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Final 2023 MotoGP preseason test points to a Ducati whitewash with the Italian manufacturer taking four of the top five spots

At the close of preseason testing for 2023 one name and one name alone rang out. Francesco Bagnaia (Lenovo Ducati) is the man the current MotoGP grid fears after he convincingly topped the two-day outing at the Algarve International Circuit in Portugal thanks to a new lap record of 1m37.968s.


Bagnaia was one of eight reasons this was a near-flawless preseason for the current triple crown holders of Ducati. He declared himself “100 percent prepared” for the opening round, and already appears at home aboard the improved GP23. His two 12-lap Sprint simulations on the final day were a testament to that, with few others capable of matching his explosive early speed.

But there were hints that 2023 won’t simply be a Ducati whitewash. Aprilia had another strong showing, its RS-GP clearly the second-best bike on the grid. The final day saw crucial improvements for the previously frustrated Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha), the only non-Ducati rider in the top eight in third place. Likewise, Brad Binder (Red Bull KTM) and Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) – ninth and 14th respectively – gave indications they can drag their respective factories into the mix.



That the only negative of the weekend was Fabio Di Giannantonio (Gresini Ducati) missing day two due to a concussion sustained on Saturday tells its own story. That misfortune aside, Ducati is the manufacturer entering a season in the strongest shape since Honda in 2003. Each of the seven other riders demonstrated they could be in the running for a podium finish at the opening round. All were in the top eight, too, with five under the lap record.

After steady development work, the GP23 is up to speed, with Bagnaia feeling slight improvements across the board.


“Every part we tested and everything we moved in terms of setting, in terms of development was good, so we improved.” Even Enea Bastianini – plagued by reliability issues on day one, which resulted in a loss of confidence – came good on Sunday, with his Sprint simulation showing he isn’t a million miles off his teammate. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a Ducati lock out the front row and both podiums in a fortnight’s time.


Clearly the best of the rest at Sepang last month, Aprilia’s fortunes were slightly more complicated here. Its four riders looked fast at certain moments across days one and two. But factory bosses will be nervously awaiting the results from Aleix Espargaro’s (Aprilia Racing) medical checks on Monday morning after a suspected case of fibrosis in his right arm slowed the factory’s testing program down.


A variety of different aero parts were brought, including winglets attached to the bike’s front fork, and others bolted to the RS-GP’s swingarm. Yet the full 2023 engine that was expected here won’t be available until Round 1. Optimism on Saturday was dimmed slightly on Sunday by an engine braking gremlin which slowed Maverick Viñales’ race simulation. Yet both factory riders declared themselves “ready to race. I feel better here than Malaysia, sincerely,” said Espargaro. Now to wait on his medical tests.


The big story on Sunday. The outlook was bleak for the Iwata factory at the close of the first day. Quartararo had finally broached the top ten, but still found himself some eight-tenths in arrears. What was of greater concern was his assessment of the new YZR-M1’s behaviour. Asked what the greatest problem was, the 24-year old answered, “Everything. Not just the braking. I mean, corner speed, stability, exit of the corners. And also it’s difficult how to use a new tyre.”


Yet a crucial switch to last year’s aero package at the beginning on Sunday led to immediate improvements. Suddenly the ex-champ was contesting the lead positions again, ending up just 0.3sec off the top. And a 12-lap Sprint simulation had him contesting a hypothetical podium. With the greater top speed available, he believes he can fight in a pack, rather than be a sitting duck. “I feel at one with the bike,” he said. But it wasn’t all rosy. Results made for grim reading for Franco Morbidelli in 19th.


A week before the test, KTM Sporting Director Pit Beirer asserted his men were well on track to fulfill lofty top-three expectations this year. But there was little evidence of that here. Rear grip remains the new RC16’s supreme deficiency. It’s a problem that affects all aspects of performance, particularly corner entry and exit.


“We’re just missing a bit of natural grab from the rear tyre,” explained Binder. “Already peeling into the corner, it wants to come around. And then you go for the gas but it’s already slipping. You keep sliding the whole time.”

There were signs of progress on Sunday as the South African set the ninth fastest time after a respectable Sprint simulation. But progress was stunted by a huge Turn 7 get-off on Sunday afternoon. A black-eyed and probably concussed Binder later said: “This whole off season has been a little bit tricky for us. Everything’s new so we need to start figuring out where to start and which part is touching what we need.” Jack Miller improved his time on the final day by a full second to finish 17th.



There can be no shying away from the predicament in which Honda currently finds itself. New parts – mainly a new chassis and some aerodynamics updates – were quickly discarded by Marquez. A new clutch, believed to aid engine braking, led to a series of practice starts the Catalan described as “dangerous”. And throttle connection and power delivery were also issues across the two days, with Marquez and Joan Mir (Repsol Honda) the second and fourth slowest riders through the track’s undulating final sector.

Yet once Marquez got down to the job of refining set-up on the final day, he wasn’t a million miles away. Improving acceleration is a requisite. And the eight-time champion’s stark assessment that they trailed Ducati to the tune of 0.5sec per lap at the close of day one was reflected in his Sprint simulation on Sunday. But it’s believed the 30-year old was holding something back late on. Bagnaia expects him to be challenging early in the season.


Report Neil Morrison Images GnG