Honda's parabole in recent years could be summed up in four words: from hero to zero. In just three seasons, the dream has turned into a nightmare and this metamorphosis coincided with (as well as being caused by) the absence of its star, Marc Marquez. With the Spanish rider, HRC won six titles in 7 years, without him it hasn't even managed to win a race in the last four. Not to mention a historic record - but not one to be proud of – of zero victories in 2019 and 2022.
In the last 40 years it had never happened - after that first title in 500cc in 1983 which bears the signature of Freddie Spencer – that Honda had ever been left without a win in the premier class. Even in the worst years, a couple of trophies were on display.
In the table below we have analysed the last 4 decades of Honda in 500cc and MotoGP through numbers. To do this, we took into consideration the championship position of the best HRC rider and the second, then the victories achieved in each season by the leading rider and the others.
The first fact that catches the eye is that from 1983 to 2019 Honda's worst result in the championship was third place and, indeed, the third step of the podium was an exception (Doohan in 1990, Beattie in 1993, Pedrosa in 2008 and 2009 and Marquez in 2015). The collapse came in 2020, when Nakagami finished 10th at the end of the season, a result that got worse in 2022 with 13th place for Marquez (who, however, only raced twelve of the 20 GPs on the calendar).
Another peculiarity is that Honda has always focused on a single rider and more often than not it made the right decision. Everything became more evident with Mick Doohan: first there were Spencer and Gardner, then the flash of Lawson, but the Australian was the first to usher in an era. His five consecutive titles say it all and his place (after the interlude of Criville, who managed to shine only when his inconvenient teammate retired) was taken by Valentino Rossi. With him a new era was inaugurated, taking Honda from 500cc to MotoGP and continuing to win.
When the Doctor left, slamming the door, the problems started, but not too many, because the bike was still competitive. The two second places of Gibernau and Melandri (with the Gresini satellite team) were an interlude, before Hayden's title. However, it was not the American who was the predestined one for the Tokyo brand, but Pedrosa. Dani won a lot with Honda, but never the title, despite the Japanese focussing everything on him, even making a 'mini' bike to meet his size.
For 4 years he failed in the run-in to the title and Stoner, champion in 2011, arrived to sort things out. A new era seemed to have begun, but Casey had other ideas and left. Fortunately for Honda, another champion was ready, Marc Marquez, who from 2013 onwards has strived to touch up many MotoGP records.
However, the problems also began with him because the Spaniard's enormous talent began to hide the problems of his bike.
From the mid-1990s onwards, Honda had an almost perfect bike: the NSR 500. Not only Doohan won with it, but many others: Cadalora, Puig, Checa, Criville, a bit like Ducati today. The RC211V, its first 5-cylinder MotoGP machine, also followed that tradition and just look at the table above to see how many have had success with it. Things started to get complicated in 2007, when MotoGP switched to 800cc engines. With that bike for four years only Pedrosa won (except for one win by Dovizioso), then Stoner.
With the return to 1000cc bikes, things didn't seem to improve, but it must be said that Marquez's dominance left little room for the others. The fact is that the only year in which four different riders won on the Honda was 2016 (also considering Miller's victory at Assen in very particular weather conditions).
The alarm bells should have sounded in 2019, the first year in which only Marquez was a winner on the RC213V. Twelve (victories) to zero, which demonstrated finally that by now only he could and was able to ride that bike.
The rest is recent history, with an unprecedented defeat on all fronts. When you hit rock bottom, you can only go back up and once again Honda will rely on Marquez to do it. Tokyo has never liked Rossi-Lorenzo-style dualisms in the same garage and has always focused on a single rider. Many times it has been their strength, now it has turned out to be a great weakness. But that seems to be why they waited for Marc for so long, accepting defeat.
Jorge Lorenzo, Alex Marquez, Pol Espargarò were not involved enough in the project and the risk is that Rins and Mir, the newcomers, will suffer the same fate. Two riders of absolute value, but who came to Honda more because of Suzuki's retirement than because of any real desire of Honda.
The deus ex machina continues to be Marquez, hoping that his magic will be enough to turn the situation around.