Stefan Bradl has been taking the place of Marc Marquez in Repsol Honda since the HRC leader dropped out of the MotoGP championship for the 4th surgery on his right hand. The German told how the weekend at the Red Bull Ring went and what role Mark played in the factory garage.
Even with drivers like Pol Espargaro and Stefan Bradl, the RC213V project cannot take a step forward and get out of the difficulties that all HRC pilots found themselves in 2021. The situation is that the pilots are unable to get the rear wheel with the Michelin slick to work properly, which is why there are always emergency moments. Espargaro, Nakagami, and Marquez Jr. have already learned to avoid high sides, but this significantly reduces their potential in racing. The problem was localized and confirmed by Marquez at the Circuito de Jerez, in tests after the Spanish Grand Prix.
In 2021, Marquez did not immediately return to service after rehabilitation but missed pre-season tests and the first two stages in Qatar, so Honda did not have an objective evaluation of the prototype after a radical change in the frame, made in accordance with the wishes of all other Honda pilots. Having started work on localizing the issue at the Spanish Grand Prix, Marc confirmed the lack of a prototype, which prevented other pilots from developing the right pace. It seemed that during the 2021 season it was fixed. But Marc again missed a number of important tests due to an unplanned injury at the end of the year, and a couple of nuances again escaped the developers.
Repsol Honda boss Alberto Puig insists that of all the current HRC racers, only Marquez feels the true nature of the RC213V, so his expertise is key for developers.
The 2022 season started in Qatar, where Pol Espargaro could fight for victory and Marquez for the podium. Losail International Circuit is a special territory where it is easy enough to defend your position if you take the initiative on the first lap: it is a narrow track with 1-2 real zones for safe attacks, and considering that the peak speeds of Honda, Ducati, KTM and Aprilia are generally equal, no one had a key advantage in overtaking, the issue was already being resolved in the struggle between top pilots. Therefore, even if the motorcycle had some drawbacks, the race was successful for the Repsol pilots.
But then there was a series of unpleasant departures in Indonesia, the cause of which was… an extremely unfavorable set of circumstances, including the strange behavior of Michelin tires on the substandard asphalt of the Mandalika International Circuit. Puig turned to Michelin with a demand for an investigation, eventually, it took place, and both sides exchanged important telemetry data. But there Marquez suffered a head injury and was left out for several stages, which slowed down the search for a solution. When he returned, he did his best to localize the problems of the RC213V chassis. It was again possible to find the cause of the issues with the holder in Jerez. In that race, by the way, Marc confidently fought for the podium, but at the decisive moment of the race he again caught the same moment with the loss of the holder as in Indonesia, however, he was able to save the situation thanks to his impressive skills. But the change in the geometry of the humerus limited Marquez’s abilities, and therefore he did not doubt the need for a 4th operation. After the Italian Grand Prix, Marc withdrew from the game, and Stefan Bradl took his place. Bradl’s goal in the last 5 races was to collect data: Stefan initially did not plan to achieve any result, “not to be a racer”.
Now there is both data and the right moment: Honda is waiting for Marquez to return to the prototype saddle at the IRTA tests in Misano! In the meantime, Marc spent the weekend as an advisor and expert behind the scenes of the Red Bull Ring. Bradl told what his own mission in Austria was and how it was connected with his mission of Marc:
“Until now, we have been working on a specific program, collecting data on different types of tracks. And this time I tried the new [asymmetric] Michelin tire for the first time and saw how big the difference is from our standard rear tire. We had to collect a lot of material because the Red Bull Ring is suitable for this. It was important to see Marc in our boxing, to see his enthusiasm and motivation. He wants to get the project back on track so that everything works 100% for us by the time he returns. Fortunately, our reviews of the bike completely coincided. A pilot like Mark doesn’t need to ride a motorcycle to give feedback on his work – he sees all the nuances even from the pit lane. But his level is so high that even good, sensible advice will not help you speed up: for this, you need to knowingly go at his level. But we discussed a lot of important technical issues while sitting in the box and studying the date, talking about the behavior of the motorcycle.”
A moment was finally revealed to Mugello, which even Mark could not cope with, as he himself stated in his big interview at a press conference at the Red Bull Ring: some of the ideas that were supposed to change the situation simply “remained to lie on the shelf” – they were forgotten, they were lost, and after The Jerez motorcycle did not evolve, it only got worse. This point was discussed with HRC engineers in Spielberg last weekend. It should be taken into account in the prototype, which will appear at the tests in Misano. If not, then the 2022 season will also be completely lost in terms of Honda’s R&D.
Bradl, being in the MotoGP paddock as a prize-winning pilot, also sees a number of important trends that are developing in parallel, in the garages of competitors: the return of Marc to the ranks will not be easy, because the Ducati teams have reached the proper level, while Fabio Quartararo has learned to use even the weak points of Yamaha in his favor and transform them into strong ones:
“Even Marc could not help but note this: it will be more and more difficult to fight Ducati, not because of gadgets, but because several riders from different teams of the grouping are already riding at the same prize level. Fabio has become much more mature psychologically, he and his team are ready to emerge victorious from any situation, even if at first glance it seems otherwise. It won’t be easy for Pekko to get a Quartararo this year, even if he wins all the remaining races. Mark will have to return to the real maelstrom of events. Definitely, both he and the bike should be 100% ready for this,” Stefan added.