until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Post-Marquez Honda is leaderless (in a good way)

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The opening round of the 2024 season last weekend in Qatar wasn't just Marc Marquez’s very first (and second) MotoGP race riding a bike that wasn’t a Honda.

It also, inevitably, marked the Japanese manufacturer's first time starting a season without its six-time premier class champion since he'd started on the path to those titles just over a decade ago.

And while the attention might have largely been on the Spaniard’s fight for the podium at the Lusail circuit rather than his old team, there were still plenty of signs from further down the grid that the Japanese factory can thrive without Marquez.

Working hard throughout winter to make significant changes to the RC213V, there have been hints of that improvement in performance since the radically different new bike first debuted at Valencia last November.

And while it’s obviously not quite there yet, 2020 world champion Joan Mir was optimistic after Sunday's action in Qatar about what’s to come - even if he did somewhat self-sabotage his result at Lusail through inexperience.

Battling with fellow champion Fabio Quartararo, himself on a struggling Japanese machine in the form of the Yamaha M1, and with satellite LCR Honda rider Johann Zarco, Mir looked like he had the beating of the pair with only a few laps to go - only to run out of steam.

“Honestly, I can say that I’m happy,” enthused the Repsol Honda rider. “In the first laps, I overtook a lot of positions. I could see the front group. I was maintaining well the tyres behind Fabio for all the race.

“Then in the last five laps I decided to overtake him because I thought that I had something more. I started to push, I opened a gap of one second, and then I killed the tyre! In the last two laps I f***ked everything that I did in the five before. I f***ked everything I did all race in the last two laps.

“But I could fight a bit, I could enjoy to fight in the 'Japanese Cup' and even leading it!"

Mir spoke with an obvious liveliness in his voice, even though the race didn't promise much and didn't deliver even what it promised.

He is a champion - he has finished many a race higher than 13th. Repsol Honda certainly has. But clearly it was easy for him to find acceptance of the current situation - easier than in his disastrous first year in 2023.

His quiet optimism was backed up in Qatar by Zarco - and, earlier in that weekend, Zarco pointed to Marquez's absence as being meaningful to the dynamic within Honda.

That is not to say Honda couldn't have used Marquez this year. Chances are good he would've elevated the level of the new RC213V had he still been in Repsol colours - just as he had done in more or less every year.

But at age 30, feeling the urgency of chasing more titles and big results (and having the ability to 'ride around' the bike's problems), there's an argument to be made that Marquez's presence would've created an unwelcome frustration around Honda and a still-unassailable benchmark to frustrate his RC213V stablemates.

“At the moment we need to grow up with Honda, and this will be beneficial to all,” said Zarco of his adaptation to the RC213V.

“At the moment, the big change compared to the moment before is that a huge leader is not in the factory team.

"I don’t mean that I am the leader, but we are very similar and that's useful to everyone.

“Both teams [LCR and Repsol] get very similar from Honda, and they are now doing it in this way.

"In the past we can understand that having Marc who could save every problem, they had maybe too much focus on that.”

There’s still more to come in terms of the package as well, with the results of test rider Stefan Bradl’s latest test outing at Jerez set to arrive with the race team at Portimao this weekend, something that Mir sounds tentatively positive about based on the German’s initial feedback.

“We learned a couple of things, we got some good information, I think at the race we’ll get a few new things that we’ve asked for and they’ve tried at the test, and the track is a little bit better suited to our bike. We can make another step.

“I said that here, if we were close to the top 10 with our bike, it was not a disaster. The others are far, but the good thing is that we stayed in front of a lot of bikes who are more competitive than us, and this is the good thing that we have to find.

“I know that our bike is improving. But the others made a step. We did too, but it’s not enough.

“Inside the team, we know what is going on, we are working hard, and what I ask is that they have to continue the intensity to keep developing things. What we have is not enough, but last year we had the same package all year and this was mentally very difficult to manage.

“This year I expected a change, now I see it, and I hope they continue like this.”

At a certain point, Honda will be back to a level where it needs a Marquez-level spearhead (or two) - a rider putting everything on the line, seeking to maximise every session or crash out trying.

For now, what it needs are happy, reasonably-fast riders with development acumen working together to improve the bike.

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