Honda's Depths Of Despair - Why HRC Is So Far Behind, And How It Can Catch Up Again

In case you were wondering how things have been going at Honda, after 13 races Marc Marquez is currently the best-placed HRC rider in the 2022 MotoGP championship. Marc Marquez is in 15th place, with 60 points, Takaaki Nakagami is 16th, with 45 points, Pol Espargaro 17th, with 42 points, and Alex Marquez 18th, with 29 points. After the next race at Misano, the 14th race of 2022, Marc Marquez is still likely to be the best placed Honda rider.

And to refresh your memory, that is the same Marc Marquez who raced the season opener at Qatar, then highsided himself to the moon in Indonesia, and missed that race and Argentina, then competed from Portimão through to Mugello, where he revealed that the humerus in his right arm had healed with a 30° rotation in it, and he had to have a fourth (and almost certainly last, whichever way it turns out) operation on the arm to straighten it out before he can compete again.

So not only has Marc Marquez missed 7 of the 13 grand prix this year, but in the ones he did compete in, he was effectively riding with one arm. And yet he is still top Honda.

Are his stablemates so bad? Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez are both Moto2 champions, and both have podiums in MotoGP. Takaaki Nakagami has two grand prix victories to his name (in Moto2), and a total of 14 podiums (all in Moto2). These three are no mugs, as the English expression has it. Espargaro was fastest at the Mandalika test and finished on the podium with the Repsol Honda at Qatar this year.

Clearly, the 2022 Honda RC213V is a difficult proposition. Espargaro's podium remains the only one for Honda so far this year. There might have been a second, had a sensor not become dislodged when a mechanic removed the tire warmer from Marc Marquez' bike on the grid at Austin. But you know what they say about ifs and buts...

The problems are evident to the opposition as well. Andrea Dovizioso passed both Stefan Bradl and Pol Espargaro in the race at the Red Bull Ring, and could see how much they were struggling. Bradl was riding well, Dovizioso said, but he was still not back up to speed as a full-time racer, rather than a test rider.

But the same could not be said for Pol Espargaro. "I think Pol has lost confidence, and he's not able to use the potential of the bike." Dovizioso remarked, referring to his own difficulties adapting to the Yamaha. "He's like me. I'm not able to use the good point of the bike and he's struggling a lot on the bad point of the bike. This is the final result at the end of the race."

Espargaro acknowledged he just couldn't find a way to ride the bike and be competitive. "It was a painful race," the Spaniard said. "It was very difficult. I've been struggling all the race with the traction, to stop the bike I had some problems on the brake. Together with some arm pump because of these problems, I'm riding very slow."

He was not just slow, he wasn't riding the Honda as it needs to be ridden, Espargaro admitted. "Actually, I'm not riding well at all because of all these problems and because I feel I'm not fast, I'm not riding fast and at the moment I'm struggling to ride this bike. But the thing is that actually we all are struggling and with this situation I feel I'm struggling more than the others. It's a difficult situation."

Clearly, there are problems with the bike. That is understandable, perhaps: the 2022 Honda RC213V is a completely new machine built from the ground up, and bears little or no resemblance to the bike HRC have had in competition up until the end of 2021. Looking at other manufacturers who have done the same, Yamaha took a year to iron out the issues with the new bike they introduced in 2020, which was a much smaller change. And Aprilia have taken two years of problems with their new bike to finally become competitive enough to challenge for a championship. This was always going to be a hard year.

But HRC are not used to struggling like this. They seem to be powerless to find ways to make the bike competitive. They have brought new chassis, new swingarms, new aero and yet the Honda riders still regularly struggle to get into the points. HRC is taking action, but it is hard to see whether that action equates to progress.

At the Red Bull Ring, Marc Marquez spoke to the press at length. His words were laden with portent, something made even more ominous by the storm which descended in the middle of his press conference and which threatened to rip the roof off the HRC hospitality. It failed, but it was enough to put the fear of Gaia into the assembled media, as well as the normally fearless Marquez himself.

Marquez was very clear about Honda's situation, however. "Obviously you see that Honda HRC is in a difficult moment. Not only one rider, all the riders, and when all the riders are in a difficult moment it means that the project is not in its best moment," he told us.

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I'm very curious on the impact of sprint races in each team's organization, given the different approaches taken by European and Japanese manufacturers.

I understand the cost vs benefit of testing and racing, but even for independent teams, which are in most cases new rider sources to official teams, testing may have some impact. Maybe not so much for the team, unless they are changing to another manufacturer, but for their riders. In terms of sponsors, it may be more or less the same thing, unless Dorna would change how different stages of the rider pack are shown to (paying) viewers.

Sometimes it would be nice to broad the image range and see more battles in the top 15, for instance.

that Honda and Yamaha didn't mind alternating Championship wins year to year. "Good for the sport".

This was back in the 80's, Gardner/Lawson/Spencer, when they were clearly Kings among peasants. Even the gorgeous Cagiva C593 in the capable hands of Eddie Lawson wasn't really taken that seriously.

Of course it's nearly 4 decades later, and we don't know how the Japanese Management has changed, just that it surely has. The spread of lap times has become compressed, and the field has grown much closer. Ducati has shown, with eight bikes in the field, that they are very serious about things. Can the Japanese match it, or surpass it? We'll see.

Great article, David.

Just great analysis. On the testing front - agree that the Ducati testing approach seems to work well overall and is certainly the best adaptation to the current regs. And the Pramac in season testing for the factory team seems to have worked well for a number of years. My however thought is that it is evident that over fiddling consumed the factory team (at least) with Ducati actually apologising to Pecco for excessive uncertainty with the red bike. The funk that Pecco and arguably Miller ended up in really did seem to affect the first half of both rider's seasons.  That said though - Ducati do seem to have an actual plan to develop their ride and even though that entails some risk and adjustment sure seems to beat the Honda idea of rolling out the same genuinely uncompetitive and ornery package round after round. To be as static as Honda is surely the reason for Marc's concern for the very long 'moment' in which HRC finds itself.

Great article, and so much food for thought!

If the MotoGP Sprint races didn't have to use "allotment motors," that the factor could use experiments "parts" and enjoy a faster learning curve.  Actual race conditions.

Since most MotoGP riders come from moto2 and Moto3, the factories and teams might be helped by having those riders doing testing.

Yes, both Honda and "The Tuning Fork Company" have other efforts that reflect on the budget, so it is possible we might soon see NO Japanese manufacturers in MotoGP.  Can you imagine how good a piano Yamaha could build with there testing and design funded by their MotoGP budget ?

 

Cheers, Scott

 

Gigi has made a ton of progress in building a true bike that's worthy of winning the championship but he's been with Ducati since 2014(?)... at what point do you think that Ducati top brass will be looking for a MotoGP championship instead of the eternal 2nd place and decide to cut him loose?? 

 

Next year they'll have 50% of the grid so I guess it's a matter of 2 or 3 years before we see Ducati on the top step at the end of the season...

but you don’t sack Adrian Newey because Mercedes won everything for years.

Consistent application of exceptional and focused innovation both structurally and individually is where the sport is seeing development. Sacking Gigi would be the most Ducati move ever I guess, but you’re wrong, he’s the pivot around which their fortunes changed. They are now the beating heart of the series the way HRC used to be, I would argue that they’re the world leaders in performance motorcycle development at all levels and they’re about to get a massive head start on the future of this sport we all love, think of all the development work that Mugen did for the zero-tt and it’s Ducati that get the call?! HRC dropped the ball on that contract.
 

Every other manufacturer apart from KTM are just playing at motorcycles through some myopic corporate atavism, it feels like HRC and Yamaha basically stopped giving a crap about ICE motorcycles when they had their electronic control development programs outlawed overnight. Ducati are dragging them all, kicking and screaming, towards the future and Dall’igna is the cosmic centre of that movement.

Having written all that it’s a dead cert that he parts ways with Corse at the end of the season over artistic differences… 🙄

 

I think they've learnt what to do. Don't mess with the factory team, mess with the Pramac team. The factory bikes take the benefit of Pramac's work without the inevitable losses. The Pramac team in this role finds itself with huge levels of technical support, always the latest kit and occasionally, for a weekend or two, superior kit. Not a bad deal.

It looks like HRC needs to hire a Dall'Igna, Rivola type to revamp the structure of the racing department. If HRC would even consider that idea, if their corporate hierarchy would allow it, if it is even possible. Hey! Maybe they could poach Gigi...

To be honest I think they know what they do very well. They just went awol running to the hills when Marc got hurt. They don't need a new HRC they just need to return to what they do best.

I can see that. Unsure if The Marc will ever return, HRC revolutionizes the RCV in an attempt to build a bike that other riders can win with. But Bradl's opinion that communication and logistics have been hampered by the pandemic resonates more deeply in me.

The (what will it be called?) RNF Post Aqua Raz 2nd Aprilia Team just nailed down Oliveira (hooray) and Raul Fernandez (boo).

Interesting developments.

Ogura must be about to be announced for Idemitsu LCR too. 

The 2nd Gas Gas Tech3 seat? Moto2 second running rider Augusto Fernandez. Hmm, time to start checking him out. (Poor kid! Next meat for the Orange grinder?)

Hey Mutterrers and David, when is the new Michelin front tire arriving? I can't find news. It is long over due. I think I remember a timeline in an interview here w a Michelin staff saying next yr? Grazi

Apart from thanks for this news I must say I couldn't agree with you more. You have a very humane take on these things. Pleased for Olivera and amazed at the choice of Raul. If one goes over every session this year, Remy has outpaced Raul, what 90% of the time? Olivera rejecting the late offer from KTM says everything really. I had a boss once who, whenever some stuffed up, would just sum up the situation by saying 'And that folks, is feedback.' So Olivera rejects second breakfasts and the bloke who wanted a guaranteed factory seat goes to second string Aprilia and both say goodbye to KTM - and THAT'S feedback. 

Hi Tony, thanks for your kindness. What do you think of these?

1 point separates Ogura from A.Fernandez. So little! Both deserve seats...but not more than Remy? Then again, deserving a KTM is sounding like an insulting curse.

MotoGP 2022 Championship is between Quartararo and Bagnaia. Bagnaia has momentum now. He finishes the calendar very strong as we saw last yr. The Ducati is MUCH better than the Yam. 

But what about A.Espargaro you say? 2nd best bike on the grid, but his season has stalled. Dropping back. 

Pecco is 12 pts behind Aleix for now. 2 races tops, and he is in 2nd I reckon. Currently down 44 pts on Quarty. Plenty of pts up for grabs. 175 in fact. 

15 Rounds behind us, 7 Rounds to go. It will be close? I say yes, and Pecco takes it. You?

:)

 

I think that both A Fernandez (who seems to give off more mature vibes than his elder...) and Ogura both deserve to go up. And yet in the upheaval of this year maybe they need to wait. Fact is that neither were anywhere as dominant as Remy and Raul last year so their cases are not as strong, IMHO.

To your point about the quality of the MotoGP era and the competition between FQ, Pecco B and A Espargaro - I agree we have been SO fortunate. Can I say that the anxiety attacks from many of the mutterers about the tech direction of the sport and the 'great overtaking issue' are only happening because so much of the racing and the generally brilliant riding has been so bloody good. Much better that we keep this discussion going to keep the pressure on to maintain the good bits. but we also need to take the brilliant action into account and carpe diem the crap out of it.

I think that Aleix has dropped a little and he has been banged up a few times this year, and I reckon that counts in the end.

For mine, even on Pecco's current form, Fabio is going to earn enough points often enough to win the whole damn thing. The counter argument is that the red Ducati is still improving and Pecco is now mentally dialed right in. I can hear that Crafar bloke in my head saying 'racing is cruel...' meaning something unexpected will happen, but lets hope these guys decide the matter upright and on the black stuff.

 

Sorry to butt in here but neither of them are ready or good enough for GP seats. The moto2 field is constantly thinned out for the sake of promotion and hasn’t had any depth for years, a period of stability to fill the ranks in the feeder class and allow the next generation to exhibit the skills and maturity necessary to warrant a GP berth might be the solution to the paddock’s perceived problems instead of knee jerk sensationalism.
“GotTa Hire yunG taLent!” “ThE FronT TyrE is All wRong” “AerO iS Ruining rACing!” “BaN riDE HeIGht dEvicES!”

I think we are all guilty of forgetting just how optimised the sport has become and also that the current winners are still at the beginning of their careers. Maintaining a safe gap at the front is easily the least chaotic way to win a race, you can focus on your riding and pace, it’s only sadistic psychopaths like marc and ‘tino who relish the chaos of battle and back themselves in a knife fight that they started, Pecco is the new Lorenzo, commitment to pace, consistency and tyre management above all else, that’s what’s making the racing appear processional. I posit that we have been a couple of stronger starts from FQ and about 2 extra days of winter testing away from some incredible racing. Mugello and Jerez we were inches away from seeing the two new lead protagonists go wheel to wheel for the win. The wash out for testing meant the beginning of the season was nonsense and massively hampered HRC, by proxy damaging MM yet further, but we’ve now seen the order crystallise and the narratives are building for a strong season finish.
 

Everyone needs to chill out, MM back next season, FQ and PB about to go super saian; sprint races, hiring yet more occaisional lower class race winners, rule changes etc. are not going to improve anything. A new front tyre when so little testing is available is guaranteed to favour one team over everyone else. The sport is in a chaotic cycle, it happens sometimes, adding more and more variables is not going to stabilise the system.

A very thoughtful and well argued piece ehtikhet - please consider my perspective suitably informed.

Ogura is staying in Moto2 next year, as he requested, so i think he'll be heading to MotoGP the year after as i don't think they wanted a rookie next to Rins (a Honda rookie :-)  ) so Nakagami has had a stay of execution...

Fernandez hasn't shown anything except a titty lip this year, he was touted as the next Marquez but has been the exact opposite.

Torakusu Yamaha was a Japanese businessman and entrepreneur known as the founder of the Yamaha Corporation. Yamaha was the first Japanese manufacturer of the reed organ and established Nippon Gakki Co Ltd in Hamamatsu to produce organs and other musical instruments including pianos and harmonicas, from Wikipedia.

Torakusu Yamaha built a harmonium in 1888.

In 1955, the success of the YA-1 resulted in the founding of Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., splitting the motorcycle division from the company.

Yes the two are separate as far as I know. But they grew from the same roots. There is a book "Yamaha" by Ted Macauley. (TT fan) that records a lot of Yamaha history.

I have owned and raced a few. My RZ250K got me out of D grade.

If you only look at results, it really seems like it's not the bike, it's the rider. Rossi proved this back in 2004 swtiching from HRC to Yamaha. Stoner proved this giving Ducati their title, Marquez proved this by winning all those titles for HRC, and Yamaha proved this winning with Quatararo on what seems to be a bit of a dog. Now Ducati is proving this by building the best bike, but without a generational talent, who is fit, at the top of their game and happy, they can't win.

Gigi can build the finest motorcycle the world has ever seen, but if Bagnaia, or Batianini, or Martin, or whoever, doesn't make the step, or if Domenicali fires the rider before they are able to take that step, they can't win.

Peco has five wins so far this year. Could very well finish the year with 10 wins or more. Fairly sure he will end the season with more wins than any other rider. However, at the end of the season people will not say it's the rider, they will say it's the bike. The only other Ducati with any wins is Enea on a GP21.

50% of all race wins in 12 months.

Lets not forget his debut win was last year and will be considered one of the greatest wins of all time against a raging MM at the track where they named a corner after him. He won an epic duel with a god king and has been on a kill streak ever since, 3 clear days of dry testing preseason and the start of this campaign would have looked very different. 

I’m not sure what’s driving the disparagement, is it because FM is having such a dreadful year and commentary won’t shut up about FQ riding extremely well “on a shit bike” but Pecco is legit. In all the chaos of the current class he and FQ stand alone at the top of the pile, we are yet to see the two of them engaged in true combat as the rivalry is still in the courtship phase. They've been playing time trial thus far, but it’s coming: Misano could be the perfect place for a proper duel. 
 

 

Peco's first win was a nice fight. We've seen many as good and some better but nice nonetheless.

I don't think wet weather hurt Peco's pre-season anymore than it hurt other riders and teams. Fabio's early season was not stellar either and he was riding last years bike apparently. Gigi admitted they messed up the early season by not being ready. I do think that a few extra days of testing might have helped but there is always 'a few extra days' that would help. The start of the first race is a known. You have to be ready for that date. If you cannot finish your planned work by that date then you need a position you can fall back on. Or, you can continue the planned work during the race weekends and risk the results. They fell back to a stable position somewhere between round 3 and round 5.

Beyond the first 5 races Peco has only himself to blame. After round 5 he was -38 points. He went on to reach a -91 point position. It is possible that a better early season would not have left Peco in a position where he needed to win everything but the reality was that he didn't need to win everything. The failure to understanding that is not the result of the first five races. Or, he was just racing as racers do, of course he wants to win everything. Which also means he simply messed up which is what he has said.

Fabio is riding the wheels off that Yamaha. He should be, he has apparently had a season and a half riding the same bike. The season is far from over and I'm actually quite optimistic for Peco's chances. If Fabio wins this title it is not only a tribute to his obvious talent but also a nice win for a well run team and a bike that delivered, on average, better performances than the latest slightly chaotic revolution.

I do think Ducati has learned a lesson this season. They can 'go at it' because there's no point finishing at all if you finish 30 seconds behind. They can also not 'go at it' because there is a point to finishing 5 seconds behind. That is the very large advantage of having 8 bikes. Not so much the volume of data but the ability to partition their efforts.

Checa finished 2003 as the leading Yamaha in 7th and in 2004 finished...7th. The bike might have improved though as Melandri finished 2003 in 15th but jumped up to 12th for 2004. I can't remember if they all had factory support or not but there was a big difference between Rossi's bike and the other Yamaha riders something like an extra 500cc...must have been something like that. It's easy to forget but in those years there really was no question who was the best rider on the grid because there was only one candidate.

The passive aggressive dance between Marc and HRC is finally approaching its summit. 

At one stage Honda had a public whinge about paying Marc to sit at home to the point where he publicly offered to send them his salary back, which they then publicly declined. One and a two and a three.

Radio silence from the Marquez bunker. HRC openly frustrated. Dorna and the fans stuck in the middle.

They bump his brother down to LCR from the factory squad for Pol, blowing up the "dream team".

The bike repeatedly sent both Marc and Pol into orbit and very nearly with serious consequences. Those high sides in 2021 were really violent and often up past 150km/h++.

<insert "return of vision problems"  and more sitting and Puig dodging journalist darts every meet>

This year the bike is worse and started spitting them off again. Honda end up publicly accepting that it's their fault and apologise, and state that they've fixed the NASA issue.

Marc sits again because of it - vision problems. Comes good after watching the next round from home and Pol didn't Peter Pan into the fence.

Dumps Alex for another Alex. Worst bike on the grid by far. Then sign MIR of all people. Once the deal is essentially signed, Marc comes back and makes very loud statements about "they've got two years to give me what I want", "they need to turn this whole project upside down and shake it" and now firings and hirings starting to play out.

Shots fired. The honeymoon is over and Ducati are playing their hand by putting themselves (and their chequebook) in play for another 30yo GOAT signing in 2025. Giving Alex a seat and support has planted the seed, and it if it bears fruit.. Buckle up. 

<you are here>

How does this one play out? I'm impatient so someone needs to read the tea leaves and fill me in ASAP! 

Possums on the roof at 430 had me up, a nice strong brew and rant before the sun came up and the new goat twins (Casey &  Marc) needed a lift down for their daily mowing chores.

Mutterers will mutter. 

"Yamaha sell a lot of motorcycles, but also a lot of jetskis, outboard motors, and other marine products (and that's leaving aside the musical division)."

Don't forget Yamaha's audio electronics brand. They've got very good signal processing people working for them.

Bradl has been Honda's test rider through the development of the new bike and given MMarquez's absences and the absence of anyone else except Nakagami to give feedback he must have some responsibility for the new bike not performing. Or did his feedback not get to Japan or was misinterpreted.

You have to wonder whether Honda have lost the knowledge and ability to develop competitive machines that don't require a superstar rider to perform. I can't think of any road race series where a Honda is the bike of choice.

Very little experience in MotoGP and none outside of Honda.
Also traditionally a calculated learner who adapts slowly to new bikes.
Maybe Triumph engined Moto2 might be an exception.

I do question if he ever sits there and ponders how he managed a dry second place on last year's bike and why he has never been able to replicate that speed.
It will be fascinating to see him on a Ducati with lots of previous data and other similar bikes to compare with

Alex won the moto3 title in his 3rd year. He won the moto2 title in his 5th year.

Marc Marquez won the 125cc title in his 3rd year. Fabio never won a moto3 race. Peco won two moto3 races in his 4th year but never won the title. Bastianini won a total of three moto3 races in 5 years. Took Brad until his 6th season to win a moto3 race (1st season only 5 races in 125cc), won the title that year. Pol, 5 wins in 4.5 seasons.

Mir, zero moto2 wins. Brad 8 wins in 3 seasons, no title. Franco got his first win and the title in his 5th year...etc etc.

Fun fact. Career wins, Alex is currently tied with Fabio and Mir on 12 wins each.

When they label a rider as some sort of calculated learner what they actually mean is, not +/- 1 year a Rossi blueprint. One season learning, win next season, move up. I actually remember Alex being a maniac in 2017. The two VDS bikes, Franco, very Doohan like...Alex busting shapes before a moment, into the grass or on his ass. He was very fast that year too. If Alex went on to win the MotoGP title he would be only the third rider in the modern era to win a title in three categories. There's not many riders who win a title in at least two categories...Alex Marquez, Marc Marquez, Mir, Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Rossi, Poggiali, Capirossi, Cadalora, Criville and we're off into the years when riders could race multiple categories with Spencer. I might have a missed one or two.

He's not an 8 time champion but compared to the rest of the grid his qualifications are tip top.

It seems that no matter how much feedback Honda got, from all the riders, they couldn't make a silk purse out of a sows ear.

The bike is a stinker

It's relative.

Pole in Austria was Enea, 28.772.

Taka, 29.39, +0.618, 14th.

Pol, 29.475, +0.703, 15th.

It's uncompetitive in a very tight field.

The field has never been so tight, a couple of seconds covers the whole field, nevermind the top 5!!!

Unfortunately it's just uncompetitive, 1/2mm here and 1degree there could make all the difference...

No idea. Yes a tight field as I say. So if you're HRC sat in 15th, you are trying to go half a second quicker and the bike protests...it's an awful bike. If all the other bikes were a second slower it's suddenly an amazing bike. Reading some of the comments you'd think they'd forgotten how to make a bike. As you say, 1/2 a mm here, 1 degree there could make all the difference but I doubt it because none of us have any idea what the problem is.

We know what a happy Marquez can do on the track. Aragon is a left-hand circuit. If Marquez attends the Misano test and has good sensations, would he consider...

No idea. I'm more interested if the position of his right arm is better on the bike. After riding around for a season and a half without that I think he must be buzzing if it's back to the right angle. Aragon no matter, if the feeling is back to normal...ish...then it means he's back.

He better be there at PI. 

Marquez backing a nasty sounding CBR600RR into the turn and fist bumping the camera while pitting in:

https://www.motogp.com/en/videos/2022/09/01/watch-marc-marquez-is-back-t...

His arm looks straight from here. I don't know...he practiced during a race weekend four days after the first surgery. Four months after the fourth surgery? Sounds like an eternity for a guy has difficulty not racing if at all possible.

Yes, all smiles. Very happy for him, and for us! Now let’s hope for no more moonshots so he can keep his vision in check (Ivanhoe gleefully grinning and rubbing hands together for 2023 season…)

^ Motoshrink following suit. And sooner! He's coming...a damn force of nature. I like him, I miss him. Lots more still to come. And thankfully, post Rossi drama - nice to perceive him separately from any Yellow lens. 

The Marc looks to be turning over a new leaf right now. New Manager. More vocal with demands of Honda for bike improvement. And smiles. 1st counter clockwise track back = win.