Section: Sepang (Malaysia)

F1: Vettel beats Mercedes for first Ferrari win

Sebastian Vettel took his first Ferrari victory at the Malaysian Grand Prix and the first for the team in 35 races after beating Mercedes in a battle of tyre degradation and strategy in the heat of Sepang.

Just two weeks after Mercedes dominated the Australian Grand Prix, Vettel made use of two-stop strategy to beat both Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg in a straight fight. The heat and a well-timed safety car played their part, but it should take nothing away from the drive from Vettel or the new-found performance of the Ferrari.

Kimi Raikkonen underlined Ferrari’s impressive pace by taking fourth despite a puncture on the first lap and fighting back through the field. Williams, meanwhile, struggled in the heat as Valtteri Bottas marked his return from a back injury with a fifth place after passing team-mate Felipe Massa on the penultimate lap. Renault-powered cars rounded out the top ten, although it was Toro Rossos ahead of Red Bulls as Sepang succeeded in throwing up yet another surprise in form.

Hamilton led Vettel away from the start as expected but the race was blown wide open by Marucus Ericsson, who spun on lap four. The resulting safety car opened up strategy options and effectively split the field into two separate races, which would eventually converge in the final stint.

Option one was to pit under the safety car, a strategy adopted by Hamilton and Rosberg, who had to stack in the Mercedes pit box as they came in at the same time. It put them on a three stop strategy, but also delivered them into the middle of the pack for the safety car restart. Vettel and Ferrari went a different way, opting to stay out and make the most of clear air at the front of the field before adopting a two-stop strategy.

Key to Vettel’s approach was being able to look after the tyres, but the Ferrari was capable of the task and Vettel built his lead when racing resumed. By the time Hamilton had emerged from the traffic into second on the road, his hard compound tyres were a little worse for wear and the gap to Vettel was 9.9s. Rosberg was in an even worse position behind as he had to pass both Felipe Massa and Daniel Ricciardo, who were on similar strategies but had got the jump on him in the pits stops under the safety car.

Vettel made his first stop on lap 17 and took on another set of medium compound tyres, which had worked so well for him in the first stint. The stop put him behind the two Mercedes, but he was able to use the pace advantage of his fresher and softer tyres to rein in both Mercedes and pass them on track. As Vettel got past Hamilton into the final corner on lap 24, the Mercedes dived into the pits, although by now it was clear there was a race on as both Mercedes were effectively a pit stop down on the Ferrari and behind it on track.

Now it was Hamilton’s turn to go at a quicker pace than the Ferrari, but to stand a chance of winning he would have to maintain it over the course of the stint and the Mercedes’ hunger for tyres was not willing to allow that. Vettel continued to log consistent times and on lap 37 pitted for the second and final time. He exited the pits behind Hamilton and just ahead of Rosberg, but crucially still had a pit stop in hand over both Mercedes.

Hamilton’s only hope was to be quick on his final set of tyres and haul in the Ferrari. It was a surprise, therefore, that at his final stop he took on the slower hard compound rather than the mediums. On his outlap he radioed to say “Wrong tyre, man”, but the decision dated back to Q1 in qualifying when Mercedes opted to send both cars out on mediums in the first session in order to save hard tyres for the race, presumably in the belief the mediums would degrade too quickly in the heat and the hard would be the tyre of choice. But as Vettel proved, that was not the case on Sunday and so Hamilton had to try to haul in a 15-second deficit to Vettel using the same tyres.

In the end it proved too big a deficit and Hamilton finished the race 8.5s behind Vettel. It remains to be seen whether it was a one-off in the heat of Malaysia or a true reflection of Ferrari’s improvement over the winter.

As an aside, 2014 Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso observed the victory from the pit wall after his first race with McLaren-Honda ended with a technical issue on lap 21. Team-mate Jenson Button retired 20 laps later from 14th position, emphasising the task ahead of the team before it joins the fun at the front.

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F1: Hamilton beats Vettel to pole in the wet

Lewis Hamilton just held onto pole position ahead of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel by 0.074s at the Malaysian Grand Prix as rain played a factor in a tense qualifying session in Sepang.

Nico Rosberg had to settle for third, 0.465s off Hamilton and 0.391s off Vettel, after failing to improve on either of his two final runs. The wet track opened up a slither of hope for Ferrari and Vettel nearly capitalised on it as the Mercedes got in each other’s way on their second runs.

Hamilton was the first to make the most of fresh intermediate rubber and his initial attempt on a new set of tyres stood as the pole position time by the end of the session. Rosberg’s first attempt was not so good and his second lap was then hampered as a Williams exited the pits in front of him at Turn 1. That caused Rosberg to abandon his lap, but in doing so he hampered Hamilton, who was on an even quicker lap behind him.

For Hamilton it made no difference as his first lap was quick enough for pole, but Rosberg dropped to third behind Vettel, who improved late in the session. Daniel Ricciardo managed to take fourth for Red Bull ahead of team-mate Daniil Kvyat and the Toro Rosso of Max Verstappen, as three of the four Renaultp-powered cars took advantage of the conditions. Williams lost out in the conditions after initially going out on full wet tyres before pitting twice again for intermediates. Felipe Massa was left seventh ahead of Romain Grosjean, who also went out on full wets initially, and Valtteri Bottas. Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top ten as he continued to show impressive pace in the Sauber this weekend.

There was only enough time for one slick tyre run in Q2 before the rain came, meaning it was all about positioning at the pit lane exit to get a clean run and qualify for Q3. Vettel enjoyed a clear track at the front of the queue, but his Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen did not and was knocked out after losing time in the final corner behind the Sauber of Ericsson. Pastor Maldonado was also knocked out along with the two Force Indias of Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz, which had looked capable of a better performance based on practice times.

Felipe Nasr dropped out in a dry Q1 in the second Sauber along with the two McLarens and two Manors. Jenson Button managed to beat McLaren team-mate Fernando Alonso, but despite positive signs through the weekend the disadvantage of the detuned Honda power unit left him 0.3s shy of Nasr’s Sauber.

Roberto Mehri was the only one of the two Manors to set a time, but it was 0.4s shy of 107% of the fastest time by Lewis Hamilton, meaning his participation will be left down to the discretion of the stewards. Will Stevens, meanwhile, failed to clock a lap due to a fuel pressure problem, but his FP2 time on Friday would have been quick enough to get within 107% and therefore he is likely to be allowed to race.

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F1: Ferrari pace surprises Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton admits he is surprised about Ferrari’s competitive lap times in Friday practice but thinks he left plenty of time on the table from his own qualifying simulation.

Hamilton beat Kimi Raikkonen’s headline time by four tenths in FP2 but Ferrari continued to show the progress it has made over the winter. Despite topping the session Hamilton admits the pace of Raikkonen had caught his attention.

“The Ferraris look great, they really do,” Hamilton said. “Surprising to see how good their times are and we’ll see how close they are this weekend.”

Hamilton’s day was blighted by a power unit inlet problem in FP1 which carried over into the afternoon session. When he finally returned to the track he jumped to the top of the timesheets immediately but complained about “downgraded” gear shifts and thinks there was more time to be found.

“I know my lap wasn’t spectacular and I think I have some improvements I can make to the balance and the settings, they’re all from the last race so I’m sure we’ll tweak it around.”

The reigning world champion thinks his preparation for Sunday’s race has been hampered by a day of limited running.

“They’ve been pretty heavily compromised. Whenever you lose a session that definitely doesn’t help, as well as half if not more of the second session. The team did an amazing job to re-build the car and I’m very grateful. Just to have got some laps was crucial. Sunday will be hard.

“From my side of things I got a pretty decent lap but I haven’t dialled it in, we haven’t changed any diff settings, we haven’t changed the settings at all so there’s definitely work to do. Fortunately I got a bit of a longer run at the end. But in terms of my set-up I haven’t made any changes so I’m just working with what I have, it’s quite a bit off where we need it.”

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F1: McLaren driver Fernando Alonso to return for Malaysian GP

Fernando Alonso will return to racing at this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix, if he is given the all-clear by doctors, his McLaren team say.

The double world champion missed the season opener in Australia on 15 March to recover from concussion suffered in an accident in pre-season testing.

McLaren said in a statement Alonso, 33, felt his steering go heavy before the crash, which is so far unexplained.

The team will fit the car with an extra sensor to gather data.

McLaren said the decision was made following Alonso’s visit to the McLaren factory last week, when he drove the simulator and went over the data from the accident with the team’s engineers.

“While there was nothing evident in the extensive car telemetry data, nor anything abnormal in the subsequent reconstructions and laboratory tests, Fernando recalls a sense of ‘heavy’ steering prior to the accident,” McLaren said.

“Consequently, the team has fitted an additional sensor to the car, to increase our data capture.

“Fernando is very much looking forward to getting back into the car and making a substantial contribution to our collective efforts with Honda, to accelerate the required improvement to our on-track performance.”

Alonso has decided to fly to Malaysia for the race following medical tests by three eminent doctors at Cambridge University on Sunday.

His manager would not confirm Alonso had passed the tests and McLaren made no reference to them in their statement.

However, the driver was given the all-clear and now faces only the official test by governing body the FIA’s medical delegate and the Sepang circuit’s chief medical officer before being allowed to race.

It is considered highly unlikely that he would fail these having passed the tests in Cambridge, which are also part of the FIA’s programme for drivers returning from injury.

“Since his Barcelona testing accident, Fernando has followed a rigorous, specialised training programme, designed and closely monitored by leading sports scientists, to ensure his safe and timely return to racing,” McLaren said.

Read more at BBC Sport

MotoGP: Sepang Test 2, Day 3: Marquez ends test on top

Reigning MotoGP world champion takes fastest lap on day three ahead of Lorenzo and Crutchlow

Marc Marquez signed off at the second MotoGP test in Malaysia with the fastest time on day three today.

The Honda rider dominated days two and three at the Sepang circuit, the Spaniard followed into second place by Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo and LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow in third.

Marquez was again quick to set the pace early on and while he didn’t equal his track record from the first Sepang test, he eventually set a time of 1:59.115 on lap 13 of a total of 73, the 22-year-old spending the remainder of the day focusing on set-up and chassis comparison rather than further time attack laps.

Lorenzo was also quick to post a time early before the humid conditions got any hotter, the Spaniard 0.322s off Marquez and 0.221s ahead of Crutchlow, who made a leap in improvement today on his RC213V machine.

Ducati’s Andrea Iannone was fourth today with a best lap of 1:59.722, and while Andrea Dovizioso may have finished in 10th today, both Italians were very fast in adapting to the new Desmosedici GP15 over the three days.

Valentino Rossi was not able to match the top three today, the seven times MotoGP champion in fifth just 0.050s ahead of Bradley Smith on the satellite Yamaha Tech 3 machine.

Dani Pedrosa ended the day in seventh place, the Honda rider the final man to break the two-minute mark with his best lap of 1m 59.912s to see him ahead of Open Class rider Hector Barbera for the Avintia Racing team with a stunning time of 2:00.244 good enough for eight place and ahead of the factory machine of Suzuki rider Aleix Espargaro.

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MotoGP: Sepang Test 2, Day 2: Marquez goes quickest

Marc Marquez returned to the top of the timing sheets on the second day of testing at the Sepang circuit.

The double MotoGP champion was the first rider to lap under the two-minute barrier this week, with Jorge Lorenzo also improving by three places today to end up in second and the Ducati GP15 machine of Andrea Iannone in third.

Marquez was quick to get up to speed and was immediately fas, and with the forecast at the Malaysian track predicting thunderstorms for the afternoon, the Honda rider made sure he put in a brace of fast times early on, in which came his time of 1:59.844, with Lorenzo the only other rider to break the two-minute mark with a lap of 1:59.90s.

Despite not being able to match the top two riders’ times, Ducati will be very happy with factory riders Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso, who finished in third and fourth respectively following a last-gasp effort from Iannone late in the day.

Dani Pedrosa (2:00.275) progressed well but could not match the pace of the front men as was the story with Yamaha’s Valentino Rossi (2:00.308) who led early on but fell off the pace later on and end today in sixth place.

Bradley Smith ended the day in seventh place for the Tech 3 Yamaha team, the British rider getting the better of teammate Pol Espargaro today by the tune of three places with Espargaro grabbing the tenth best time today but both riders continue to successfully chip away at lowering their laptimes.

LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow is continuing to adapt to his factory RC213V machine and finished with a best lap of 2:00.509 to see him in eighth today while Aleix Esapargaro continues to improve the pace of the Suzuki MotoGP machine with the ninth fastest time.

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MotoGP: Sepang Test 2, Day 1: Rossi uses new gearbox to full advantage to lead

Valentino Rossi got the first day of the second MotoGP test at Sepang in the best way possible with the Movistar Yamaha rider ending the day in the top position on the timing sheets.

The Italian rider leaped into the lead in the morning and remained at the top for the day.

Rossi was also using a new updated seamless gearbox at today’s test with the seven-times MotoGP champion confirming his initial feelings with the new part afterwards. Rainfall put a stop to any fast laps late in the afternoon leaving Rossi on top with a best time of 2m 0.414s and ahead of Repsol Honda’s Dani Pedrosa and Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rider Pol Espargaro in third position.

“Everybody in our team was curious about the updated gearbox and the first impression is quite positive, so I’m happy,” said Rossi who continued, “It doesn’t make a huge difference, but it’s a small help in a difficult point where we need to improve. The bike is a bit better in braking and corner entry and I think we need to work to understand the maximal potential, but the first test was good. I am happy to finish in the first position because I was in P1 from this morning, so it’s a good first day.

It’s important for us to make some kilometers on the wet. I don’t really like the feeling with the bike on the wet and last year I struggled a bit. We already improved a bit today, but we need to do some more testing and make some more kilometers,” he added.

Pedrosa carried his strong form over from the first test in Sepang at the start of the month and focused today on his suspension and engine mapping settings on his RC213V. The Spaniard ended the day with a best lap of 2m 0.543s and speaking afterward he said, “Today we focused on testing different setups for the bike and I think it went well. We have not tried any new parts, instead confirming our findings with what we had at the last test, even though the track was not perfect. It rained at the end, so we could also ride a little in those conditions. Tomorrow we will continue testing some changes to the setup, to see if we can come up with some improvements that allow us to ride more comfortably.”

Espargaro is quickly marking himself as one to watch this season and the Spaniard was fast from the off today and ended with a best lap of 2m 0.876s on the satellite Yamaha. He said, “I am really happy with the progress that we have made today and to finish in third is a great start to this test. We are continuing to work in the right direction and as soon as we started this morning, I knew that we could be quick. At midday it was already 54 degrees on the ground, which was clearly warmer than the first test where it reached a max of 50 and so we weren’t able to ride as many laps. However, the general feeling for today was that it was productive and we focused on trying different electronic settings.

The information that we collected will be very useful and furthermore, it was very good to run some laps in the rain as well. This meant that we could work on the wet setup and I am really pleased with this especially, as there is a definite improvement. The 2015 Yamaha feels great and I know that if I can ride a bit smoother and adjust my riding style slightly, we can be strong. There are a few more things which we have to study in order to improve, but we cannot rush everything and we must take it all step by step,” Espargaro added.

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MotoGP: Sepang Test Day 3: Repsol Honda duo finish test on top

Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa finished the first three-day test of 2015 on top of the time sheets, with both riders over half a second faster than their closest rival.

This morning during the cooler temperatures, Repsol Honda’s World Champion Marquez recorded the fastest ever time on two wheels around the Sepang circuit with his time of 1’58.867 on lap 8 – of 52 – (beating his own record of 1’59.533 from the 2014 Winter test), as all the riders took to the track in a time attack. In the afternoon, Marquez completed a 20 lap race simulation, and gained valuable data about the current spec Honda.

Pedrosa, whose morning time was just 0.139 off Marquez, also did a 20 lap race simulation in the afternoon – with 10 laps under 2’01 – and fine tuned his settings on his 2015 RC213V in preparation for the next test here in two weeks. He recorded his time of 1’59.006 on lap 11 of 41.

The HRC engineers will now take the data collected from this test back to Japan to analyse and prepare for the second Sepang test, due to take place on the 23-25 February.

Marquez stated, “The truth is that when I saw the time I was surprised, just like everyone else! In any case, I must say that today the track was fast, as we all rode faster than before. I’m glad I was able to set a good lap, but more important is the fact that I felt very comfortable, right from the start. We did a race simulation later on, which also went very well and was perhaps even more important than a single lap. During the race simulation we tested different mapping and in every part we tried different things. The positive is that with the new bike we are already at the same level as in 2014, and there is still plenty of room for improvement. Now I can’t wait for the second test and to see what progress we can make.”

Pedrosa added, “I’m happy with the work we have done today, because we have made progress in some aspects with the rear. There is still room for improvement, but overall we’ve taken some pretty positive steps in this test and I think that’s a very good thing. The team have also integrated well and we have worked very smoothly together, so I’m very happy about that. We did a race simulation in which we tested the bike for the first time in such a scenario. Obviously there are some things to improve but, considering it was the first time, the findings have been pretty good!”

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MotoGP: Sepang Day 2: Lorenzo on top

A 1’59.963 lap by Jorge Lorenzo is the fastest set thus far over two days at the Sepang 1 test, giving the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP rider the boasting rights at the end of another hot workout for the premier class riders.

The day commenced with cooler, cloudy conditions with the pace increasing in the morning compared with the times from Wednesday’s opening day of action. But intense heat and humidity meant during the middle of the day meant the action slowed for a couple of hours before a late flurry of activity in the final two hours of the afternoon.

With the Yamaha factory team evaluating new components and electronics settings in order to improve tyre life Lorenzo and his teammate Valentino Rossi continued to work hard on Thursday. Lorenzo improved by over half a second from his Wednesday best, but Rossi was marginally slower than on day one and finished sixth.

Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso set his best time early in the day on the GP14.3 and remained second quickest throughout the afternoon with a 2’00.015, six tenths better than on day one. Dovi’s colleague Andrea Iannone also picked up the pace in fifth on the same machine, going over a second quicker than he had 24 hours earlier.

MotoGP™ World Champion Marc Marquez finished the day third on the timesheets, working with two bikes and refining the set-up of his RC213V. He was unhurt in a late crash.

On the other side of the Repsol Honda garage Dani Pedrosa is still working with three versions of the RC213V whilst Marquez has narrowed his selection down to two prototypes to test with. Pedrosa ended the day fourth.

Meanwhile Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Pol Espargaro crashed unhurt at Turn 9 towards the end of day two in Sepang, following a light crash on day one. The Spaniard ended up seventh on the timesheet after working on two chassis variations.

CWM LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow is working on rear stability on corner entry and eliminating chattering, tweaking weight distribution and engine braking with the RC213V. He was eighth best, 1.095s behind Lorenzo.

Pol Espargaro’s colleague Bradley Smith was riding through the pain of an ankle injury sustained in training and finished just inside the top ten.

NGM Forward Racing’s Stefan Bradl finished in 11th place again as the top Open rider. Bradl continued to work his settings and understanding the new Open electronics package, though he is still using a 2013 Yamaha engine. A new engine will be delivered before the first race of the year.

Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Team’s Scott Redding also pushed hard on the RC213V factory prototype, finishing the day 14th.

On the second day in Malaysia Spaniard Alvaro Bautista led the way for Aprilia Racing Team Gresini ending up in 17th place. He has decided to discard the current 2015 frame design, judging it to be too rigid and not performing well with the electronics. He prefers the 2014 version which he also rode in November with the evolving pneumatic valve engine.

Suzuki’s Aleix Espargaro is also focusing on chassis development and he was able to improve his best lap from Wednesday by around a second to finish tenth on the Thursday timesheet overall.

Talented MotoGP rookie Maverick Viñales, meanwhile, is lapping as much as possible and working on understanding how to ride a MotoGP bike to its limits on used tyres. He finished 15th fastest, improving his time by well over a second and getting 56 more laps under his belt.

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MotoGP: Sepang Test Day 1: Marc Marquez Fastest

Marc Marquez tops timesheet on opening day of 2015 testing

With 30 riders featuring on track, the full 2015 MotoGP grid were all in attendance other than Pramac Racing rider Yonny Hernandez who should return from injury at Sepang 2. Five test riders from the various factories also gathered data for their respective manufacturers.

Repsol Honda’s double MotoGP™ World Champion Marquez recorded his best time on the 62ndof 63 laps, whilst his teammate Dani Pedrosa was 0.483s behind in fifth place. Pedrosa had a crash late on at turn nine without consequences.

HRC have arrived at Sepang with numerous bikes for the factory riders and their test riders to use – 2014 machines for comparison and 2015 prototypes for development. Marquez’s timesheet-topping best effort was 0.024s quicker than his fastest lap on the first day of testing last year.

In second place on Wednesday was Movistar Yamaha MotoGP’s Valentino Rossi (2’00.380), with the Italian and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo on similar YZR-M1 prototypes to those they tested in November at Valencia. Yamaha continue testing a shorter exhaust pipe, this time featuring a grill covering the air exit, with a view to avoid flame escapes and prevent the entry of gravel and debris.

There was also a special new ‘winter’ helmet for Rossi featuring snowflakes and reindeers, neither of which are likely to otherwise feature at Sepang this week. Lorenzo was third fastest, 0.141s behind Rossi.

Meanwhile Rossi and Lorenzo’s Monster Yamaha Tech 3 colleague Pol Espargaro showed good pace in sixth despite an early light crash as he begins his second year in the premier class. Espargaro’s teammate Bradley Smith lapped further down the timesheet in ninth. Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga also crashed unhurt in the morning.

The new CWM LCR Honda team duo of Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller got down to work with their RC213V and Open spec RC213V-RS packages, finishing the day 10th and 19th respectively. Miller focused on adapting to the Magneti Marelli MotoGP electronics package – the Australian aiming to achieve better performance with traction control, whilst for Crutchlow the test is simply about reacquainting himself with his new factory machine.

Estrella Galicia Marc VDS Team’s Scott Redding also got plenty of laps in on the RC213V factory prototype, finishing the day 11th.

Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso and his new teammate Andrea Iannone used a GP14.3 – an update on the GP14.2 which features some visually different aspects and electronics upgrades. The new Ducati GP15 is due for delivery for Sepang 2, later in February.

Dovizioso was fourth overall with a 2’00.617 best lap time, nearly two seconds quicker than on the same day of action at the same test last year. Iannone tried a new front fairing and finished the day seventh.

The Factory Aprilia Gresini pair of Alvaro Bautista and Marco Melandri (15th and 26th respectively) worked hard on their new machines – with pneumatic valve engines – after test rider Michael Laverty carried out an early morning shakedown on the Italian brand’s evolving prototype.

There was an early mechanical fault for Bautista on new Aprilia and he needed a push from Suzuki test rider Nobu Aoki – who was watching trackside at turn 4 – to get restarted.

Aleix Espargaro appeared not to be held back too much by a knee ligament injury sustained over the winter as he and MotoGP Rookie Maverick Viñales got back to work on the Suzuki GSX-RR. Espargaro ran off without major consequence at one point and ended up 14th – just under two seconds down on Marquez. Viñales lapped just under a second behind his new colleague in 21stplace on the timesheet.

Suzuki also have a shorter exhaust pipe for testing and their factory riders only got started once test rider Takuya Tsuda had given the bike a shakedown early on.

In the absence of Pramac Racing’s Hernandez, Michele Pirro (12th) worked on electronics for Ducati using the GP14.2, whilst Danilo Petrucci (13th) worked with the GP14.1 using Open software.

Avintia Racing’s Hector Barbera (18th) and Mike Di Meglio (23rd) got used to the new Open Magneti Marelli software, as will all the riders using the new electronics package this season. Improvements to traction control and anti wheelie settings should assist the riders with their performances and set-ups.

day1-bradl-fastest-open-rider

NGM Forward Racing pair of Stefan Bradl and Loris Baz (25th) made progress on the Open Yamaha, with German Bradl impressing in eighth overall as the fastest Open rider – 1.294s off Marquez’s pace. Bradl had some electronics issues earlier in the day and was only able to produce a fast time after 5pm.

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