The Suzuki garage was one of contrasting fortunes at Phillip Island as Aleix Espargaro was left scratching his head after repeated set-up changes failed to grant him front-end feel and left him languishing 17th on the time sheets.
While team-mate Maverick Viñales was fastest on two of the three days and second on the other, Espargaro repeatedly changed the geometry and length of his machine to cure the lack of grip offered up by Michelin's front tyre. And all to no avail.
The 26-year year-old was adamant that Suzuki's GSX-RR was much improved, with the '16 engine offering higher top speed and seamless upshift transmission providing “better confidence”, yet the times never came.
Furthermore, Espargaro fell twice on the final day – once at turn four, once at turn six – to compound his misery and led him to label the feedback given by the front tyre “a disaster”.
“It was not a good day again,” began the Suzuki man, who had previously called the first shakedown of 2016 at Sepang 'the worst test of my life.' “I felt uncomfortable with the bike. Unfortunately we were not able to find a good setting to push. We worked really hard during the day with the bike. We changed the geometry a couple of times. Nothing changed for me, for my feeling.
“I pushed and tried my best but I crashed twice. It was not the best day. It sounds strange but the bike is better. The engine is better. The seamless gives us better confidence. I don't know, I felt really bad this test. We tried a lot of things. My guys did a great job. After two crashes they worked really hard to get me back on track but it was not my day.
Pushed to offer an explanation for his struggles, Espargaro pointed toward the unique nature of Phillip Island's surface and layout as reason for placing 1.067s off his team-mate's fastest time of the test.
“I don't know. This track is so different than the rest of the tracks. It's really fast. You almost don't use the front brake. I couldn't put weight on the front and I felt mo grip at all. Obviously the disadvantage is not unbelievable. We are not at two seconds. The pace was about half a second slower than the top ten guys but I'll just try to forget this test and try to understand our setting, understand what happened today so we can be more competitive in Qatar.
“[There was] No grip at all. We tried everything with the geometry of the bike. We put a lot of weight on the front. We tried to make the bike longer, higher. Everything. I was risking too much and my times were really slow. I crashed two times. In the last half an hour we decided not to go on track again. Obviously for the next test the most important thing is to gain grip on the front.”
The elder of the Espargaro brothers left Sepang stating improvements were needed with the 2016 chassis, along with a general ironing out of electronics issues. Engine braking in particular was causing him repeated headaches.
Yet in Australia, both issues had been ironed out. The Catalan admitted his feeling with the bike was much improved only for the feeling offered by the rubber beneath him his continual undoing.
“It's strange but we like a lot the '16 frame. Actually it's the one I like the most. It's the one the Maverick like and he didn't like it in the Malaysia test. But for me this test I would really like to forget everything from this test so in Qatar I will retry both bikes because I was so slow. It's better to retry everything there.
“The engine braking and the electronics were better here. The guys, step-by-step are getting used more to the electronics. Also the engine, the seamless was smoother than Malaysia. I like the bike. The only thing was the front feeling was a disaster. That was the negative thing.”
Espargaro leaves Australia hoping this performance was a one off and is hopeful Qatar will confirm the positives he encountered here over the three days.
“The only thing is that Suzuki did a great job with the engine. The engine performance is better. This gives me really good confidence. We need to recheck in Qatar when everyone will be on the track with the top speed.
“The feelings are better and also the seamless gives us better feeling. It's very strange. I feel fantastic with the bike in terms of engine and seamless but with the Michelins at the moment I'm struggling.”