Reigning world champion Marc Marquez marched up the timesheets to a close second place on the final day of the Sepang MotoGP test.

Ninth and tenth on the previous days, the Repsol Honda star sliced almost one-second from his lap time to be faster than everyone but Movistar Yamaha's Maverick Vinales.

But Marquez made clear his priority was on consistency rather than outright pace,

"It is difficult to understand what is [the real situation, from the best lap times] - I think it is more about the rhythm, because in one lap we had some extra soft tyres that some riders used and some did not," said Marquez, just 0.138s behind Vinales.

"Also I scarified a time attack in the last hour to make a kind of long run of eleven laps, to understand more and have more information."

As has been the case throughout this week, the Spaniard's main focus has been the new for 2017 'big-bang' style engine, a newer spec of which was available at Sepang.

Honda are very cagey about the engine - they are yet to confirm it has a revised firing order, despite the sound change relative to the previous 'screamer'. But Marquez did give an insight into the difference between the two specifications he tested and why it is difficult to choose between them.

The #93 set his best time on the newest version, but added: "With the other [older spec], I did a 2m 0.4s. But I only made four laps, at midday and with the used tyres... the lap time is really, really similar [for both engines].

"The feeling is that with one bike we are already kind of limited and it is difficult to understand where we can improve. And with the [new] bike we have more torque and I feel that we have more margin to improve.

"But now we need to decide which way we follow: work with [older] one and try to get more power or try to manage the new one."

Making the decision harder is that the unified ECU software is a long way from working in sync with the new engine.

"One of the problems is that we have the base of last year, still. And we must change a little bit. This was the first time that we make three days here with the new engine, from the second or third run on the first day I jumped immediately to the new bike, to understand well and make a lot of laps.

"But yes, the electronics is one of the parts that we must improve more."

Is the need to 'manage' the new engine because it is too powerful?

"No. it's not too powerful, because if you compare with other bikes, still some manufacturers have even more power. So in the end it's the torque delivery, how to manage the corner exit and how to manage the torque on the wheelie side, under acceleration.

"We did a big improvement during these three days here but now we get a lot of information to pinpoint where are the biggest problems and now they have a lot of jobs to do in Japan.

"But during these three days we got better and better. This is most important. We were working a lot on the electronics again, so today was the first day I worked a bit on set-up also."

On paper, Marquez and Honda are facing a similar situation to last year, when they also left the first of three pre-season tests with plenty of electronic and engine gremlins to sort out... but still managed to win the world title.

The five-time champion is clear that he is in a much better situation this time around.

"We are closer, yes," he declared. "Last year we were much further from the top guys and were struggling much more. Last year, I didn't understand nothing. Now we understand and we know where the problems are.

"But also I want to wait for another circuit. Because here in Malaysia is a special circuit, special conditions, really warm. I had the experience in 2015 where I was really fast here and then struggling a lot at the other circuits."

The next test will be at Phillip Island from February 15-17.

"We can take another step, but I know we will finish the three days at Phillip Island still with not our good level. I mean, what we need to do is work step-by-step, try to understand everything well and one of the most important things here is that I was very, very constant.

"But it's true that we need to work a lot on the electronics, and other areas. In Australia I think it's important to fix the big problems and then with the small ones we will work circuit-by-circuit."

Team-mate Dani Pedrosa was fourth fastest on the final day, just 0.210s from Vinales.

Marc Marquez's 11-lap long run:
1. 2m 00.443
2. 2m 00.264
3. 2m 00.395
4. 2m 00.461
5. 2m 00.446
6. 2m 00.417
7. 2m 00.432
8. 2m 00.424
9. 2m 00.291
10. 2m 00.490
11. 2m 00.378

Vinales - who set 13 laps under 2mins, compared with 3 for Marquez - did not do a long run.

By Peter McLaren



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