until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Would Yamaha really be an upgrade for Honda’s MotoGP riders?

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Rumours that Yamaha is actively courting current Honda MotoGP riders Alex Rins and Joan Mir in an attempt to find a replacement for Franco Morbidelli in its factory team for 2024 prompt the question of whether walking away from one difficult bike mid-contract to ride another would really represent a significant improvement.

But while there are inarguably challenges that a Yamaha switch would present for both American Grand Prix winner Rins or 2020 world champion Mir, it’s hard to claim that the step would be significantly harder than what the pair, both currently sidelined with broken bones, are currently enduring at Honda.

The literal safer bet

Joan Mir Honda crash MotoGP COTA

The Yamaha M1 is clearly underperforming at the minute – despite (or perhaps because of) a more powerful new-for-2023 engine, Yamaha occupies last place in the constructors’ standings, 13 points behind Honda.

That admittedly is skewed by the fact there is only one Yamaha team on the grid, whereas Honda has not just the Repsol-coloured factory outfit but LCR to call upon. In the teams’ standings, worth Yamaha is ahead of both Repsol and LCR – although that in turn is skewed by the fact Yamaha riders have enjoyed a (relatively) clean bill of health compared to Honda’s injury nightmares.

But that is part of the appeal. The M1 at least retains the basis of what makes it a Yamaha: it’s slow on straights, struggling on acceleration in particular, but it’s still a smooth-ish handling machine. Both Fabio Quartararo and Morbidelli have talked about it becoming a much less stable proposition, but that new characteristic still pales in comparison if you look at the crash figures.

As Quartararo said at the Sachsenring last week: “The Honda is turning a little bit better than us, but especially on braking we are a little bit better than them. So this can avoid the crashes a little bit.”

The RC213V is a very different beast. Aggressive, uncontrolled and prone to launching its riders at high speeds – which is not related to braking but electronics, but also something the M1 doesn’t really do – it’s quite telling that three of Honda’s four riders have so far broken bones on the bike this year (one of them, Marc Marquez, has done so twice), while at Yamaha the most severe injury of 2023 so far is a broken toe sustained by Quartararo while running.

So while jumping from Honda to Yamaha wouldn’t exactly mean trading in a back-of-the-grid machine for a race winner, at least it’s swapping one slow machine that’s actively hurting its riders for another slow machine that’s much more placid to ride.

A question of status

Alex Rins LCR Honda MotoGP COTA

This doesn’t apply to Mir, who is a works rider already, but it’s easy to see how Rins would be tempted by a return to works status.

Having taken a satellite bike to a race win this season, Rins has also made not-so-subtle allusions to the fact he’d like to feel more embedded as a Honda asset – whether it comes to his feedback or, more recently, giving him use of the Kalex chassis, which team-mate Takaaki Nakagami now has but only because Mir and Rins are injured. He’d also openly acknowledged that there is lingering surprise over being overlooked for the Repsol seat in favour of his former Suzuki team-mate.

Rins had no factory seat available to him as a first option when he was making his 2023 decision after Suzuki’s exit. If that changes for 2024, it’s easy to see how donning factory status again would tempt a six-time premier-class grand prix winner.

Facing off against Quartararo

Fabio Quartararo Yamaha MotoGP

Of course, there are more challenges to jumping onto a Yamaha than just making the bike competitive again – and the first of those challenges is beating its established number one, 2021 world champion Quartararo.

He’s very much the team’s focal point right now, even if Morbidelli has surprised a few times this year with performances that match if not quite surpass those of the Frenchman. And it’s obviously the first rule of racing to beat your team-mate.

However, given the current state of things at Honda, you’ve got to think that going up against Quartararo won’t be too much of a concern for any potential refugees from the situation, at least in the short term. Especially if the thought of a tough established team number one didn’t put them off joining the Marquez-led Honda in the first place.

Other dominoes?

Franco Morbidelli Yamaha MotoGP Argentina

Mir’s factory Repsol Honda seat would probably be the easiest one to fill were he the one to depart, with Rins the most obvious candidate to swiftly move up.

Filling Rins’ LCR Honda spot would be a considerably harder proposition, though, with none of the current MotoGP grid standing out as likely candidates.

But if that does arise as a need, the route LCR and Honda take will probably be informative in the premier-class prospects of Morbidelli.

The 28-year-old’s obvious landing spot in case of a Yamaha split is with his mentor Valentino Rossi’s VR46 team. But while the VR46 operation has openly discussed that as a possibility, it has also been very open in acknowledging that this would be contingent on changing its current line-up, which is still its preferred one for 2024.

Marco Bezzecchi has been a standout and Luca Marini hasn’t been far off. Neither is particularly interested in moving away from VR46, and neither is expendable. Therefore, if Yamaha deems Morbidelli surplus to requirements, he may need some manoeuvring elsewhere on the grid to make a 2024 bounce-back with another team possible.

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