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MotoGP, HRC in oblivion: a horrific record that seems to have no end

In amongst all the frenzy of Marquez's successes, the HRC bosses apparently did not realize that the Spaniard's magnificent triumphs had more to do with the rider than with the Honda RC213V

MotoGP: HRC in oblivion: a horrific record that seems to have no end

Ever since that nice little crash by Marc Márquez at the season opener on 19 March 2020, delayed due to Covid, the Honda bosses are atoning for a whole series of longstanding failures. After all, thanks to the exceptional talent of Marc Márquez, Honda routed all opponents from 2013 to 2019 and won six of the seven world titles.

In amongst all the frenzy for these successes, the HRC bosses apparently did not realize that the magnificent triumphs of the Spaniard, who won his second Grand Prix in Texas as a rookie in 2013 and outclassed all his opponents in the first ten Grands Prix in 2014, had more to do with the rider than with the Honda RC213V.

HRC boss Kanazawa had already made a similar mistake in 2003, when he refused to recognize the exceptional riding skills of serial winner Valentino Rossi and thought any rookie could dominate with the superior 990 cc five-cylinder Honda RC211V.

The result was that Rossi quit Honda for Yamaha, where he won the 2004 season opener at Welkom and then the 2004, 2005, 2008, and 2009 world championships. Honda won only two titles in the nine years from 2004 to 2012, with Nicky Hayden in 2006 and with Casey Stoner in 2011.




Incidentally, Kanazawa is said to have been transferred to the lawnmower department after Rossi's departure from Honda.

HRC experienced similarly lean years in MotoGP after Marc Márquez's disaster in the 2020 Spanish GP (0 points in the season). Although Márquez still managed to win three Grands Prix at Sachsenring, Texas, and Misano in 2021, thus finishing seventh in the championship, since then he has had only these results in the World Championship: 13th in 2022 (with 113 points) and 14th in 2023 (with a paltry 96 points).

At the time he repeatedly and unequivocally reiterated that he expected a winning bike from Honda, but the Japanese simply did not respond.

When a new aluminium swingarm from Kalex was mysteriously tested in the September 2021 Misano test, as if it were a new panacea, the competition, which had been winning with carbon swingarms for years, could not hide a smile.

Later, in the Sepang test in February 2023, it became clear that HRC was still in a technical stalemate, and its final place in the one-make world championship was never in jeopardy.

For years, Honda and Yamaha dominated the premier class with innovative ideas, but suddenly a breath of fresh air arrived at Ducati in October 2013 with Gigi Dall'Igna, things picked up at Aprilia after the arrival of Massimo Rivola in 2019, while KTM joined the party in 2017 and has already won three MotoGP races in 2020 with Binder and Oliveira.

HRC, on the other hand, has neglected promoting young talent for years because of the supremacy of Marc Márquez. Although Jorge Martin and Joan Mir won the Moto3 World Championship with Honda, they debuted in the MotoGP class with Ducati and Suzuki. Many other champions such as Bagnaia, Bastianini, Bezzecchi, Binder, Oliveira, Quartararo (who competed in the Moto3 World Championship with Honda), and Raúl Fernández have also never been convinced by HRC, while riders such as Bautista and Miller have only made their name in HRC competition.


An entire soccer team of great talent was grabbed by the competition, while Honda scared off the brilliant Dani Pedrosa and sent him to KTM as a top test rider for 2019. Casey Stoner returned from HRC to Ducati as a test rider, and HRC made one flop after another by choosing the Repsol No. 1 alongside Márquez.

In 2019 came Lorenzo, then Alex Márquez (kicked out for 2021 even before the first race of the 2020 season), followed by Pol Espargaró (3rd place in Doha 2021 and 2nd place in Misano), before the total failure of Joan Mir, hired for 2023 and 2024. He finished the 2013 season in 22nd place with a miserable 26 points.

After the 2016 season, HRC parted ways with vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto and team manager Livio Suppo, but new executives Yokoyama, Kobubu and Kuwata and team director Alberto Puig could think of nothing else but continuing to focus all the development around Marc Márquez. But no other Honda rider was able to go fast with his bike.

Out of desperation, Honda engineers built "custom bikes" for all four riders after 2021, meaning four different versions for Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaró, Nakagami, and Alex Márquez.

Pol Espargaró, who developed the KTM RC16 into a winning machine, asked for more traction on the rear wheel during winter testing and got it, finishing third at the season opener in Doha.

But Márquez wanted more grip on the front wheel when he returned. His wish was granted, and the rest of the HRC trio unanimously announced in the autumn, "We have not received any new parts since the beginning of the season." This is also true for Repsol factory rider Pol Espargaró, who went back to Pierer Mobility after two disastrous years in HRC, during which he scored six MotoGP podiums and two pole positions in 2018 and 2020.

Not surprisingly, Honda has lost many top riders and customer teams in recent years.

Since the beginning of the four-stroke MotoGP era, HRC has upset or lost satellite teams Pramac, Scot, Konica Minolta JiR, Interwetten, Gresini, Marc VDS, Aspar Martinez, and AB MotoRacing .

Only LCR team owner Lucio Cecchinello has remained on board in good and bad years since 2006 (with Stoner). But the seven-time 125cc GP winner became very irritated last year when HRC scared Texas GP winner Alex Rins away with second-rate material and made him switch to Yamaha.

Cecchinello then lured Zarco to LCR. The Frenchman accepted a two-year contract, but Repsol team boss Alberto Puig wanted to move him to the factory team along with Joan Mir for 2024.

But Cecchinello insisted on the deal with the Frenchman and kept him at LCR-Honda. Repsol had to sign Luca Marini, who has been as lost with the RC213V as Joan Mir, 2020 world champion (on Suzuki).

In September 2022, HRC technical director Takeo Yokoyama was removed from day-to-day MotoGP operations, but he was evidently the wrong scapegoat, as the technical disaster continued apace in 2023.

And Marc Márquez reinforced the impression that although he is a talented rider, he is unable to develop a motorcycle.
At Le Mans he praised the new German Kalex chassis (developed in record time), but quickly shelved it after disastrous performances and crashes in Saxony and Assen.

The capabilities of the Kalex engineers are unquestioned: they have won every rider and brand world title in Moto2 since 2013.
Kalex rider Stefan Bradl snatched the title from Marc Márquez (Suter) in the 2011 Moto2 World Championship.

After disastrous results in recent years, Alberto Puig has been heavily criticized. In June 2023, it was rumored that Davide Brivio would take his place at HRC. But Puig explained at Assen, "I have a contract for 2024."

However, Puig and Honda's Japanese executives have failed once again in their choice of rider, failed to improve the bike, and failed to make any progress in the World Superbike Championship in the eighth year under HRC management. No one knows why Puig and HRC continue to keep the already overworked rider pair of Lecuona and Vierge.

Honda is also being embarrassed in the Moto3 World Championship: after 7 out of 20 Grands Prix, Adrián Fernández is the best Honda rider in ninth place. The teams are relying on Pierer Mobility.

There was also astonishment when Dorna's new owner, Liberty Media, released an "investors/financial information" document a few weeks ago, in which the multifaceted Alberto Puig, winner of the 500cc GP at Jerez in 1995 on a Honda NSR 500, was surprisingly identified as a Dorna shareholder.

"Unbelievable," said a well-known team manager, shaking his head. Puig sold his shares when Liberty bought Dorna and made good money.

Some conflict of interest is conceivable and practically inevitable when a Honda manager has to negotiate with senior Dorna officials on subsidies for MotoGP and SBK teams, future technical regulations for the two top series and Moto3, and other matters.

The term "incompatibility" seems to have no place in the vocabulary of some motorsport managers.

But the Honda Racing Corporation nevertheless remains a building site. After Yokoyama, HRC workhorses Kuwata and Kokubu were also removed after 2023, while Taichi Honda and Shin Sato assumed their roles.




But nothing has changed in terms of performance. Even the sleepy Ken Kawauchi, who lost his job at Suzuki a year and a half ago, is seen at best as the steward of a steady decline.

As in the past two years, there is not the slightest possibility of a Honda rider finishing the 2024 MotoGP World Championship in the top ten overall.
The long-standing slogan "Honda enters, Honda wins " has long since degenerated into a joke.

While Honda made waves in the 1960s with the five-cylinder 125cc and the 250cc Six, routed all opponents with the unbeatable five-cylinder rocket in 2002, and set new standards with a "seamless" gearbox in 2010, in recent years all technical innovations in devices, electronics, and aerodynamics have been neglected.

The results remain sublevel and HRC executives have been walking around disgruntled for years. Red Bull withdrew from Repsol-Honda after Márquez left, while Repsol cut its budget.

And even the wide-ranging "concessions" have not brought Honda one millimeter closer to the top.

The current positions in the world championship - 18th (Mir), 19th (Zarco) and 21st (Nakagami) - speak for themselves. Marini has not scored a single point in 14 races.
Last year, Valentino's brother took four podiums and eighth place overall with a Ducati.

Luca Marini's management was desperate for a two-year contract with HRC. A path that has led straight to a dark dead end.

Alarm bells at Honda should have sounded after the 2019 season. At the time, Cal Crutchlow, Honda's second-best rider (9th in the World Championship), had lost a whopping 287 (!) points in the standings to the champion, who recorded twelve wins, six second places, and one crash.

After Pedrosa's departure for KTM, things went steadily downhill for HRC.

The company's founder, Soichiro Honda, would turn in his grave if he witnessed the poor MotoGP performance of his once glorious team.
When Honda decided to participate in the Tourist Trophy one day in 1954, the company's founder wrote to his employees, "We must discover the true value of the Japanese mechanical industry and take on the competition on the Isle of Man, bringing it to a level that we can proudly display to the whole world. I announce my commitment to participate in and win the TT races. I will support this goal with all my heart and the depth of my soul. I will pursue this goal with all my creativity and all my abilities. This is my vow."

Incidentally, Honda won the 125cc race at the TT in 1961 with Mike Hailwood, ahead of his four brand-mates Taveri, Phillis, Redman and Shimazaki.
The achievements of the current Honda team in MotoGP over the past four years, despite unlimited budgets, are indescribable. What they are doing is the height of amateurism.

 

Translated by Julian Thomas

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