SportMotoGPWhy Honda and Yamaha have fallen behind in the...

Why Honda and Yamaha have fallen behind in the new era of MotoGP

This impression is subjective, but the statistics are not. If two weeks ago, at the Sachsenring, Honda was left without scoring for the first time in a grand prix since 1982, a week later it was Yamaha, which left Assen with a donut, something that did not happen to the tuning fork brand since 1989 (Misano), more than three decades ago. These two eventualities are too extraordinary not to be related, a suspicion that is absolutely validated when one digs a little beyond the results, and chats with some members of both teams.

The difference between the difficult moment that Honda is going through, the worst in its entire history in the event, and the prosperity that Yamaha will breathe, is evident. Despite being out since before the Catalan Grand Prix and not having been able to race in Indonesia or Argentina, Marc Márquez is still the best placed rider (13th) among those competing for the company with the golden wing. Fabio Quartararo, on the other hand, acts as a reference on the grid and leads the general table, with a 21-point margin over Aleix Espargaró, who this Sunday, in Assen, cut 13 points from the Devil after the Frenchman made his first mistake bulk so far this season, and will end up on the ground twice. At the same time, while Honda occupies the last place in the classification reserved for manufacturers, Yamaha is second. However, this contrast cannot camouflage some common elements, which in this comparison assume a determining role. And the main one is the dependence that both have on Quartararo and Márquez.

In fact, the 172 points that Yamaha accumulates in the Manufacturers’ World Championship are attributable to the current champion, the only one of the four riders who drive an M1 that he enjoys, because he knows how to get the best out of it. After the halfway point of the calendar, the second Yamaha in the box is that of Franco Morbidelli, who is in 19th position, and whose best result is the seventh place he achieved in Indonesia. In the case of Márquez, his intermittent absences since he broke his arm in that race in Jerez, in 2020, have only exposed the seams of the RC213V, a prototype that no one has yet managed to decipher.

“Think about how Yamaha would be if they didn’t have Fabio right now, and you’ll realize there isn’t that much of a contrast between one team and the other,” a Honda source tells . “What happens is that the European structures, like Aprilia and Ducati, have adapted to the new situation in MotoGP, and to the new technology. And the Japanese have been left behind”, adds this authoritative voice. “Now”, continues this experienced member of the paddock, “European brands are much better organized, grouped by specific departments. There is the aerodynamics division, the electronics division, the chassis division, the tire division, the R&D division… With specialists in each of these subjects”.

Unlike what can happen in Aprilia, Ducati or KTM, in the Honda workshop there are many new faces and very often. And most of the engineers who have come to HRC this year are very young. As if the technicians’ lack of experience wasn’t enough of a headwind, there’s another feature that makes things a little more difficult on the current model: rotation. As much as they do not admit it publicly, most of the HRC members consulted by the writer of these lines agree that this lack of stability does not help, because it prevents the creation of solid work dynamics. The communication between the Japanese faction and the one in charge of managing the racing team, mostly European, does not add up either.

“Aprilia’s work philosophy at the moment is completely different from that of Honda,” says Antonio Jiménez , Aleix Espargaró’s track engineer, in a telephone conversation with . “We, every day of the grand prix, have the last meetings after ten at night. In addition, we are all involved and contribute our ideas. You could say that the organization is much more transversal”, adds Jiménez, who before joining Aprilia worked at Honda and Yamaha.

One of his colleagues at Noale passed, in the last seven years, by Honda, first, and by Suzuki, later: “At the level of technology, there is no color between the elements and procedures that we use in Aprilia and Ducati, and those that use the Japanese”. This engineer basically refers to tools in the field of computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and simulation. “All this is a legacy of Formula 1”, underlines this technician, who refers to the figure of Massimo Rivola , CEO of Aprilia in racing, who signed for the brand with a view to 2019, after extensive experience in F1 , where he made a career at Toro Rosso and at Ferrari. This end was confirmed this Sunday by Alex Márquez, the day it became official that in 2022 he will run in Gresini. “European factories have changed the work system and the method through which motorcycles evolve. They are much faster, there is more communication and more people. They are more similar to F1 teams, and reduce reaction times. That makes the difference in such a tight championship”, said the youngest of the brothers from Cervera (Lleida).

Rivola’s role at Aprilia is similar to the one that Gigi Dall’Igna plays at Ducati. They, or someone from the human group that surrounds them, signs the latest technical innovations that have appeared in MotoGP, starting with the aerodynamic path that Ducati opened, and continuing with the front and rear height regulators, protagonists in the last three years. “To find the latest Honda innovation, you have to go back to the seamless gearbox (2011). Yamaha doesn’t even come to mind”, says a MotoGP engineer who currently works for one of the three Japanese companies. “Japanese women always trail behind on that as well. That is why they need people who read the regulations in the way that Europeans do”, points out a person who leaves the Yamaha workshop.

The dynamic that has been established in MotoGP, where the differences have been reduced to the thousandth, leads one to think that the tradition that until recently had allowed the eastern constructors to reign, will not change in the short term. The hiring of Luca Marmorini by Yamaha, to find that lack of power that Quartararo and the rest miss so much, can be interpreted as a sign of the Iwata manufacturer’s willingness to adapt. In Honda, for the moment, they are limited to highlighting their muscle. “We are going to get out of this situation because we are Honda and we always have,” insists Alberto Puig , HRC team manager.

With Suzuki saying goodbye at the end of this exercise, the question that the two remaining Japanese brands in MotoGP must ask themselves is no longer whether they should rethink their methods, but how long it will take to do so.

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