Interviewing Honda's Bosses: On The Triple Crown, Spec IMUs, Signing Lorenzo, Moto3, And WorldSBK

The following is an interview which leading Japanese MotoGP journalist and friend of Akira Nishimura conducted with the heads of Honda's racing program Tetsuhiro Kuwata, and Shinya Wakabayashi. 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 2018, Honda secured the triple crown, with Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez winning his third consecutive MotoGP title, bringing his total to five, Honda winning the constructors title, and the Repsol Honda team wrapping up the team championship. Everybody thought it was a perfect season for Honda, but what was the reality for them? At the beginning of January, we visited the HRC laboratory in Asaka, Saitama Prefecture and spoke to Tetsuhiro Kuwata, General Manager of Racing Operations Management Division and Shinya Wakabayashi, the boss of Technology Development Division for 90 minutes on how they saw Honda's 2018 season, and what they expect for 2019.

Q: In 2018, you won the triple crown again. Do you think it was a perfect season for Honda?

Kuwata: Not at all! Because the battle between manufacturers was very intense, like always. In 2017, we fought for the championship until Valencia, so when you compare this year to that, maybe you think 2018 was perfect for us. But it was not the case because our competitors were always very strong. We tried to pull away from them, but it was just impossible. To be honest, it was a very tough season, like in 2017.

Wakabayashi: After the middle of the season, we had an advantage in some points, but we also had a disadvantage in other points. We tried to improve our weak points to catch up with our competitors, but it was difficult to reduce the gap.

Q: What was the advantage and disadvantage you had?

Wakabayashi: Our acceleration on corner exit was not enough compared to the Ducati.

Kuwata: We used to be very strong in acceleration, but now they overwhelmed us in our specialty, so we have to turn this situation around. This is what we told you after the 2017 season. We tried very hard to improve it from the engine side and the chassis side, and managed to reduce the gap to some extent. However, it is not enough yet. We have to work harder to improve it.

Q: And what advantage do you have now?

Wakabayashi: The area from braking to turning.

Kuwata: People used to say “the Honda doesn’t turn well.” In fact, corner speed was one of our weakness over the years. But, we improved it in these few years and made further progress again in 2018. Regarding the corner speed, you cannot gain it unless you improve braking and entry into the turns. I think we continuously and successfully reduced the gap to our competitors from braking to the turning, I mean, just before the exit.

Q: When did you realize that you have a disadvantage in acceleration?

Kuwata: In 2016, I guess. But please don’t get me wrong, we don’t think we failed to improve acceleration. We improved it little by little every year. I assume our competitors improved it better than we did. It was about 2016 that we noticed that the Ducatis have good acceleration. They always have an advantage in top speed, and consistently improve it to increase the gap to us. Plus, they also improved the acceleration at the exits. We realized it in 2016. Although we managed to beat them in 2017, acceleration was always our issue to improve. We made some progress in 2018, but it is not enough yet.

Q: Is the spec ECU one of the reasons for the reversals of your advantage/disadvantage?

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this line from Kuwata was priceless "But Repsol riders and Cal will ride the 2019 factory bike, so that we will provide updated parts in due time when they need them and when we are ready."

With meaningless and non-committal statements like that I suspect he is a brilliant politician in an alternative universe.  Otherwise it was quite an interesting interview, especially his comments about the riders.