Bradley Smith admits that his MotoGP debut in Qatar next month will be a daunting experience because bad weather has robbed him of priceless time on track to adapt to Yamaha’s YZR-M1 machine.
The Oxfordshire rider completed only 72 laps on slick tyres during the final three-day test in Jerez that was badly disrupted by rain and cold temperatures.
He also lost time on track due to wet conditions in earlier test sessions at Valencia and Sepang and the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team rider says he would be more confident heading to the season opener in Doha next week with a lot more laps under his belt.
Smith finished 13th overall on the Jerez leaderboard with a best time of 1.41.134 leaving him just over a second behind fellow rookie Marc Marquez in sixth position.
The former 125GP winner told MCN: “I don't feel like I’ve had anywhere near enough seat time although I do feel confident that I have adapted quite quickly. We don’t really have a base setting and going into the season that is a little bit daunting but even without the optimum setting we can be inside the top 10, so from that point of view I’m not too worried. But I’d like to be in a bit more of a confident situation than I am now.”
Smith has been using a setting preferred by 2012 Tech 3 star Andrea Dovizioso for the majority of winter testing but he admitted in Jerez that he needed to get closer to the settings used by reigning world champion Jorge Lorenzo and teammate Cal Crutchlow, who was fastest in Jerez.
“We’ve got the same problems here that we had in Sepang and it is clear the direction we have to follow now and that’s to turn the bike away from Andrea’s setting and go more towards where Jorge and Cal are.
I’m riding a much more Yamaha bike now. I tried to change it around in the last few days but I’ve gone back to a more Yamaha bike and I set my best lap time on that. We haven’t done enough laps but to be honest I feel optimistic that we are only a couple of steps away from a base setting and then we can start improving from there, “said Smith.
Explaining why he was finding it so problematic to find a base setting that he's comfortable with on the YZR-M1 that took a clean sweep of the top three in Jerez, Smith said: “Each time I get on the bike at the moment it feels alien, so I try and make it feel more comfortable and then I have to change it back to where it felt alien and it feels right again.
I almost change the bike for the first few days as a confidence setting and then go back to the setting I need afterwards to do the lap time. Hopefully now I’ll get to the point where I feel confident immediately and I don’t have to do this faffing around and changing settings.
The direction is clear and as soon as it is like that the plan can be clearer and we are all working towards the same thing. While you’ve got five paths you are not sure but when there’s one and you are sure, that’s when you start making progress.”
Smith tried to help shorten the huge learning curve he faces in MotoGP this season by tailing Crutchlow, Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi during the brief time he spent on a dry track in Spain.
Following all three had been a valuable exercise and gave Smith crucial pointers on where he needs to adapt his riding style after a two-year spell in Moto2.
The positive was: “Trusting the bike a lot more with the front-end. I followed all three Yamahas this week and I was riding it wrong. The only way to learn is to follow them.”
And what had he learned while in pursuit of three of the fastest men on two wheels on the planet?
He added: “Lines mainly. Some places I thought I was weak but I am not too bad. But it is still basically lines and how they prepare for the corner. I was using a more Moto2 line and I needed to go back almost to a 125 line and being very committed early in the corner.
As soon as I started doing that the setting started to feel right and the lap time started to come. But braking is still my weak point.
It’s a bit of everything like that extra little bit of hesitation in the corner, on being able to brake later and the ability to unleash that last little bit of the Bridgestone tyres. It’s all those small details that will make the difference in qualifying and in the race.
And it’s all those extra little bits where you ride and you’re not a 100% natural that take the energy out of you because you’re having to think that last little split second before you go into the corner, rather than going in on natural instinct. And that makes a big difference over a race weekend.”