until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Honda needs a particular Ducati to win the Austrian GP

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Coming into this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix, MotoGP’s silly season remains very much in full swing as the remaining pieces of next year’s grid continue to slot into place.

Honda is now the marque most desperate for a big signing as it looks to replace satellite rider Alex Rins at LCR.

And perhaps bizarrely, the best thing that could happen to facilitate that right now is the rider it’s chasing winning at the Red Bull Ring. Good news for Honda: he was fastest in the opening session, too.

Honda hasn’t exactly been subtle about its need to replace Rins with an established rider who could help it dig its way out of the pit of despair it’s found itself in with the current RC213V.

Rins was initially tipped to be that guy given his contribution to Suzuki’s development, but it didn’t turn out that way. A combination of the lack of appreciation for his R&D work and a season-ruining injury at Mugello pushed him out the doors and into the arms of a waiting factory Yamaha team.

Honda’s seemingly settled upon current Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco as the guy it now wants, offering him a big-money contract.

Zarco makes complete sense for Honda given his experience: so far in his MotoGP career – he’s raced for Yamaha, KTM, Ducati and Honda, as well as testing the Suzuki GSX-RR while still a Moto2 rider.

Since arriving at Ducati, he’s further developed his reputation by picking up the role previously occupied by Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller at Pramac, often becoming the first to try out new parts before they’re handed off to the factory team.

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On top of that, he’s also established himself as a podium regular, finishing on the box in nearly 50% of this season’s races so far and currently sitting fifth in the championship to highlight that he doesn’t just bring knowledge, he also brings outright pace that would in normal circumstances would convert easily into strong results.

The fly in the ointment for Honda is what Zarco’s motivation would be for leaving Ducati and joining LCR.

As recently as the last round at Silverstone, it looked like he wouldn’t really have a choice in the matter, given Ducati’s desire to get current VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi, a multiple race winner this season, a factory-spec bike for 2024.

Ducati was adamant the only way it would happen would be with a move to Pramac that would displace Zarco, though at the Red Bull Ring on Thursday Bezzecchi sounded quietly confident that a way would be found for him to get that 2024 bike without leaving VR46 – which would mean Zarco could stay where he is if he wanted to.

That means Honda would have to persuade him, rather than just offering him refuge.

And he’s not a money-obsessed racer but rather someone who lives a rather humble life compared to many of his more flashy rivals. Zarco is rather old-school in how he operates, and a big payday from Honda won’t be enough in itself to lure him away from the very competitive Ducati he currently rides.

Zarco has admitted that the chance to do what he failed to do at KTM and help turn a struggling bike into a competitive machine is a challenge that he would relish.

But that might not outweigh the prize he wants more than anything else still eludes him: a MotoGP race win.

He’s a 19-time podium finisher from his 113 premier class grands prix (a strong record considering all but 13 of those were on satellite machinery), his record is even more impressive when you consider that just over half of those rostrums have been in the runner-up spot, most recently to Bezzecchi at this year’s Argentine Grand Prix.

Actually winning a MotoGP race is an accomplishment that the only ever double Moto2 world champion is open about needing to achieve to round off his premier class career.

But it’s a quest that would be a lot harder to achieve any time soon on a Honda, such is the level of work that the current RC213V needs to return it to winning ways.

That’s why this weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix couldn’t really come at a better time for Honda even more than for Zarco, with no deal yet signed despite ongoing negotiations.

Johann Zarco , Motogp Race, Austrian Motogp. 21 August 2022

The Red Bull Ring is one of his best chances of the year for that elusive race win, given how well Ducati’s Desmosedici works at the Spielberg circuit, his own record there and Pramac’s too (it got its first win there with Jorge Martin in 2021).

A race winner at the Red Bull Ring in the Moto2 class and consistently in the top five during his time on a big bike there, Zarco’s also been unfortunate over the years at the circuit, most notably with a high-speed crash with Franco Morbidelli in 2020 that both of them were lucky to walk away from.

Should his Austrian GP luck change and Zarco actually tick that win off, it would certainly make Honda’s chances of securing his signature a little bit easier.

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