SportMotoGPHow Honda has turned praise for its bike into...

How Honda has turned praise for its bike into doubt

The contrast is brutal if one compares the positivism that the riders of the golden wing brand transmitted at the end of the pre-season tests, with the bad feelings they expressed last Sunday in Portimão, at the end of the fifth stop on the calendar. There, in a test in which Fabio Quartararo gave a real review of the rest of the grid, the first Honda to cross the finish line was that of Marc Márquez, who did it sixth, more than 16 seconds behind the Frenchman from Yamaha.

The runner from Cervera (Lleida) spent the last section of the race hitting his brother, Alex Márquez (seventh), whom he finally managed to keep at bay, after having left Pol Espargaró, his neighbor in the HRC official team workshop, which finished ninth.

In the appearance of the two main bets of the golden wing brand to fight to recover the title that it has not held since 2019, the disparity of opinions between them regarding what the motorcycle that Honda completely renewed with views of this course, and the genetics of the previous versions, with which Márquez capped six crowns out of nine possible, between 2013 and 2021.

“Since the preseason I haven’t been feeling well with the bike,” said Márquez, who offered an unusual version of it, much less showy and aggressive, nothing to do with the waste of energy 15 days earlier, in Austin, where He climbed from last place to sixth. “It is true that some Honda riders say that this bike is fantastic, but I have already warned that the conditions we had in the winter tests, with a lot of rubber on the asphalt, have nothing to do with those during a weekend. Grand Prix week”, argued the Catalan.

Marc Márquez, Equipo Repsol Honda

Marc Márquez, Equipo Repsol Honda

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Without naming him directly, it is clear that when he spoke of “some Honda riders” Márquez was referring to his teammate. The caution that the #93 has shown at all times when considering the strong points of the new prototype has contrasted with Espargaró’s optimism. Since the new Honda debuted, the youngest of the brothers from Granollers (Barcelona) found in it that rear grip that he was looking for so much and missed in previous models. Both in the training sessions prior to the start of the championship, in Sepang and Mandalika, as well as in the first round, in Qatar, Polyccio was one of the fastest. In fact, at Losail he finished on the podium after having led for most of the race.

Two weeks later, in Mandalika, the problems began, even though on that occasion they were accentuated by the introduction of the rear casing that Michelin urgently moved to Indonesia as a preventive measure. There, that ‘grip’ of the rear end vanished completely, and Márquez’s determination to rebel against it led him to accumulate four falls in five practices. The last one, in the warm up, left him out of action for that race and for the next one, in Argentina. In Termas de Río Hondo, Espargaró went down when he was shooting the fourth and tried to prevent Alex Rins from escaping. The American tour was completed in Austin, the best possible scenario for the reappearance of Márquez, and where the #44 was affected by gastroenteritis that left him ‘KO’ all weekend – he finished 13th.

And so we come to Portugal, where several factors aligned to highlight the Honda’s seams, probably magnified by the lack of kilometers on dry track, due to the downpour that fell on both Friday and Saturday. “Obviously we would have liked to have had more time to run in the dry. But that is the same for everyone and it is not an excuse. It has become clear that we have to improve the bike”, agreed Alberto Puig , Honda team manager, this Monday.

One of the clearest in his diagnosis was the smallest of the Márquez. “When the conditions are dry and the others start to push hard, that’s when we start to suffer. Until then, the bike accepts everything we ask of it”, said the boy from the LCR.

At this point when the lack of punch shown by his brother, Marc, in a field in which he has always handled himself as the reference, is striking. “I didn’t feel comfortable at any time during the weekend. Not even on Saturday, with the track halfway through, neither wet nor dry, which is when I can normally make the most difference”, stressed the Spaniard, who has been saying for months that the new RC213V does not allow him to drive naturally, that is, leaning on especially in the front end. “Things are going wrong and we don’t know why. What is missing from the bike? Well, precisely what allowed us to be so fast this winter: rear grip”, Espargaró said in disbelief. “It’s very strange because, in circumstances with less grip on the track, we should still get more advantage,” he added, when asked by Motorsport.com for his opinion on the diagnosis his teammate had just made. “Marc tested both bikes (the 2021 and the 2022 ones) in Malaysia and chose the new one because it generated more grip,” he added.

Pol Espargaró, Repsol Honda Team

Pol Espargaró, Repsol Honda Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Although it is true that the multi-champion was unable to participate in the penultimate race of the last World Cup that was held on this same track in the Algarve, due to the problems of diplopia that he suffered at the time, it is still surprising that between him and the winner there were, this time, 16 seconds. That is three seconds more than the 13 that separated him from the winner (Quartararo), in the grand prix in which he reappeared, also in Portimão and after nine months off, as a result of the injury he sustained in his arm in July 2020.

At this point, both Honda and its riders give themselves a few more days before they start thinking about making a more drastic decision. On Friday, Márquez and Espargaró will go out on the track again, this time in Jerez , a somewhat more conventional circuit and in which, in addition, the first collective test will be held the following Monday. That day of testing will be decisive in being able to more clearly evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the new Honda, a motorcycle that in less than three months has gone from receiving flowers from everywhere to generating, mainly, doubts.

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