until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Honda's MotoGP riders just had another rude awakening

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Over the MotoGP season-opening Qatar Grand Prix weekend, Honda brought in seven points across its four riders - and four points into the manufacturers' standings.

In Portugal a fortnight later, it scored the same seven points across four riders, and the same four points in the manufacturers' standings.

But while the points were the same, they certainly didn't mean the same.

"Qatar is a very difficult track for our bike, we could see," said Joan Mir on the Thursday of the Portimao weekend. "And we were able to make a decent weekend, let's say. 

"This track I think, in a more natural way, can be better for us, for our bike. Maybe we can be closer to the top."

Honda wasn't. It wasn't at all.

At the Lusail International Circuit, where Mir and new stablemate Johann Zarco were particularly cheery, the latter was 0.011 seconds off making Q2. A timely tow meant the gap wasn't fully representative, but the bike at least gave him a chance.

At Portimao, no Honda got within nine tenths of making Q2. They filled the final four places on the grid.

Table scraps

The tone shifted, slightly but unmistakably and perhaps inevitably.

Mir in particular earned a fair bit of praise from his fellow Honda riders over his Sunday performance, in which he dragged his RC213V - carrying rear damage from early contact with Franco Morbidelli - to 12th place.

"Joan Mir did a good race with the bike we had today," said Zarco, who was 15th.

"He could be very constant, and thanks to the consistency he caught back the guys in front [of him].

"I wasn't able to do anything. I was suffering. I was very lucky to have a few crashes [for riders in front of me] in the end to at least catch a point, and feel that I didn't do all the weekend for nothing. 

"Just, like, psychological satisfaction. It has been a difficult weekend."

Zarco said Mir was going particularly well, relative to himself if not to the other manufacturers' riders, in the two downhill right-handers that close out the lap. Mir's works team-mate Luca Marini said what stood out to him was Mir's better understanding of the Honda on corner entry and thus the ability to be more aggressive in coming off the brakes and turning.

But Mir was still 29 seconds off the race winner, meaning he shipped over a second per lap relative to Jorge Martin over the race distance. Before the gearbox failure that removed Maverick Vinales from the race and the collision between Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez, Honda was on course for just a single point.

A long, long road

Mir clearly had decently high hopes for the Portuguese GP weekend - boosted also by the promise of some new parts Honda had been testing with Stefan Bradl.

But on Friday already he was clear in feeling let down by the pace - and also in feeling that whatever new things were there weren't delivering as big an impact as he'd hoped.

Zarco corroborated this when asked specifically about new swingarms on Saturday.

"At the moment, from what we could try during this weekend, nothing was helping a lot.

"It can give a little difference, but like, to give you an idea - maybe we are 30% away from the good thing, and when we changed something this weekend, it's maybe 2-3%, so you're still like 27% away. 

"That's why we have been complaining a lot this weekend, because... trying parts of the bike didn't help to really get a huge solution on track."

Zarco also said that across Honda riders "the comments were very similar", though caveated this by pointing out that the variable track conditions across the weekend weren't the best for part-testing.

And in whatever configuration, riders were pretty uniform in complaining about the ever-familiar lack of rear grip, but also just generally not enjoying themselves.

Zarco’s LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami, who looked stronger relative to the other Hondas than he did in Qatar, particularly on Friday, also described the bike feeling as being "hard to accept" that same day and said it was "stressful to ride" due to the lack of rear contact.

Mir, for his part, said that the bike - despite being lighter than its 2023 predecessor - felt heavier on the change of direction.

It will have been hard for him to take much solace in being Honda's Portimao standout - it sounds like he expected that, also because his Portimao pace last year was one of the few bright spots in what was otherwise a miserable debut campaign for Honda.

"This was a track that last year I enjoyed,” he said. “And this year, not so much.”

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