HRC Bosses Kuwata & Wakabayashi Interview, Part 1: How Honda Gave Marquez More Horsepower Without Running Out Of Fuel

The 2019 season was a good one for Honda. Marc Márquez won twelve times and finished second six times out of nineteen races. He clinched his sixth title in the premier class and eighth overall in his world championship career. Honda also won the team and manufacturers title, which saw them celebrate their third successive triple crown.

The Honda RC213V is an invincible weapon, helping to achieve such an overwhelming victory. During the technical debrief for the 2019 spec RC213V for the Japanese media that HRC held at the end of December, they said they have made a “normal improvement” with the engine. However, in terms of chassis, HRC faced quite a “big challenge” for modification of the air intake system. The airflow that comes from the front air duct used to be split into the left and right side to take it into the airbox. Now the air intake literally goes straight from the front of the bike through the headstock and into the airbox.

In this exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, we started asking firstly about their “normal improvement” and “big challenge”, then moved on to the review of the 2019 season and the prospect for the forthcoming 2020 season.

Tetsuhiro Kuwata and Takeo Yokoyama of HRC, with Marc Marquez, after winning the 2019 MotoGP title at Buriram

Q: You made a “normal improvement” with the engine while trying a “big challenge” with chassis side. Does this mean you modified chassis stiffness quite a lot from 2018 to 2019?

Kuwata: Not very much. Because if we did that, the characteristics of the bike would have changed. So, we kept our strong points from the 2018 season. Now we are trying to improve the design flexibility while maintaining the strong points of our engine and chassis, so, we didn’t change the good balance of the stiffness very much

Q: What did you get by trying to improve “the design flexibility”?

Kuwata: If we have made a huge step forward, maybe we could’ve done better races. Actually, it was not realistic, and throughout the season, we were always testing things, by trial and error. After the 2019 season has started, we also tried to find the direction for 2020.

Q: So, will the characteristics of the bike before 2018 and after 2019 be different?

Wakabayashi: I wouldn’t say they are exactly the same. From 2018 to 2019, the configuration was slightly different. For 2020, we will try to evolve our bike, while keeping a good balance from the previous year.

Kuwata: It will be after the 2020 season that our new challenge of “improving the design flexibility” has some answers. In 2019, we built a foundation and took advantage where we could use it. After 2020, I expect we will make a further step forward. For example, although we said “normal improvement” for the engine development, when we try to increase the engine power, we always find some room to modify and options for further development, which improves the total performance. The same goes for chassis. We tried this and that, but there was no big change for the 2019 base chassis.

Q: By gaining “the design flexibility,” what kind of improvement do you expect?

Kuwata: When you take air from the side of the bike, you have to open the hole in that part of the frame. Then, you have to design the stiffness of the frame. In other words, the fact that there is a hole in a specific place makes it difficult to modify the stiffness, but if you don’t need to make a hole there, you can change it more freely. It means that holes are restrictions on design, because you cannot touch the stiffness around the hole in order not to upset the balance. But if there is no hole, you can design that area more freely. By doing that, now you can try shapes that you couldn't do before and reconsider the whole balance of stiffness.

Q: With that new challenge, will you be able to improve agility, something you used to struggle with, and acceleration from corner exit that Kuwata-san said you have to improve?

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Great interview!

I particularly enjoyed the parallel between a more performing bike, and a more physical/harder to ride one.
Not that the dodging of revealing details from Kuwata-san and Wakabayashi-san was any less entertaining, mind you...

By the sounds of it it's more of a Marquez bike than the 19....and without Marquez Honda are going nowhere...

So it takes a couple of years of chassis developement to determine if the holes were cut in an optimal place?

I think it was immediately apparent.

It feels like the powertrain guys went wild on the dyno, and the project leader told the chassis guys "tough cookies... deal with it"

Honda has always been engine first, everything else later. With Marquez able to perform regardless, there seems to be a sense of false justification. A real trap if he quits/leaves.