Honda is one of those puzzles that, in crossword-puzzle terms, would be considered for “experienced solvers” only. Getting one’s head around what’s happening in the depths of the Japanese garage isn’t easy. Even what seems clear can become muddled.
Will Mir and Marquez be in Assen?
Let’s start with the certainties: Nakagami will definitely be racing in Assen, as it’s equally certain that Rins won’t (he’ll be undergoing surgery a second time on his tibia and fibula, which he fractured at Mugello). Although they’re clear in their intentions in the LCR team, there’s much less clarity in the official one. Mir’s hand injury was more serious than expected. He wasn’t present at the Sachsenring, and they still don’t know if he’ll be at Assen. And Marquez? Theoretically, he should be racing in the Netherlands, because the doctors declared him fit on Sunday in Germany, before Marc decided to raise the white flag. So, on paper, he shouldn’t have problems but, before an official announcement, some uncertainty still remains.
So Honda will definitely have at least one of its starting riders at Assen, but the other three are in doubt. According to regulations, Rins will have to be replaced, and the same would apply to Mir if he’s not there. Therefore, the choice would fall on their test rider, Bradl, and on SBK rider Iker Lecuona who, in Jerez, had already filled in for Marquez when he was injured.
But another question arises: why didn’t they bring Stefan on board in Holland, when there was only Marc and Takaaki? The answer is complicated, because not having another rider in the situation in which Honda is in has, at first sight, only cons and not one pro. The German rider could've collected data, carried out tests but, instead, everything was left (once again) on Marc’s shoulders that, after a while, couldn’t bear the burden any longer.
According to Speedweek, during the Sachsenring GP warm-up, Marc was supposed to have tried two different set-ups in just 10 minutes. Too many. And, in fact, that plan didn’t work.
The Spain-Japan axis has collapsed
It would already be difficult in a good technical situation, but Honda’s situation makes everything worse, also since it’s now clear that the Spain-Japan axis is collapsing, or it has already collapsed. On one hand, we have Team Manager Alberto Puig and Marquez’s men. On the other, we have HRC’s top management. They’ve reached their limit, and the first signs are showing.
Emilio Pérez de Rozas is a reporter who knows Marquez well and, in an article published in El Periodico, he wrote about the outburst of a Honda executive (who wished to remain anonymous): “The Japanese have forgotten how to make racing bikes. In fact, they’re no longer interested in doing so. They don’t care what happens. Maybe Marc’s decision to not race at the Sachsenring, his kingdom, will wake them up from their lethargy, but I doubt it.”
The rift couldn’t be more evident, even if Marquez tried to mend it by requesting a meeting at Mugello with Honda Motor Vice President Aoyama. It’s hard to say if he’ll get results, but he still tried, because Marc doesn’t like to give up like he did in Germany, and now that his physical condition is good, he knows that the bike is the problem.
They're in need of concessions
Here’s yet another puzzle: how can they make it competitive again? HRC has the economic and professional resources to do so, but they don’t have the time. The MotoGP has changed. There are fewer tests, and the new race format leaves no time for the riders to practice. Otherwise, they’d throw away any hope of getting results.
They're in need of concessions. Pol Espargarò had said so in unsuspecting times, before leaving the sinking boat. And it’s true, because this would give Honda the opportunity to test outside the races and really develop the bike. Instead, the only test days available this year will be one day at Misano after the GP and another in Valencia.
It’s a pity that they’re already sure the Japanese constructor won’t be able to obtain concessions. It’s Rins’ “fault”, since he won in Austin. So they’ll have to roll up their sleeves and figure out if Honda is still interested in making racing bikes. Something they’ve proven to do perfectly well in the past.