until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Zarco’s goals for a less ‘Marquez-focused’ Honda

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Johann Zarco isn’t the first MotoGP rider to head to Honda in recent years with a publicly stated confidence of breaking the string of failures of outside recruits to tame the RC213V.

The reason he’s in that position is because most of his predecessors failed. But Alex Rins, the man he’s directly replacing at LCR Honda, is arguably the exception. Yes, he has now missed five grands prix through injury (and will miss a sixth this weekend, with Iker Lecuona standing in again at Barcelona), but even aside the masterful win at COTA something did seem to be generally clicking for Rins with the Honda.


But that didn’t stop Rins from signing with Yamaha and, though the lure of a factory deal relative to a satellite ride is obvious, the Spaniard has also been fairly open in various media appearances (both before and after the Yamaha deal was sealed) about not having got the kind of support from Honda – or, perhaps more accurately, the kind of deeply-involved development role – that he would’ve liked.

Zarco, who has joined Honda in lieu of staying on the Ducati, MotoGP’s best bike, on a shorter-term deal, believes he is joining a project that he can be a pivotal cog in. But why does he think he can get what Rins didn’t?

Johann Zarco spoke to Simon Patterson for an exclusive edition of The Race MotoGP Podcast, which will be released in full later this week

“The target is to have the factory[-spec] bike and be involved in the development,” Zarco told The Race.

“I think Honda this year, ’23, they have still a lot of focus on Marc. Because Marc was, on paper, ready to fight [out front], did the pole position in Portimao and a podium in the sprint race.

“I think when Rins arrived, it was also the moment that Honda was still waiting for Marc. Maybe in that moment they would always wait for him, because he remains the fastest one. But maybe they will open a bit more the mind.

“And from where I’m coming, I think there are more things in my luggage than the one of Rins. Because I’ve ridden different bikes, and I’ve never been injured, I did all the races all the time, that’s a big difference to Rins.

“And also in my position I have the chance that it can be a time that Honda will be a bit less focused on Marc, because they are seeing that things are changing.”

Firstly, the Rins point – Zarco and Rins debuted in the same year (Suzuki famously evaluated Zarco before pivoting to Rins, leaving the Frenchman to ride quite successfully for Tech3 Yamaha) and Zarco only has 10 more GP starts as it stands, so he’s overstating Rins’ injury record a little.


But while Rins did prove an excellent development asset at Suzuki, it’s true that that’s the only MotoGP bike he’d tried before joining Honda, whereas Zarco has experience of not just that Suzuki (in testing) but also Yamaha, KTM, Ducati and a previous version of the Honda under his belt.

And as for the Marc Marquez thought, that really is a curious one.

Marquez himself will object to the framing that the recent Hondas – even the 2019 one that he was tearing up MotoGP with – were particularly towards his liking over his team-mates’, but the perception is that the RC213V was a knife-edge machine that only Marquez was able to extract magic from, at least until this current period where even that ceiling of performance has become lesser and has come with a consistent injury risk that Marquez is not willing to take.

Marc Marquez

There was already talk, particularly back in Pol Espargaro’s Honda tenure, that the bike will be made more rider-friendly, but the redesigns clearly have not achieved this. Zarco hopes that they can in the future – and that his input, that of a rider who oversaw the last 30% or so of Ducati’s transformation from a nightmare bike to the bike everybody wants and can thrive on, can help.

“To have a bike again performing, always ready to be in the top five, plus the podium depending on how the riders is feeling,” Zarco says when asked what outcome he would be happy with for his initial two-year deal – note, again, the emphasis on the project rather than individual accolades.

“Should be four bikes next year for Honda, [so the target is that] these four bikes at the end of the years are the bikes that can be in the top 10, at least three out of four.

“At the moment when Honda is working, it’s only one rider, because it was always Marc.”

Zarco said he wants Honda to be “a bit like Ducati are doing, now of the eight bikes there are at least almost all the time seven bikes in the top 10”.

“This would be good, to have three [Honda] bikes in the top 10.

“A good-balanced bike – MotoGP is never easy, but at least a bike that gives the right motivation to the rider and gives confidence to the rider [is desirable].”

Marquez has welcomed Zarco’s arrival, but also cautioned that there’s only so much impact a rider signing can have. Honda’s current riders are already aligned on what needs to be done to the bike, he says, and it’s not like fellow accomplished riders who’d joined from the outside before Zarco have been able to turn around the project so far.

Johann Zarco

That’s logical – indeed, much depends on who else Honda might be recruiting behind the scenes, given also that while Jack Miller’s move from Ducati to KTM has coincided with a KTM upturn, it’s not like MIller was the sole recruit to join from the all-conquering Italian brand.

But on Zarco’s side, he hopes that in being able to “maybe give some good information back” he can earn Marquez’s appreciation, too. “I will not look for it, but I will be glad if it can work like this.”

Marquez and Zarco had a Sachsenring accident that they blamed one another for – Marquez falling at Turn 1 while Zarco was coming out of the pits, the former taking issue with the latter’s positioning on the track and the latter completely not on board with such an interpretation. Zarco says they haven’t really spoken since, but hopes to have “a good relationship” once they’re stablemates.

“When he has been struggling, for me I was feeling sad for him because I was not seeing the Marc we are used to see.

“I’m a racer, if I have something wrong with him I will tell him. But I still have admiration for him, and I’m sure, if he just switched back to something good, he will be good.

“I would like to have a good relationship with him but I will not be in the same box.

“The weekends are busy. I’m seeing that I’m not even speaking with [Pramac team-mate] Jorge Martin. Only the VR46 riders [in MotoGP] are always together, and Marc is always with [brother] Alex.”

Johann Zarco

It is possible, though, that at one point Zarco and Marquez might find themselves as team-mates in the Repsol camp – or that Zarco may be Marquez’s replacement. Zarco’s deal is a two-year agreement to ride for LCR, but there’s an implicit understanding, also from his end, that should a Repsol ride be vacated, either for 2025 or even earlier, he’ll be in prime position for it.

“Having a straight contract with HRC always leaves the door open to have a chance to be in Repsol.

“And… maybe this could happen in ’25.

“If the situation happened before [then] it would be really a surprise for me and for everyone, but a nice surprise. For sure the Honda is not the favourite at the moment, but to jump in the factory team, I’m just smiling about [the idea].”

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