Two factory MotoGP racing projects from Japan – Honda Racing and Yamaha Racing found themselves in an unusual position at the equator of the 2022 season: they have two strongest riders who know how to lead their prototypes to the title, but neither Yamaha nor Honda can fully count on it this year. Why? What is going on in the world of Moto Grand Prix in general?
The situation for both plants is threatening, despite the fact that Fabio Quartararo from Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP leads the championship with a good margin in points on Ales Espargaro from Aprilia and Pekko Bagnaia from Ducati.
From dawn to dusk
To the current situation, the last 5 years have been led by a very clear policy of two factory departments, which relied not on the revolutionary improvement of prototypes and the creation of new motorcycle technologies, but on the operation of existing solutions – the construction of motorcycles for specific pilots. It’s just cheaper that way! Therefore, HRC made a bet on exclusive cooperation with Marc Marquez, and in Yamaha, saying goodbye to Rossi, they chose Fabio Quartararo.
Today’s Honda RC213V, in the form in which it is operated – ideologically and technologically – was created in 2014, improved in 2015, and redesigned again in 2016. It practically did not change (globally) from 2017 to 2019, and in 2020-2021, due to the pandemic, engine development was completely frozen. In 2021, HRC tried to create an alternative chassis, “more ride-able” for the rest of the Honda pilots, but this idea did not lead to anything other than admitting a new error in the motor-chassis combination, because of which nothing could be achieved in 2022. In fact, Marc Marquez and Honda survived the 2015 season once again. In other words, Honda has been operating the same prototype for 8 years. Why is that? Because much more time, effort, and money were spent on its development than it seems.
It is easier to buy a super pilot than to create a new prototype from scratch or almost from scratch, and bring it to perfection.
To call it the stupidity of factory bosses is even more stupidity. The main thing is that such a feature of the strategy brought success and had to work further. The key in the plans of the Japanese factories is to take the Manufacturers’ Cup and protect the positions of the pilots of the plant in the individual competition. From this point of view, Marquez’s dominance on the RC213V looked normal, and the absence of a second contender from Honda did not bother anyone – the goals were fulfilled exactly until Mark suddenly left the stage.
In Yamaha, problems are observed not for the first year, but for the entire five-year period. They are connected with the fact that since 2016 the plant did not want to go through revolutionary transformations in the Mission One project, considering it good enough to fight for the title. Like Honda, the ideology of the Yamaha M1 is a little more than 8 years old. Suzuki followed the same path after 2020 until it was decided to close the project in early May.
The courage of Aprilia and Ducati engineers found fervent support from the factory management and allowed them to take a step forward by creating more versatile prototypes “for everyone”. Now Aprilia and Ducati pilots beat Honda and Yamaha on a regular basis. Both European plants made a breakthrough only in the middle of 2021. And if you follow the logic, the next sunset of the Japanese is coming, followed by the heyday of European manufacturers – for the next 4-6 years. The whole cycle lasts 7-8 years if you believe the performance of MotoGP from 2002 to 2022.
Will Quarararo not retain the title?
What did Franco Morbidelli mean when he said that Quartararo does not look like a favorite in the race for the title? Franco sees the situation from the inside and is able to assess it more soberly than sofa experts.
Now, Fabio Quarararo’s position as the leader of the MotoGP championship is in doubt.
“I look like an enthusiast, saying that the race at Silverstone was amazing. In fact, we could fight two rivals on motorcycles that are superior to our Yamaha M1 today. It’s great that I was able to squeeze everything out of my bike today, I gave my all,” Morbidelli said after the British Grand Prix.
“To be honest, I don’t see Fabio as a leader, but as a catch-up… solely because of the characteristics of our motorcycle,” Franco added. – If your bike goes much slower on the straights, you generally go slower. But it just shows what extraordinary things Fabio can do with this bike!”
“Lack of speed” – those words again?.. So Quarararo was right and Dovizioso was wrong? Morbidelli confirms the words of Quartararo, hoping for a response from R&D Yamaha Racing in Iwata… and risks premature dismissal.
The essence of Morbidelli’s statement is as follows: today’s YZR-M1 loses to Ducati, Aprilia, Suzuki, and even KTM so much that only the exceptional abilities of Quarararo are able to level this difference, and even then, not on all tracks. There will be a number of races where even the superpowers of Quarararo will not help Yamaha keep its position in the championship: Red Bull Ring, Misano, Sepang, Chang International, Phillip Island, Motorland Aragon – six key tracks where Quarararo can lose many points.
In the absence of a strong Honda leader, these points will invariably go into the piggy bank of Ducati and Aprilia, which are charged with success more than others. Suzuki and KTM will finish the championship. Honda pilots have been out of the game for a long time…
What to do before the new advent
Stefan Bradl, who replaces Marquez after another operation, is engaged in very specific tasks in the Repsol Honda box. He does not go to the result and no longer tries to be a “racer”. Bradl explained on the eve of leaving for Austria what exactly he was doing there.
“That year, when I had to replace Mark [in 2020], I was inspired – it seemed to me that I could get enough time to restore my speed, a level sufficient to fight in MotoGP. But the level is not the same. My level was not the same. And now the level of the bike is not the same. And that’s why I don’t want to waste my mental strength trying to surpass myself and this bike. Obviously, there are problems that we have identified, but which we are not able to fix [until the motorcycle is completely replaced with a new model]. The results of the upcoming races do not matter to us – we are completely focused on working on the bike of 2023. And when Mark returns, he will be completely immersed in this work with us. He has a speed that I lack. His expertise will be an assessment of our work over the last 3-4 months. Together we will prepare the bike for the return to the fight,” Bradl said.
At the moment, Stefan is personally subordinate to two HRC bosses: from the point of view of the organization of work, his boss is Alberto Puig; from a technical point of view, he speaks directly to Takeo Yokoyama, technical director of Honda Racing. Without the expertise of the strongest HRC pilot, Marquez Sr., the project works in some way “blindly”. The situation will change after the San Marino Grand Prix and the IRTA tests are scheduled for September. But in terms of results, the 2022 season is closed unconditionally for Honda – this is not even a capitulation, but a deliberate exit from the game. Honda has thus already lost 2 seasons of development.
But Yamaha doesn’t have a new prototype either. If he were, Quartararo and Co. we would have already tried out some new elements (in Jerez and Barcelona), but they were not there. What M1 they will get at the tests in Misano, we can only guess… or they won’t get it at all, which is also possible. Because there is no point: Quarararo will be the main (and almost the only) Yamaha driver in 2023, even if Morbidelli stays by his side and brings his contract to the final. Without satellite, Yamaha Racing has no real chance to run new technologies and get enough statistics about the performance of the motorcycle and the solutions found. By and large, Honda is in the same position, and the rejection of the satellite will not be a disaster – it is already happening here and now.
You ask: why is everything like this, and what is it going to? The answer is in the air: Honda and Yamaha, as two leaders in the motorcycle industry market (on a global scale), are now clearly at a loss where to go next. Until they find the answer, no decisive steps will be taken!
The contract with Dorna Sports, which guarantees the immutability of MotoGP principles, is registered only until 2026. Does it make sense to invest hundreds of millions in technologies that have a chance to become scrap in 3 years? – that’s the question that worries Japanese bosses and their R&D. That’s the main difficulty of the situation of Honda and Yamaha. And especially, Honda.