The reigning Moto2 champion is the only newcomer entering the premier class, which is being compressed from 24 to 22 grid places by the loss of Suzuki.
Shortly after winning the intermediate title in a showdown with Ai Ogura, Fernandez returned to the Valencia circuit for his MotoGP debut with Tech3 GASGAS at the post-race test.
After 83 laps, Fernandez was 1.698s behind leader Luca Marini (Ducati), 0.390s from former Tech3 rider Augusto Fernandez (RNF Aprilia) and 0.8s from the next closest KTM of Jack Miller.
“All my life I’ve been dreaming about this first test with the MotoGP,” said Fernandez, who won the Moto2 title in his sixth season but first with KTM Ajo.
“You imagine the power and it’s there! It’s amazing. I’m super happy.”
But the carbon brakes proved just as impressive.
“I was surprised because my [braking] point on every corner is not much different from Moto2,” he said. “You arrive much, much faster but brake more-or-less in the same place. So imagine all the force.”
‘I’m not good on the ride-height device!’
The 25-year-old admitted to being a little ‘shocked’ at all the extra controls he needs to master when given a walkaround of the RC16 the day before the test.
The extra buttons and levers include activation of the ride-height device, which lowers the rear of the bike out of slow corners to help reduce wheelies during hard acceleration.
“Yesterday in the meeting I was a little bit shocked about how many things I had to do and how many new things I had to try. I’m not good on the [ride-height] device!” he smiled. “Honestly I was not activating it on all the laps. Because sometimes I forget. Sometimes it feels strange.
“They say it’s better, but I don’t know how to use it! Because it’s surprises you a lot. Then the bike becomes heavy a little bit and, I don’t know, strange! But I’ll focus on all the rest and then I will focus on the device. But yeah, so many new things and just a learning day today.”
What are the main lessons to take into the winter?
“Many things about riding style because it asks totally different things from how to turn corners, the corner speed, the way to accelerate, the way to pick up the bike and you can play a lot with the body [position],” Fernandez explained.
“I’m quite big for the Moto2. I was always trying to play with the body [position], but as soon as I could I was getting in the [tucked] position for the aerodynamics. That’s still important [in MotoGP], but it’s more about how much you can play with the body to turn the bike, to control the sliding, there’s a lot of things.
“At the beginning, I did longer stints because I wanted to understand the bike and be back in the pit box with some clear ideas of anything and then with electronics a lot of things about electronics,” the Spaniard continued.
“Because in Moto2 you focus on springs, shocks [for set-up]. Today we just changed one spring because our base was not for me, but then we focused on electronics and we tried also the traction control – taking out traction control, more power, less power.
“Just feeling things to know how everything works and what I prefer also with the bike. [We tried] many things!”
Only a handful of riders did more than Fernandez’s 83 laps, which equated to over three grand prix race distances.
“I was not thinking about laps, we were just doing runs and runs and runs and when we arrived to 83, the team said ‘woah, 83 laps is not bad!’ I feel good, but for sure [at the next test in] Sepang it’s going to be more demanding physically.”
Fernandez insisted he also hadn’t set a lap time target.
“I didn’t put any expectations on lap times. Because honestly, I didn’t know how I was going to feel. But 1.6s from first I think is good for the first day. And I’m happy.”
‘I need to start from zero’
Joining Fernandez in the all-new 2023 Tech3 line-up is Pol Espargaro. Like Fernandez, Espargaro made his MotoGP debut with Tech3 (then using Yamaha machinery) back in 2014 and is returning to KTM machinery after two seasons at Repsol Honda.
“The good thing is we have Pol on the other side of the box and, even if I was slower than him, I’ve been comparing to him all day and I had a little chat with him at lunch,” said Fernandez.
“There are some things I’m already good at, which surprised me, but a lot of things I need to work on. As I said, what MotoGP needs from the riding style is very different from Moto2.
“So I need to start from zero, like getting a new riding style.”
Fernandez now has until the Sepang Shakedown test, in early February, to let his world title success and new MotoGP future sink in.
“After the race, I didn’t stop. So it’s good now to have some rest to realise what has happened; becoming world champion and a MotoGP rider. I still can’t believe it! So I’m looking forward to having some rest and realising everything.”