Subscriber Interview: The Huge Honda MotoGP Interview - Kokubu-san And Kuwata-san Talk 2017 And 2018

The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Honda's MotoGP program, Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Shinichi Kokubu. Nishimura conducted the interviews in Japanese, and translated them into impeccable English. I then edited them in English for style. Any inaccuracies or errors are therefore mine. - David Emmett

In 2017, Honda achieved the triple crown in MotoGP; manufacturer, team (Repsol Honda Team), and rider’s title (Marc Marquez). Above all, the fierce battle between riders for the championship went on until the final race of the season, which fascinated people all over the world. Tetsuhiro Kuwata, director and general manager of Honda Racing Corporation, and Shinichi Kokubu, general manager of Technology Development Division in HRC, unreservedly looked back how tough their 2017 season was. They also give a frank view of their expectations for the 2018 season, which is already well underway in the laboratories and offices of the HRC race department.

AN: The 2016 season saw very spectacular races with nine riders winning one after another. In 2017, we had another exciting season that the championship battle went on until Valencia. Did you expect such an intense and close championship?

Kuwata In the past, there were many seasons that the championship was decided at the final round of the year so that the hard fight was within our expectations. On the other hand, regarding our performance, it was a difficult year for us because there were ups and downs during the season.

AN: It was the first season for you to manage the MotoGP championship. What was your priority to work on?

Kuwata I set my target to have excellent communication. You know, we always have a good communication all these years, and I tried to make our relationship closer and tighter between each other of us; team, riders, engineers in the racetracks, and development members working in Japan.

AN: How did it work?

Kuwata I think we did it very well. I hope you will see its consequences in this year and next year’s race results.

AN: Did you change something from Nakamoto-san’s days?

Kuwata I don’t think I have changed something in particular, because our target is always making our team and Honda more competitive. It hasn’t changed since Nakamoto-san's days, so I kept on doing this by my approach.

AN: Kokubu-san, in last year’s interview, you said “the 2017 engine is not so-called ‘big-bang’.” Now that the 2017 championship has finished. So, is there anything that you can disclose about the difference between the 2016 and 2017 engine?

Kokubu Yes, the 2017 engine is different, but this bike is the natural evolution of the 2016 one. In 2016, we found a good direction, and we modified the engine to move forward the way we have found. So, I don’t think we have radically changed something on our bike for the 2017 season.

AN: What is the “good direction” you have found?

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Reading it all, I get the impression HRC are much less robotic than we, or I, are lead the believe. The pressure of a must win race at Austin, the humility to admit the defeats at Austria and Japan were the because of the bike; both statements could easily have been distorted by any number of political and automated responses, but thankfully they weren't. Not to mention the appreciation they have for Marquez and Pedrosa is obvious. It's a far cry from the HRC who were cold enough to shun Rossi and for so long seemed to treat riders as interchangeable parts.


To claim they have no appreciation of certain riders.

Nakamoto freely admitted that when Stoner told him after winning the WC for Honda at the Aus. GP of 2011 that he was going to retire at the end of his contract in 2012, that he - Nakamoto - cried. And then offered him the largest contract in Honda's history, to stay on for another year ($15m, I believe).  Placed in the context that Honda had Marquez very well ready to step into Stoner's shoes, that somewhat to my mind negates the 'interchangeable riders' charge. I seem to remember another Nakamoto quote, that 'racing with Casey was so much fun'; however the Japanese are somewhat renowned for being pragmatic and offering $15m seems to me to be more appreciation than just paying for giggles...

However, it's not the first time Honda has expressed an appreciation of a rider.  When Mike Hailwood retired, Soichiro Honda - the company founder - paid him a very considerable sum of money to NOT ride for any other manufacturer.  Mike was a fabulous, legendary rider, but was absolutely known for his mechanical ineptitude, so one could assume that Soichiro was not afraid that Mike could take Honda engineering 'secrets' away...  just that Soichiro knew that if Mike threw his leg over any other manufacturer's bike, he could turn it into a winner.



My favorite part illuminates the Japanese mindset. You can elude to more while sticking to your honorable competitive regence. Respectful of Ducati as a competitor now with the strongest acceleration/speed. Also demanding respect rather than have to say they adopted a Yamaha signature engineering feat. The new must honor the old. And acknowledge their current primacy. And the changes made for the organization sounds lifted right from Gigi! Interesting. Re the engine -

"Kokubu Yes, the 2017 engine is different, but this bike is the natural evolution of the 2016 one. In 2016, we found a good direction, and we modified the engine to move forward the way we have found. So, I don’t think we have radically changed something on our bike for the 2017 season.

AN: What is the “good direction” you have found?

Kokubu As you know, our bike used to have an advantage in straights and seldom overtook our competitors in the corners. However, in 2016, we could overtake others in the corner on some occasions. Such characteristics were very rare in Honda’s history so that for the 2017 bike, we tried to further improve this new excellence, and we also kept on improving acceleration, which has been our strong point."

So Japanese! I love it. Sincere hats off to HRC for making the changes needed with championship electronics and Michelins. Yamaha should worry.