until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Honda's Marquez replacement is utterly invisible so far

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Under the current MotoGP weekend format, the premier class of grand prix motorcycle racing has four separate sessions in a weekend that you would class as 'competitive', in that finishing in a higher position in them carries a tangible competitive benefit.

These sessions are the practice that advances 10 riders into Q2, qualifying (you could count Q1/Q2 as separates, but for these purposes we won't), the sprint race and the main race.

Across Qatar and Portimao, that's eight sessions. In those eight, Honda newcomer Luca Marini was classified either last or second-to-last.

Signed last season at late notice as the replacement for Marc Marquez, Marini was never meant to replicate what Marquez had been for Honda, even in those last couple of years that the bike was properly left behind by Honda's European rivals.

Instead, Marini was brought in as a cerebral cog in Honda's rebuild, and the success of his hire will probably have more to do with how good the RC213V is at the end of the season.

Right now, it is not good. The Portuguese Grand Prix made a convincing case that it is the worst bike in MotoGP, maybe by a lot.

That, of course, is not on Marini - but he is also not having the start to the season that he and Honda may have hoped for when it looked like he'd taken to the Honda better than expected in off-season testing.

Teething problems

Marini is one of three MotoGP riders yet to score a point this season, and his fellow stragglers Franco Morbidelli (Pramac Ducati) and Trackhouse Aprilia's Raul Fernandez look in a much better position to get some on the board in the short term.

A look at Marini's races in Honda/Repsol colours so far shows why.

Marini's deficit to race winner

Qatar sprint - 2.3s per lap
Qatar GP - 2.0s per lap
Portugal sprint - 2.1s per lap
Portugal GP - 1.6s per lap

In the Sunday contest in Qatar, where he was 42 seconds off at the finish, he initially complained of a problem on the bike. But this only contributed to him ending up in a 'wooden spoon' battle with Jack Miller (who had crashed) - Marini didn't suggest it was what kept him from taking on his fellow Honda riders.

While the Honda is rear-grip deficient, Marini said that he in particular has also struggled with mid-corner turn-in relative to his stablemates.

But he has also sounded like a rider who just isn't confident enough with the RC213V, especially to push it over one lap.

"You need to be very precise, at the moment, with our bike," he said, acknowledging then that the bike was 'unforgiving'. "Exactly, this is the problem.

"It's difficult to have that margin that it feels like the other riders have, especially the Ducati riders. Looks like the limit of their bike is always there, and you try to do everything to arrive there.

"While for us for this moment, it's more understanding what is happening on the bike, in every corner, understanding if there is more or not.

"We need to ride well and be focused a lot in every corner, because it's not so easy, especially if you want to push a lot. If you're riding in a pace situation, we are still slow, but the feeling is OK. While when you want to be aggressive to make a qualifying lap, we are still struggling, a lot."

This hasn't necessarily looked like the case across the board for Honda - its qualifying pace/race pace balance is hard to get a read on right now - but it certainly checks out for Marini.

And a nasty crash in private testing at Jerez - a similar crash, Marini indicated, to the one that altered Marquez's career trajectory in 2020, albeit this one thankfully without severe consequences - between Qatar and Portimao won't have helped confidence.

But he did at least make a tentative step forward in the 25-lap Portuguese Grand Prix, running broadly similar pace to the likes of Takaaki Nakagami and Johann Zarco.

"I could enjoy some corners, some laps," he said. "A good step, a little step forward, but I was much closer to my team-mates, this was good."

To aim much higher, Marini said and the rest of the Honda riders seemingly concur, is a question of "hardware".

"We need time to prepare some new parts."

And evaluating those parts is what Marini is there for, after all. Honda has sounded happy with his approach, and whether he can snipe points or not on the current RC213V genuinely shouldn't matter so much - because the current RC213V is not the end goal.

At least some of Marini's pace oscillations so far are down to taking big swings with the bike set-up - this much is clear.

In Qatar, he said a race badly off the pace but gathering useful information was "better than finishing 16th and not understanding anything".

At Portimao, he said the big takeaway from the weekend was "understanding that in some ways we cannot go - with the setting, with the balance of the bike".

He's got the security of a two-year contract to keep plugging away for now without wincing too much while looking at the standings. When it comes to the Honda seat he occupies, the 2024 standings became irrelevant the second Marquez was allowed to vacate it.

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