Having not ridden any kind of motorbike since last November's Jerez test, Cal Crutchlow couldn’t help but smile after setting the second fastest lap time, just 0.082s from Fabio Quartararo, at the Sepang MotoGP test.

"The positive is that I'm still fast. It should really crack all these riders that I haven't sat on a motorcycle since Jerez and I can turn up here and be fast!" grinned the LCR Honda rider, who spends the winter cycling.

"I think my hands look in the best shape compared to everyone else and I feel alright. Tomorrow morning someone might have to peel me off the plane though!

"But it's strange really that I can go away and not really do anything then come back and be competitive, but that's what works for me. Going into the season, I know I still have the speed so that's always positive."

Nonetheless, a quick one-off lap couldn't gloss over the fact that - despite battling with the handling of last year's Honda throughout the season - the 2020 bike appears just as difficult to ride. And in some areas, it feels even worse.

"Doing a fast lap time and finishing on the podium is a different story," Crutchlow said. "Because I'm sure you've seen today there are guys that did some fast laps that might not be anywhere near the podium all year.

"So it was nice for me to open up the lungs, push a little but and I've been on the podium before so I know that I have potential to be there again this year.

"But with the bike underneath me at the moment it seems difficult, the bike's not easy to ride again and we need to improve. We need to work the bike out to be able to work with these tyres.

"We have two different situations going on, I think one is the chassis and one is the engine. And we need to work them both out. The problem is the engine is done basically, so now we need to work our way around that. We'll see."

The biggest problem for the Honda riders is, once again, front-end feel on corner entry.

"I'm happy with the engine on acceleration and in the straight, but not on deceleration," Crutchlow said.

Told that world champion Marc Marquez said the RCV feels similar to last year in the way it is still pushing the front, Crutchlow replied:

"Yeah but it's worse than last year in that area. It's better on the exit of the corner, better in a straight line, but on the entry to the corner I think it's worse than last year's bike and we need to work our way around that.

"Whether it’s with the setting of the bike - which it's not really, so it'll have to be electronically. And then everyone has the same electronics and there's only so much you can do.

"But we'll keep working with Honda. They can see it and they always work on our complaints. Obviously we give them positive comments as well. But to make a bike better and make me faster they work on the complaints and they'll continue to do that for me, Marc and Alex. And Taka, but he's in a bit of a different situation and programme."

Given the lengthy parts list for Crutchlow to try at Sepang, the ongoing handling difficulties are not due to a lack of effort from HRC.

Nonetheless, the #35 hopes there will be further new chassis parts for the final test in Qatar where he also wants to "retest some of the stuff that I tried here.

"Qatar's a really good place because it really emphasises good points and bad points. It's one of those tracks that has everything, really tight corners, really fast corners. A long straight. Hard braking. So hopefully we can come to some conclusions there."

Otherwise, it'll be down to the Honda riders to make the difference.

"The riders have always been the ones that have to make the difference in Honda," Crutchlow said. "You have to ride around it and that's it. And learn how to ride and deal with the situation you have underneath you. That’s why when we get a good result it's more rewarding I feel, honestly."

Crutchlow was the only Honda rider in the top eleven on the final day although Marc Marquez was only +0.423s from Quartararo, in twelfth, during his return from shoulder surgery.

Younger brother and rookie team-mate Alex Marquez was 16th (+0.693s) and Nakagami, also recovering from a shoulder operation, in 22nd on the 2019-spec bike (+1.511s).

 

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