Honda is on high alert in Japan. There’s no tsunami, although considering the results achieved by Pol Espargaró, Stefan Bradl and the two LCR riders Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami during the first two races of the season, perhaps the manufacturer is in need of a tsunami... one like Marc Marquez. It’s still unclear when the Spaniard will return, but more importantly, how much will the RC213V have changed in his absence?

Things haven’t gone to plan

When Marc Marquez was racing and winning with the Honda, amassing six titles since coming to MotoGP in fact, many complained about a RC213V that only he appeared able to ride. Dani Pedrosa struggled in his final years, and so did Jorge Lorenzo after him. Then came 2020, the championship not getting underway until 19 July as a result of Covid-19. The Jerez round proved to be Marquez’s only half-race of the season, his fractured humerus preventing him from competing for the rest of the year. He was replaced by Stefan Bradl who did his best, scoring a best result of seventh in Portugal.

Rookie Alex Marquez made a solid contribution, finishing second at both the Le Mans and Aragon rounds, as did LCR rider Nakagami with his two fourth place finishes. Cal Crutchlow proved less impressive, scoring a best of eighth. It was a strange year for all the Honda riders and, considering the improvement seen later in the season, it appears that the HRC engineers may have followed a path other than that laid out by Marc Marquez, so as to make the bike more rideable for everyone.

Has Honda followed the right path?

And then the 2021 championship got underway, with Pol Espargaró on the factory team in place of Alex Marquez who moves to LCR. But there’s still no Marc Marquez, at least for now. As for the two opening rounds, the four Honda riders scored just 18 points combined, most of which were taken by the newly hired Pol Espargaró.

So we might say that alarm bells are ringing for Honda. The only ‘excuse’ is that Qatar didn’t hold a round in 2020 and so the riders had no references, and yet they had completed various test days. So what’s going on at HRC? If it’s true that the aim of the development work is to have a bike that is more rideable by everyone, then have they been moving in the right direction or perhaps taken a wrong turn? And how will Marc Marquez find the RC213V when he returns? Will he still be able to exploit it and return to winning ways?

Only Marc Marquez can give the Honda wings

There are many question marks, but what is clear is that Honda needs a rider like Marc Marquez, or rather, Marc Marquez himself, in order to fly high. And only the Spaniard can say whether the bike has changed. There is a risk that it has, but as we’ve seen over the years, he’s one of very few able to ride around the problems. But for now, the Japanese manufacturer is evidently without its wings.

Translated by Heather Watson

Sepang 2011, when Marquez almost lost his sight but came back a winner