It’s all zips, hot leathers and elbow-scrapers at Sepang in the coming week. Testing begins, and dreams start to take shape. Or unravel. Depends if you’re riding a Honda, Yamaha or a Ducati. And then again, on what sort of Honda, Yamaha or Ducati.
The technical spectrum may have shrunk to just three manufacturers, thanks to the added expense of the cost-cutting rules. But those same ever-tightening rules have given rise to a new sub-genre of “Open Class” private-team machines, giving at least some of the untermenschen much-improved top-10 chances.
At least, we’d better hope so. These middle-class mounts (which add Aprilia’s name to the factory list) are meant to be the future, regardless of their performance. But if they are fast out of the box, it at least means that the factories won’t be obliged to dumb down even more than they have already.
For my part, 2014 marks the start of a fourth decade of covering GP racing. I never thought it would look like this back in 1984, with blue-sky development now devoted to fuel efficiency and electronic trickery, and rules aim at slowing down the fast guys to give the poor boys a chance.
The 500cc two-strokes they rode, still far from the peak of their development, look like toys next to a modern MotoGP four-stroke, especially in terms of top speeds and lap times, which are after all what it’s all about. Very dangerous toys - so powerful, light and wayward that they were extremely hard to handle. That year, relentlessly smooth Eddie Lawson and his Yamaha triumphed over the faster but more mercurial Freddie Spencer on the flawed new V-four Honda. There are echoes today with Lorenzo versus Marquez.
The overall landscape is very similar to what met me in my first full year. Back then it was Yamaha against Honda, with Suzuki half-heartedly involved and the field filled out with untermensch bikes. These were mainly either over-the-counter Honda triples, in much the same mold as this year’s new sub-factory RCV1000R, or ageing square-four Suzuki RG500s. Plus a smattering of European-built chassis like the Chevallier. The best Honda without any factory backing, by the way, finished 15th (Reinhold Roth). This year’s top proddie-Honda rider, veteran former champ Nicky Hayden (plus rookie Scott Redding, Hiroshi Aoyama and Karel Abraham) should do rather better. There are only 11 Factory-class bikes on the grid, and three of them are Ducatis.
To read more of this week’s in the Paddock in Cycle News, click here