The three-day test at the Malaysian venue provided plenty of indicators as to who has made the biggest leap since 2023, and who could be on the back foot going into the new season.
In the midst of high heat and humidity, double reigning champion Franco Bagnaia set a blistering time of 1m56.682s to top the charts, taking advantage of slightly cooler conditions on Thursday morning to lower the lap record.
His 2023 title rival Jorge Martin ended just under two tenths behind him in second with a time of 1m56.854s, while factory Ducati team-mate Enea Bastianini was just 61 thousandths of a second adrift in third place.
The common denominator in the ‘big three’ was that they were all running identical machinery, the latest-spec GP24 carrying a new engine and aerodynamic package. The fourth rider with access to the same bike, Pramac recruit Franco Morbidelli, suffered a blow to his head in a private test at Portimao last month and won’t return to action until the opening race at Qatar next month.
Apart from the trio, Gresini’s Alex Marquez was the only other rider to break the 1m56s barrier in the test, despite competing on a year-old Desmosedici.
Marc Marquez, Gresini Racing
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
While one-lap pace plays an increasingly larger role in determining the final outcome in a race weekend, long-run speed continues to carry more significance.
On the final day of the test, many riders carried out a 10-lap sprint simulation at Sepang, giving a rough idea of what the pecking order could look like when the season officially gets underway at the Losail circuit next month.
Marc Marquez was only sixth overall in the timesheets come the end of the Sepang test, but over long runs – where he was able to get in a rhythm with the GP23 – he was actually third quickest, behind Martin and Bezzechi but ahead of Bagnaia and brother Alex.
Martin was easily the fastest of the lot and the only rider to dip into the 1m57s in a long run, also recording six laps in the low-1m58s range.
Bastianini was close, but his fastest lap time was a 1m58.019s and he struggled on the ninth tour, dropping to 1m59.380s. In all, he registered six laps in low-58s, two in mid-58s and one in high-58s, in addition to a low-59s flier.
Meanwhile, Marquez completed the sprint with three low, five medium and two high 58s laps, an impressive run given it was only his fourth day of running on Ducati machinery.
Several other riders, including Fabio Di Giannantonio, Aleix Espargaro and Pedro Acosta were also rapid over a long run and can fight for a podium spot based on their current pace in these conditions.
While Marquez played down his chances after Sepang, claiming he is still not on the same level as the top riders following his switch to Ducati over the winter, his long-run pace must sound like an ominous warning to his rivals.
The Spaniard will get two more days of track running at the Losail International Circuit on 19-20 February to further hone his skills on the Ducati, before the new season gets underway on 10 March.