists have time, they may also ask him about having arch-nemesis Jorge Lorenzo back alongside him in the team.

Of course, the man himself has already said he needs a few rounds to decide whether his future is in the sport as a racer, so don’t expect answers with much clarity. However, since Yamaha’s move to define its own future this early in the year simply raises more questions for its star rider, Rossi is likely to have the busiest media sessions this week.

Have Ducati and Yamaha found the secret to defeating Marc Marquez?

It’s a question that won’t necessarily answer itself right now, but while we may not get a chance to see whether Yamaha and Honda – or even Suzuki – have made significant in-roads into Marquez’s speed and consistency, we’ll certainly be able to tell if they have gone the wrong way on design.

Indeed, Honda traditionally keeps its powder dry during pre-season testing, with Marquez opting to focus on workloads rather than fast lap times, no doubt in part to lull rivals into a false sense of security. This year the potential sandbagging will be more noticeable as he contends with his ongoing shoulder injury.

Moreover, Yamaha has a strong record at Sepang so don’t be surprised to see the likes of Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo dominating the timesheets even if they are lacking in areas, much like they did during the latter half of the 2019 season.

That said, Yamaha says it isn’t focusing on improving top speed – at the behest of its rivals – whereas Ducati has worked hard to ensure it recovers its power advantage over its rivals. If Ducati proves quick in lap times at Sepang relative to Yamaha, it could set the tone for the year ahead.

Can KTM and Aprilia close gap to the front in 2020?

MotoGP’s newer entrants will be bidding to get closer to the front of the field in 2020 after overhauling their machines for the new season.

KTM showed flashes of huge potential in its RC16 package last season, particularly over a single lap with Pol Espargaro, but tempered it with some solid race day results too. For 2020, the latest generation RC16 is the first to be developed under hugely experienced eye of Dani Pedrosa, whose influence has repeatedly been lauded by other members in the team.

With KTM looking long term with a youthful line-up that includes two rookies, a lot of the expectation will probably fall on Espargaro’s shoulders. However, Miguel Oliveira could spring a few surprises on the satellite Tech 3 machine, which KTM assures will be identical to the factory team’s machines this time.

Aprilia meanwhile has the most ground to make up of any manufacturer after five fairly anonymous years since returning to MotoGP. With a new 90-degree V4 engine, the 2020 RS-GP represents a huge overhaul for the manufacturer – bigger than any other team this year – and it has already won plaudits from lead rider Aleix Espargaro, a rider who was brutally honest about his uncompetitive machine in 2019.

Will Johann Zarco be able to show up his Ducati counterparts?

A lot of ink has been spent on Johann Zarco over the last few months as he hop-scotched between manufacturers before landing at Avintia Ducati… despite shaming it as ‘not a top team’.

However, Zarco is now looking at the bigger picture and believes himself to be the rightful future candidate for a factory Ducati ride at the behest of a talented pool of riders already in the manufacturer’s possession.

While Zarco admits there are limitations to what he can achieve on a year-old Ducati, he has aimed for regular top tens, which alone represents a big step forward for the privateer Spanish outfit.

Zarco’s talked himself up… can he now deliver?

Will Andrea Iannone case spark a shake-up of drug testing in MotoGP?

The big MotoGP story over the winter is still to be resolved with Andrea Iannone waiting (im)patiently to find out whether his provisional suspension for a failed drugs test is formalised into a longer ban or whether he will return to MotoGP action.

In the meantime, riders are likely to face questions they probably haven’t been asked before about drug testing in the sport. Indeed, drug suspensions in motorsport are few and far between, but some riders – Cal Crutchlow – have previously criticised the lack of testing that takes place in the sport and fears it to be more rife than people think.

Riders may indeed be sympathetic to the plight of Iannone if he has indeed ingested a banned steroid accidentally, but others may well say this is a wake-up call for the sport – and riders - to be more vigilant with what they are taking and what is being tested for.

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