Johann Zarco’s impending switch from Ducati to Honda has drawn a mixture of reactions from his fellow riders in MotoGP – both those outside of Honda and those set to be stablemates of Zarco’s in the Hamamatsu firm’s line-up.
The news you already know!💥😉
LCR Honda CASTROL is proud to announce the signing of Johann Zarco.
The two-time Moto2 World Champion will join the team in 2024!
— LCR Team (@lcr_team) August 22, 2023
The Frenchman had begun seriously exploring a potential move to Honda’s satellite team LCR once it became clear his current Pramac Ducati ride was being earmarked for Marco Bezzecchi instead.
And though Bezzecchi is now expected to reject the Pramac gig in favour of staying at VR46, Zarco has already made up his mind, turning down a one-year offer to stay with Ducati in MotoGP in some capacity (and then likely head to its all-conquering World Superbike project) in favour of a two-year Honda MotoGP commitment.
But in being convinced by longer-term MotoGP job security – and what are strongly rumoured to be substantially improved financial terms – Zarco will also be swapping what is widely recognised as the best bike on the grid to what increasingly looks like its worst.
Honda did win earlier in the season at the Circuit of the Americas, but its best finish in the seven grand prix races since is an eighth place – and its riders have nearly all been battling injuries sustained in solo crashes.
— Jorge Martín Almoguera (@88jorgemartin) August 21, 2023
Alex Marquez – who had occupied the LCR seat Zarco will slot into back in 2021-22 – made the opposite move going into the season, trading a satellite Honda for a satellite Ducati.
Linking up with the Gresini squad has revitalised his premier-class career, even yielding a sprint race win at Silverstone, and he has been very open in talking about how much more at ease he is with the Ducati Desmosedici bike compared to the unpredictable Honda RC213V.
Asked about Zarco’s move at the Red Bull Ring, Marquez replied: “… Good luck.”
That naturally prompted hearty laughter from the attendant media and Marquez himself as a consequence.
“And I say that with all the respect to his decision!” he insisted. “I respect.
“But, f**k, to make that change is risky.
“But you never know, when you make a decision, how next year will be. For sure he will have good material, but we’ll see how Honda can turn around the situation.”
‘Correct to accept’
On the VR46 side of the Ducati satellite roster, Luca Marini was quite enthusiastic about Zarco’s prospects.
“I think Honda proposed him a very good contract,” said Marini. “It’s correct to accept that opportunity.”
This is also because Marini backs “very strong manufacturer” Honda to regain its MotoGP form in relatively little time.
“Sure that Honda will come back, it’s just one year of process.
“In two years they will come back stronger than ever.”
Zarco’s compatriot Fabio Quartararo (Yamaha) said that he was “not a businessman in the teams” and therefore not privy to the details of the agreement – but added: “In the end, I think it’s also a time for a new chapter for him – and maybe can be good.”
Welcome to Honda
Takaaki Nakagami, who could have Zarco as his team-mate next year (a third different one in three years), said the Frenchman’s arrival didn’t necessarily influence his own future.
The Japanese rider seems to have an increasingly good chance of securing a seventh MotoGP season, given serious doubt has been cast over the once-assumed succession plan of Moto2 frontrunner Ai Ogura taking over the seat – which is backed by Japanese oil giant Idemitsu.
On the prospect of teaming up with Zarco, Nakagami said: “Of course, for the team, for Honda, it’s a great chance. He’s very strong, competitive.
“Four years in Ducati, he has a lot of experience. He can give some advice, how it is different between Ducati and Honda. It’s very positive news for everyone, for Honda.”
Nakagami also felt that luring over Zarco can have an impact in the same way as KTM has benefitted from getting Jack Miller – albeit with the caveat that he didn’t know whether Honda would seek to make any engineering hires from Ducati as well, given it was far from just Miller that KTM had brought over from the Borgo Panigale firm.
“This makes sense, maybe Honda thinks ‘okay, we need to listen to [hear from] not only Honda riders or engineers’. It’s really good news. It’s very positive.”
Star rider Marc Marquez, however, felt Honda already had clear enough feedback from current riders.
“I mean, of course if another rider is coming, with good experience like Johann, and especially he’s riding the best bike of the grid right now, it’s important to understand where is the level, and of course he will give some good comments to the engineers,” said Marquez.
“But at the moment we are in a moment that all Honda riders, we are struggling on the same point.
“So, it’s easy- I mean, ‘easy’… easy because all the Honda riders are going in one direction. It’s not like one is struggling in one point and another is struggling in one point.
“But if in the end he [Zarco] comes into the Honda family, welcome, and [let’s get] ready to work.”
What of the stand-in?
LCR and Honda’s agreement with Zarco cuts off a route back to the MotoGP grid for Iker Lecuona.
The 23-year-old has acquitted himself reasonably well in his stand-in outings this season and could get more call-ups given Alex Rins’ recovery is still ongoing.
As for his 2024 plans, Lecuona – who is a Honda works rider in World Superbikes – said: “I say the same like one month ago – 80-90 percent I can say that I stay in Honda because I’m very happy with the factory and also Japan are very happy with me, that’s the important thing.
“Then, the place, I don’t know… I want to stay here, with Honda. Then I don’t know – if it’s Superbike or MotoGP, I’m happy.”