Jorge Lorenzo’s timesheet-topping performance in the first of MotoGP’s pre-season tests in Sepang last week was an ominous shot across the bow from the reigning champ. Having been present at the Yamaha team’s launch in Barcelona just a couple of weeks previously, and questioned Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and perhaps most importantly the factory’s technical boss Kouichi Tsuji, I’d sensed a distinct air of concern about how far behind the other manufacturers they might be.

Tsuji-san had indicated that this was perhaps the most important Sepang test session they’d had for a long time. Whereas normally the teams spend that first three days confirming the upgrades made to the bike over the winter break, this time they were dealing with major regulation changes and felt blind as to whether the work they had done back in Iwata would actually pay off on track.

As it stands, I think it’s fair to say that the new package surprised a few people, including those at Yamaha themselves. Although they say they are only 80% sure about the new chassis, they are at least not playing catch-up, as it seems Honda now may well be. Rossi made clear that he wasn’t pleased with the gap between himself and Lorenzo, but that he was much happier with the new front Michelin, as were most riders, and the Italian will take some comfort from effectively being second quickest overall, having set his best lap on the harder option rear.

The softer rear tyre had been dramatically withdrawn by Michelin on day two after a huge crash for Loris Baz at around 190mph on the front straight. It reminded many of the accident suffered by Shinya Nakano at Mugello back in 2004, when Bridgestone were starting to ramp up their own MotoGP operations. It’s the sort of thing that doesn’t write well, however much spin a PR person might try to put on it, and as Avintia Racing pointed out in their own press release, “It is now up to Michelin to analyse in detail what was the cause of this tyre failure.” Indeed.

The riders now move on to Phillip Island and…

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Photo by Monster Energy/Northcott

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