MotoGP™ pre-season testing is often difficult to read, as one team's program may not necessarily be on the same wave length as another's. Moreover, there are riders at different stages of their careers – from new guns to those who are just starting to feel at home, and old stagers like Valentino Rossi who have been through the process for over a decade and know the real business is yet to begin.
However, what testing does is start to build a solid form guide, and three days of pre-season action at Phillip Island from February 15-17 has provided more information about who is likely to be at the front when the championship commences in Qatar on March 26 – well, we think, as the Victorian venue is very specific with its requirements compared to other circuits.
New Movistar Yamaha signing Maverick Vinales is more than likely to be a round one heavy-hitter after setting the fastest time at Phillip Island (1:28.549) – after also topping the timesheets at Sepang a few weeks back – as well as reigning world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda, 1:28.843) and Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda, 1:29.033).
Two of the next three riders were rookies, with Jonas Folger (Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, 1:20.042) and Alex Rins (Ecstar Suzuki, 1:29.103) sandwiching Briton Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda, 1:29.101) who won at Phillip Island in 2016.
Ducati factory riders Andrea Dovizioso (1:29.248) and Jorge Lorenzo (1:29.342) were next, and then Aussie Jack Miller (Estrella Galicia, 0,0 Marc VDS Honda, 1:29.358).
Lorenzo continues to build speed nicely on his new Ducati, so much so that Aprilia rookie Sam Lowes told www.motogp.com.au after the Phillip Island test that he reckons the three-time world champion will win the opening round in Qatar as the Ducati performs so well on the desert venue. So everything isn't as cut and dried as it seems…
Here are five things we learnt from the Phillip Island test:
1. Jack Miller is finally in charge
The laconic Queenslander, now fully fit after the woes of 2016, reckons he's "now in charge of his bike" and not the other way around. "These three days here at Phillip Island have been really positive for us. We came here to confirm what we learnt in Sepang and we've done that, so we know our base set-up works at two very different tracks and I'm confident it will be the same in Qatar at the final test. It's now just a case of refining what we have to find the final few tenths we're missing."
2. Marquez is a data fiend
So much so that his team presented him with a magnifying glass on the final day to find his own data issues! The five-time grand prix champion took it all in good humour, but he's obviously not leaving any stone unturned as he edges closer to the start of his title defence.
3. Folger is fast
Jonas Folger is making a great fist of his first MotoGP™ pre-season, and currently has the edge over his more highly credentialled teammate Johann Zarco. Could the notoriously unpredictable German have found his true calling in the premier class?
4. Rossi's not tearing it up – but does it matter?
Valentino Rossi was only the 12th fastest at Phillip Island, and says the test was "more difficult than one at Sepang". But how many punters believe the Italian will be languishing outside the top 10 at the season opener?
5. The 2017 Aprilia looks like the real deal
Aleix Espargaro (Aprilia Racing Team Gresini) was 10th fastest at Phillip Island on the 2017 version of the Aprilia, which looks like the real deal after the Spaniard also performed strongly at Sepang. Two years of development for the Piaggio-owned brand may be on the cusp of bringing some strong rewards.