Marquez/Ducati is great but Honda split leaves a sour taste

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

A swap to a satellite Ducati has transformed Marc Marquez from a rider destined for another up-against-it season of MotoGP competition into a 2024 championship favourite, and maybe even a heavy favourite at that.

Here at The Race we have written and said plenty to the effect that this is a good move for both the championship, in terms of 2024 hype and intrigue (at least to begin with), and Marquez himself, but also many of the established figures at Ducati - and perhaps Honda, too.

Marquez's first Ducati outing, a very credible day of work in the post-season test at Valencia last year, has only reinforced the perception that the six-time MotoGP champion had made the right decision from a sporting perspective.

But it won't have done much for those who feel that, given all six of those titles had come in partnership with Honda, Marquez was too hasty in departing a manufacturer that can be accurately described as being in a time of need.

Veteran team boss and two-time 250cc rider champion Sito Pons, the guest on a recent edition of The Race MotoGP Podcast, is in this camp, as he told host Toby Moody.

"For me, I mean, I can understand what Marquez did. I think I would not do that. But maybe I'd make a mistake. Maybe he was right to do this," said Pons - whose eponymous team withdrew from grand prix racing at the end of last year after a long tenure that included a Moto2 title and Honda customer wins in MotoGP and 500cc.

"I understand that [it wasn't working]. But my character, the way I was built up, one of the important things for me is loyalty.

"And then obviously, when you race with Honda so many years, you win so many times, and you have three [injury-stricken] years that you almost don't race, and the bike is not good - partly, I'm sorry to say, but partly because Marquez didn't race. And then you cannot put all the blame on the other side, when you have a big part of the blame.

"Because obviously if you don't race, if you don't have the chance to race, the other manufacturers, they are full capacity, they are racing, they are improving the bike, they have their own riders at full capacity. You are in bed [injured], you've crashed, you've had bad luck - but this bad luck affected all the project. And then, because you don't have the best bike, then 'I want to leave'."

Marquez can hardly be blamed for having got injured - even if there was a certain recklessness to the circumstances of that initial Jerez 2020 crash. In offering him that four-year deal that wound up so massively effected by the injury, Honda will have been well-aware that it was a real risk - and, according to Marquez, the manufacturer has been nothing but compassionate and supportive towards him during his arduous recovery process.

At the same time, Pons' assertion Marquez's injuries have compromised Honda's development is a viewpoint Marquez himself had espoused in the past.

"I think Marquez always goes to the edge - always-always-always," Pons continued. "And sometimes it's not necessary - but even so, Marquez managed to win I don't know how many world championships, amazing, he's one of the best-ever riders in history. But.. when you win so many times, when you have all the manufacturer, Honda, working for you, and 'you say goodbye I'm going to another because you don't have the bike'...

"In reality, they are not so far away, if you see. In the last races - they weren't winning but... they are not so-so-so far-far away.

"I understand the position of the rider, he wants to win and he thinks he cannot win on this bike. And he made a big effort, he renounced a lot of money. To win, it's more important for him [than ever], and that's a good point. Obviously he renounced [gave up] all these things. Obviously there are two points of view - personal loyalty and sporting side-only. Sporting side, OK, maybe you have the chance [to be champion]."

Marquez has been open about the pressure of his age in a sporting sense, how he's felt the clock ticking on his window of opportunity to win again. While he has described the Gresini move as a risk relative to the "comfortable" option of sticking with Honda, this is clearly not the case from a purely competitive point of view - and the individual pursuit of glory has obviously driven the switch.

But Marquez's arguments for how the decision to leave Honda does not contradict his "personal loyalty" to the brand have also been well-documented. Giving up year four of a mega-money deal is part of that, as Marquez clearly believes, justifiably so, that his 2024 salary is better-served being funnelled into development of a bike that, in its 2023 form, would not and did not benefit that much from elite rider talent.

He has also repeatedly emphasised the "amazing relationship" he has with Honda that allowed him to take this decision - and, for Pons, this relationship may well be too "amazing" given Honda was left scrambling at the last minute to fill its Marquez-shaped hole with Luca Marini, extricated from VR46 Ducati.

"At the end of the day they remained without a rider at the end of the championship," said Pons, describing it as a "very bad" predicament.

"They needed to take a decision much-much earlier, to say ‘OK, Marc, if you don't want to be with us, take a decision in July or June, and then we'll do another thing'. But giving him the chance until the last minute put Honda, a big manufacturer, in a situation that is not good."

The signing of Marini seems to have been a deft resolution, though. And with a much-improved-seeming 2024 prototype running at Valencia, Honda should still have its pick of free agents for 2025.

Marquez himself could well be among them, having repeatedly hinted a future reunion with Honda is an entirely desirable outcome. Take, for instance, his comments during the Valencian Grand Prix weekend.

"I like to have the door open to Honda," he said. "And I say, and maybe other manufacturers won't like to hear it, but it will be the team of my life, of my career, I achieved six world championships and many victories.

"I will not achieve with another manufacturer those numbers."

He may well add to those numbers down the line - but in leaving for Gresini he's accepted he won't be the rider to have lifted Honda off its knees. Someone else will be the face of the rebuild.

That won't be keeping Marquez up at night if he's as successful in 2024 as he looks like he can be. But it'll be part of the story all the same.

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