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MotoGP

Winners and losers from 2024 MotoGP winter testing

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
9 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

After three days in Malaysia and two in Qatar (plus the little preview at Valencia last November and the Sepang shakedown test), MotoGP teams’ 2024 pre-season work is done and it’s onto the season-opening grand prix at Lusail in just under three weeks.

Some can head to that race pretty confident that they’ll start strongly.

Others much less so.

Here’s our pick of the winter winners and losers.

WINNERS

PECCO BAGNAIA

Fastest in Malaysia, fastest in Qatar. The unofficial lap record on both occasions.

Pecco Bagnaia's lowering of the benchmark at Lusail by eight tenths of a second isn't quite the ‘what the hell??' laptime it initially feels like - other riders were well under the pole record, too, and the track conditions were clearly quite favourable.

The 2023 Aprilia in the hands of Raul Fernandez beat that marque's best effort from November last year by nine tenths, and the quickest Ducati GP23 - that of a surging Marc Marquez - was seven tenths faster than Bagnaia's own November time.

But it's not really about the headline time - rather, it's about the fact Bagnaia seemed to be able to summon first place at will at both Sepang and particularly Lusail, immediately quickest when he felt like it and consistently winning those mini-duels of same-time qualifying simulations.

It's no big shock for the rider who was MotoGP's best qualifier last year, but Bagnaia's qualifying form did sag towards the end. Yet with the 2024 Ducati, everything seems to be working so far. The quest for a three-peat is off to the perfect start.

GIGI DALL'IGNA

Just how much can you really improve comfortably the best bike on the grid?

Ducati tech chief Gigi Dall'Igna sounded convinced at the end of last year that the margin for improvement on the Ducati Desmosedici GP23 was still considerable - and that the GP24 would be a relatively big step forward, bigger than the GP23 was compared to the GP22.

It's too early to tell - but the early signs are really good. The teething troubles of new-spec Ducatis from recent pre-seasons are seemingly nowhere to be seen.

The factory-contracted riders have sung the praises of the GP24 virtually in unison, with even Jorge Martin having conclusively fallen in line in regards to the evolved 2024-spec Ducati aero - which he was initially unconvinced by before 'unlocking' it, if you will, for himself.

Given the strength and 'polish' of what are now year-old Ducatis, and the calibre of riders on said year-old Ducatis, the GP24s finishing 1-2-3 at Sepang and 1-2 at Lusail is, unmistakably, a statement.

It probably will have been a 1-2-3, too, but Martin has been battling a rear vibration issue - which he is at a loss as to the cause of but says isn't present for other Ducati riders (although Enea Bastianini's mentioned it, too, as a lesser degree).

"The only thing that worries me a little bit is this," Martin said of the vibration. "For the rest, I feel we did a great step from last season to this one.

"It will be hard for the other brands to keep the pace of the Ducatis."

ENEA BASTIANINI

Sepang and Lusail are not good tracks to assess Bastianini by given his past feats at both, although he wasn't exactly lightning in Qatar last year.

But if we go by the timesheets, his words and the words of those around him, a much, much better second season in Ducati red is on its way.

Bastianini has had some qualms about that first touch of the throttle with the new engine, and battled an illness that hindered his preparation for the Qatar test, but was still unmistakably quick and unmistakably happy.

For all the caveats about track condition (and being held up by stand-in Iker Lecuona that weekend), Bastianini found nearly 1.8s relative to November. That's a lot of laptime.

ALEIX ESPARGARO

Ageing like fine wine.

The 34-year-old Aleix Espargaro has looked as competitive as ever through the two tests, leading the way for Aprilia more often than not and adjusting better to the firm's 2024 aero developments than his stablemates.

These have made the bike more physical, but more stable, so Espargaro isn't complaining. What he is complaining about is a relative shortage of power, which he feels isn't allowing Aprilia to fully translate a very competitive long-run pace into a single-lap challenge to Ducati.

But that's for Aprilia to work on, and its 2024 engine - only a minor evolution - is only expected for the season-opener anyway.

Whether it'll be at the level Espargaro expects, it is pretty clear that he himself is holding up his end of the bargain.

"If you are fast like I was during the pre-season, you have to be excited," he said. "I don't care - I'm very excited and I'm ready to fight. I think it will be a nice season."

FABIO DI GIANNANTONIO

Not quite the fastest Ducati GP23 rider in the end, thanks to Marquez's late burst, but Di Giannantonio's whole pre-season amounted to a very credible proof of concept.

VR46 team-mate Marco Bezzecchi has been acknowledging openly that Di Giannantonio has gelled quicker with the GP23, and he already looks like a very shrewd signing for Valentino Rossi's team.

His time as Ducati's odd man out, the obvious weak link in its rider line-up, seems an even more distant memory.

PEDRO ACOSTA

The eventual 15th place in Qatar may be nothing to write home about, but there's reason to believe it undersells Acosta's potential - and in any case he's made a very strong impression relative to his fellow KTM RC16 riders.

The rookie has been instantly competitive, the way KTM rookies generally had not been, compared to its established riders, and well clear of his Tech3 Gas Gas team-mate Augusto Fernandez.

A full race simulation planned for the final day was quite competitive, too, though also featured a crash.

Overall, Acosta's reputation from Moto3 and Moto2 has more than survived first contact with the premier class.

LOSERS

THE JAPANESE BRANDS

Yamaha and Honda are playing the long game, so it feels harsh to place them here, given both seem to be doing the right things structurally and developmentally to eradicate that gap to MotoGP's European bikes.

But looking at the pre-season itself, and at what it indicates for 2024, neither side looks ready to consolidate a competitive step forward just yet.

Honda's riders are universally happier about its new RC213V, and it was probably robbed of a headline-ish laptime in Qatar by a programme-derailing stomach bug for Joan Mir and a late crash for Johann Zarco.

But its big concern is race pace, not one lap, and that concern remains with even its much-altered bike, which for all its promise still needs a fair bit of work.

"Probably we need four or five days more testing to understand more things - or maybe not, because these guys [other brands] will improve more!" joked a sickly-looking Mir on Tuesday - but his employer should still be happier than Yamaha.

The M1's speed trap figures are extremely convincing, but its qualifying times remain no good. The 1.013s Fabio Quartararo shipped on his fastest lap to Bagnaia's record may as well be a lifetime.

"I think we need more time," Quartararo admitted after the test. "We need three-four months more to see the improvement of our bike."

FRANCO MORBIDELLI

From what Franco Morbidelli has been saying - and he did make it to Qatar for media appearances even if he is not yet medically cleared to test - he is more happy about having remained intact (in what is increasingly clear was a really terrifying Portimao road bike crash) than concerned about any competitive implications.

And... well, yeah, that's only logical.

But it obviously won't be too fun for Morbidelli to be learning the 2024 Ducati effectively on the fly in Qatar - also given the whole field has two extra days of Lusail-specific mileage on him and that Friday of the race weekend will effectively incorporate 'Q0'.

It might be an obnoxious weekend, and he might be, in a way, paying for this pre-season absence for quite a few rounds into this season, given opportunities to put down laps free of competitive stress and get your bearings are so few and far between.

The silver lining will be, at least, that the GP24 looks so well-born and so compliant.

AUGUSTO FERNANDEZ

In a real funk in Malaysia, Fernandez looked to have snapped out of it at least partially in Qatar - but the fact remains he has found himself handily outpaced by team-mate Acosta for a second test running.

His peak single-lap pace arguably isn't entirely representative - a crash wrote off the first day's time attack, tyres were apparently not the freshest on the second day. But though compared to Sepang he's felt better there's been no shying away from the fact it has been a tough, tough pre-season.

Mostly, he just feels he's playing catch-up.

"Back to a rookie feeling," he acknowledged. "I would like to be at the level, of course. I prepared myself this winter to arrive and be at the level, of course, from Sepang, not even here.

"Hard times. Hard times, I'm not going to lie. It's not what we expected and it's not what I want.

"But we cannot cry. Just keep working, try to understand things. It's just testing, let's go racing now."

MIGUEL OLIVEIRA

Another somewhat harsh inclusion given the trajectory was clearly positive for Miguel Oliveira - but the Portuguese himself acknowledged he has been "frustrated" by the two tests.

While team-mate Raul Fernandez made hay in Qatar on a 2023-spec Aprilia despite sitting out effectively the entirety of the Sepang test, Oliveira and his side of the new Trackhouse team's garage clearly went through some soul-searching on how to make the various 2024 RS-GP bits and pieces work for him.

He did look like he got somewhere close in the end, but was still half a second off his peers.

"I'm not fully satisfied but at least we took a good step forward. Just a shame that we got to a good feeling too late - finally, it was four days with the same bad feeling, and today with a slightly different bike I could start making up some steps and be competitive," Oliveira said.

That "slightly different bike"? Just a minor set-up tweak, he insisted.

THE 2023 DUCATIS

Marc Marquez, Gresini Ducati, MotoGP

Individually, all four of the riders on hand-me-down Ducati Desmosedicis can feel decent about their pre-season performance. Even Bezzecchi seemed to have finally got his head around a GP23 that wasn't decelerating like he wanted it to on the final day in Qatar.

But there's an undertone of concern. Unlike last year, where it was touch-and-go between specs for much of the season, there may already be a deficit to the works machines.

"Still are three, four, five riders faster than us," said Marc Marquez, despite his impressive fourth-fastest time in the end.

"Especially Bagnaia, Martin, Bastianini are faster than us."

"Seeing how fast the factory Ducatis are... normally when you bring a new bike in the beginning, you need some time, you struggle a bit," said Bezzecchi.

"They've arrived and they're really quick."

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