The Slow Decline Of The Honda RC213V - The Lessons Of Stefan Bradl And Alvaro Bautista

Last year, Marc Márquez won the first ten races of the season on his way to his second successive MotoGP championship. He ended the season with a grand total of thirteen wins, eventually tying up the title at Motegi, with three races still to go. He could have wrapped it up a race earlier, had he not crashed trying to keep pace with Valentino Rossi at Misano. Márquez and the Honda RC213V reigned supreme, clearly the best package on the grid.

Eight months later, and Márquez trails the championship leader Rossi by 49 points, having won only one race, and taken one other podium finish at Jerez. Márquez has crashed out of two races, nearly crashing out of a third as well, and is 101 points down on his total after the same number of races last year. The Honda RC213V is being universally blamed for Márquez' decline, with a series of crashes by Cal Crutchlow, Scott Redding and Dani Pedrosa also being put down to an overloaded front end. The question on everyone's lips is, how did the RC213V go from being the best bike on the grid to being behind the Yamaha and the Ducati? How could Honda get it so badly wrong in just a few short months?

The answer to that question is, of course, that they didn't. There is clearly a problem with the Honda – the obvious culprit being an overabundance of horsepower and aggressive engine braking – but it is hardly a terrible motorcycle. The bike is still faster than it was last year, race times dropping on average by over a second. But the problems Honda are facing did not happen overnight. The supremacy of Márquez has masked a slow and steady decline of the RC213V, the bike losing its advantage over the past couple of seasons.

That decline comes most clearly to light when you look at the performance of the satellite Honda riders in 2013 and 2014. For those two seasons, Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl stayed with the same teams, riding the same bike. It was Bautista's fourth and fifth seasons in MotoGP, and Bradl's second and third years in the class. The only thing that changed was the bike. With an extra year of experience, both men should have improved from 2013 to 2014, both in terms of points and in terms of the gap to the race winner.

The opposite is true, however. In 2013, Stefan Bradl looked like making the step to being a regular podium contender, consistently finishing in the top five. Of the fourteen races he finished, he was inside the top five for eight of them, taking five fifth places, two fourth places and a superb podium at Laguna Seca. It was there where he also grabbed his first, and so far only pole position. The gap to the winner was still significant – 22.355 seconds, on average – but Bradl's career was on an upward trend, the LCR Honda rider getting better every race.

That all changed in 2014. In thirteen races, he finished in the top five just five times, with a best result of fourth. His scoring average declined from 11.14 points per race to 9.75, and the gap to the winner got bigger, rather than smaller. On average, Bradl finished nearly four seconds a race further behind the winner in 2014 than he had done the year before. If you take Le Mans 2013 out of the equation, where the German finished over a minute behind the winner, then his gap in 2014 increases by 6.9 seconds. In 2013, Bradl finished seventh in the championship with a total of 156 points, despite missing two races after breaking his leg at Sepang. In 2014, after starting in all eighteen races, he scored just 117 points, and ended the year in ninth.

The same story holds true for Alvaro Bautista. The Spaniard had a strong first year with the Gresini Honda team in 2012, ending the year in fifth, with 178 points. In 2013, he was sixth, with 171 points, but still good for three fourth place finishes. He was finishing some 18.710 seconds behind the race winner, on average, and looking very competitive, especially given the fact that he was racing with Nissin brakes and Showa suspension, rather than the Brembos and Ohlins used by the rest of the paddock.

A year later, and Bautista was struggling. Though he bagged a single podium in 2014, holding off Pol Espargaro and Dani Pedrosa to take third at Le Mans, that was his only top five finish that season. His next best finish was a pair of sixth places, which with a pair of sevenths, a pair of eighths and a pair of tenth places, saw him constantly battling around eighth spot. His average points haul dropped from 10.69 points per race to 8.09, his gap to the winner growing massively, from 18.710 to 31.895.

Admittedly, for most of those races, Bradl and Bautista were losing to another Honda. In 2013, the RC213V won eight races, in 2014 it won fourteen races. But the bike was not getting any easier to ride. In 2013, both Bradl and Bautista crashed out of two races each. In 2014, Bradl crashed out of five races, finishing just thirteen during the season. Alvaro Bautista had it even tougher, suffering seven race crashes in 2014, making it home only eleven times that year.

All this makes it obvious that Honda's poor start to the 2015 season has not come out of thin air. The performance of the RC213V has been in slow and gradual decline for the past eighteen months, at least, and perhaps longer. The utter dominance of Marc Márquez at the start of the 2014 season tricked us into believing the bike was unbeatable, while the truth was much more mixed. Márquez' success was not so much due to the brilliance of the RC213V, as to his own ability and a mixture of problems for his rivals. The Yamahas struggled at the start of 2014 with less fuel and a modified tire, and Jorge Lorenzo started the season badly out of shape. Ducati were at the start of the odyssey which would lead to the GP15, the GP14 still suffering from some major performance problems. Those issues made the Honda look much better than it actually was, the gaze of the fans and media fixed on Márquez spraying champagne on the podium, rather than Bradl and Bautista shaking their heads in the garages.

2015 is merely the point at which the cracks have become too large to be papered over any longer. The inherent weaknesses of the bike are now being shown up by the massive steps forward made by Yamaha and Ducati over the winter. The Yamaha now brakes as well as it turns, Jorge Lorenzo is fit and hungry, and Valentino Rossi has made a remarkable adaptation to the riding style which 2015 demands. Gigi Dall'Igna has completed his transformation of Ducati's racing department, and the engineers there have produced the miraculously fast GP15. Where the Honda is a second or so quicker per race, Yamaha is over ten seconds faster, Ducati getting on for twenty seconds. The competition is a good deal stiffer now than it was in the past.

All this does not mean that the Honda RC213V is a bad motorcycle. On the contrary, its riders have put the bike on the podium three times this year, including victory for Marc Márquez at Austin. But the bike has gotten harder to ride year by year for the past couple of seasons, and the 2015 machine is now at the limit of the manageable. It is still very quick – Márquez has put the bike on pole for three out of the first six races – but getting it to the finish line is hard work. The bike is fast at the limit, but keeping it there for 27 or so laps is a very difficult business indeed.

HRC will fix this, and fix it sooner rather than later. That is what Honda does. But they have left themselves with a lot of work to do in a very short time. They will have to counter the slow, backward slide of the last two years with a frenetic burst of activity to make the bike truly competitive once again.

You can read more about Honda's declining performance in my blog in the latest issue of On Track Off Road magazine.


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Total votes: 88
Total votes: 212

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Comments

Marquez is the lead rider so it's fair to assume HRC look to him for development cues. Perhaps his sublime talent allows him to ride around the problems most times, but maybe it's not creating a very user friendly race bike...

Total votes: 147

That just makes it sound more like Stoner/Ducati.

People said the exact same thing. Stoner was the only one who was capable of riding around the issues while all other riders kept going further and further back.

Total votes: 129

and could these problems have trickled down to the customer bikes......methinks yes

Total votes: 130

It's been said before but I'll say it again: Casey Stoner can't develop a bike. The two titles he won were on good bikes which had been developed by someone else. In subsequent years the quality of the bikes declined until no-one but Casey could get a decent result out of them and then not all the time.

I believe Casey's ability to jump on almost anything and get a decent result without requiring much set up illustrates his insensitivity to the feel of the machine. Not very helpful when you are trying to develop a bike that a variety of riders can compete on. Contrast what happened to the championship winning Ducati and Honda whilst Casey was involved in their development with the non-championship winning Yamahas when Rossi got involved. This is, I think, a very underrated aspect of Rossi's contribution to any team.

I'm not suggesting that Honda's problems are all of Casey's making but whilst they rely on him and Marquez (who seems to have a similar ability to smash a decent lap out of anything, thus masking its deficiencies) for development I can't see the situation improving soon.

Don't get me wrong - I loved watching Stoner ride. I just don't think he's the right rider for bike development.

Total votes: 208

When during the Rossi years at Ducati, all the world was saying the carbon frame was the problem, Stoner said it wasn't, and all the different iterations of an alu frame didn't solve anything. Then everybody jumped the 'wrong V-angle' bandwagon. Again, Stoner said that wasn't the problem and it turned out Honda used just the same angle between their cylinders. So it does seem the guy knows what he is talking about.
Also, in this recent interview he says he pointed out the Honda's problem when testing in Malaysia: http://www.gpone.com/2015060917146/Stoner-tifo-Lorenzo-e-sono-felice-per...

Maybe somehow Stoner can't get his input across, or is not taken seriously. I don't know. But I do think he definitely knows which direction a bike needs to go.

And, also said numerous times before: a rider doesn't develop a bike. They can just give input, it is up to the engineers to translate this into development.

Total votes: 212

That's precisely the problem - the quality of Stoner's input.

And what type of frame are Ducati running in their now decent bike?

Total votes: 171

I have spoken to several engineers and people at Ducati and Honda who worked with Stoner. All have said his feedback was second to none. Precise, accurate, and always right.

Cristian Gabarrini tells a story of a test at Qatar with Ducati. Stoner came back into the pits, said there was something wrong with the engine. The engineers checked the data, ran the engine, pulled the plugs and inspected the engine, did all the tests they could to try to find the problem. Couldn't see anything, so they sent him back out again. Stoner parked the bike a lap and a half later, the engine had gone. Stoner had felt something which the data did not show. He explained what was wrong, but the engineers didn't believe him, until they were proved right.

Stoner, Marquez, Pedrosa, Rossi, Lorenzo, every great rider suffers the same problem. They tell the engineers what is wrong with the bike. The engineers look at the data, see that the rider is finding a way to ride it. They look at the lap time, which is always fast. They put a little asterisk next to the rider's comments, and carry on as before. It has always been that way. While Wayne Rainey was winning on the Yamaha, he kept complaining that the bike was a piece of crap. Kenny Roberts (then his team manager) told him "If you don't stop f*****g winning on this piece of s**t, they're never going to fix it!"

It is not the quality of the input which is at fault, it is what the engineers do with it. It's hard to take the input of a rider seriously when they keep on beating their rivals. 

Total votes: 228

Interesting to hear that 'from the horses mouth' David. Any idea why Stoner seems to have been particularly prone to being ignored by engineers?

Total votes: 147

The more competitive you are, the less seriously your comments are taken. The same goes for teammates of riders who are fast (e.g. Melandri). Stoner's comments were ignored because he was winning. Marquez's comments were ignored because he was winning. Rainey's comments were ignored because he was winning. Stoner's comments were not ignored any more or any less than any other rider who was winning on a substandard bike.

At Ducati, Rossi's comments were listened to, because he was losing, and Marlboro were paying a lot of money to have him ride there. Even then, they listened to his comments but did not fix the main problem (the weight distribution of the engine). They were too busy working on their own private fiefdoms. It took a new general manager to change the way the department worked to fix that.

It is entirely wrong to think of riders as "developing" a bike. What they do is give input based on their feeling on the bike. That feedback then passes into a massive system of engineering analysis, which in turn churns out designs, which are then passed to manufacturing processes. It is the engineers which make the decisions on how the bike will behave. These are then handed over to a  test team, and eventually the race team. There are a million opportunities for communication to fail, or to be ignored. The great manufacturers are aware of this and do everything they can to ensure communication happens as smoothly as possible.

Total votes: 161

Engineers develop bikes, and riders provide feedback on their changes - better, worse, good, bad, etc.

It is the job of the engineers to listen, analyse and apply the feedback, and not fall into the trap of believing the rider must be wrong when the feedback disagrees with their design theories and/or data.

Total votes: 120

Being proven completely wrong on all fronts. Funny how you didn't mention that the Ducati went from a bike that won 3 of its last 6 races in Stoner's hands to winning nothing for 2 years under the tutelage of Rossi. How does that reflect on Rossi's development qualities? In reality it does not, it reflects badly on the organization behind him.

>>This is, I think, a very underrated aspect of Rossi's contribution to any team.

What universe do you live in?

>>Any idea why Stoner seems to have been particularly prone to being ignored by engineers?

He was not particularly prone to being ignored. He was ignored for the same reason that Rossi was ignored by the Ducati engineers: they think the numbers tell the entire story. Not to mention that Ducati is well known for knowing best and Honda is well known for chasing horsepower at the expense of eveything else. Yamaha seem to be the only company that does not regularly let the hubris of success go to their head. And the improvement in the Yamaha this year seems to be largely due to the seamless downshift gearbox they were playing catch-up with Honda on. I wonder how many hours of CAD work and testing Rossi spent to make it all work properly?

Chris

Total votes: 147

Yep... "I've just had my theory smashed out of the park by one of the industry heavyweights, what a terrific opportunity to have another stab at the rider I most dislike."

Total votes: 134

He's Australian.

(that is a required comment from a Kiwi)

Total votes: 127

Stoner and Marquez both have the ability above other riders to rider around issues. When it comes to other riders, they both get things out of the bikes that other riders cannot seem to. Something that became blatantly obvious the harder the Ducati got to ride. Marquez is very similar. But what you said right here is something I had not thought about.

"I believe Casey's ability to jump on almost anything and get a decent result without requiring much set up illustrates his insensitivity to the feel of the machine. Not very helpful when you are trying to develop a bike"

That may be a big part of Honda's issue. However, if any Factory has shown that they can come back and make a better bike than anyone off-season or mid-season it is Honda. I give them two maybe three races before they make a SIGNIFICANT stride in the right direction.

Total votes: 126

Stoner left Ducati because Ducati could not develop the bike. Plus Stoner retired from Honda at the end of 2012. It's not even reasonable to blame him for the problems of 2015.

If there's any blame to be laid on a Honda rider, it would have to be Pedrosa. He's the only constant there.

Total votes: 122

I agree, but you have to remember that Stoner is still a test rider for Honda. He doesn't actually get much time on the bike, and I remember reading (but can't find where) that he isn't allowed to actually change much in the setup of the bike while testing.

Total votes: 113

It wasn't Stoner's (or any other rider's) job to develop a bike. That's the job of the highly paid and trained engineers and technicians who interpret the feedback given to them by the rider.
It was Stoner's job to ride the hell out of the machine wheeled out onto pit lane - and for two years he did that better than anybody else in the world.

Total votes: 148

"It was Stoner's job to ride the hell out of the machine wheeled out onto pit lane - and for two years he did that better than anybody else in the world."

Except, you know, for that one year (out of the two) that he wasn't

Total votes: 133

It should be fairly obvious I was referring to the two years he was world champion - one at Ducati, one at Honda.

Total votes: 126

While Honda voices, Nakamoto and Suppo, rear up and defend the engine, overruling the guys who ride the bikes, both riders continue to say, although quietly now, that the basic problem comes from the aggressive character of the engine.

I think Honda has tried to match the sheer grunt and top speed of the Ducati in spite of spotting them 7 engines, 2 liters of fuel and the added RPM that these advantages permit. Yamaha, led by Lorenzo and with the added experience of the very adaptable Valentino Rossi, have sought corner speed, and smooth power delivery.

If you want to make a lot of power at high revs and you have less fuel to play with than a rival whose engineers are at the same level as yours, you end up with a very lean mixture at mid range, meaning when the rider gets back on the gas the power hits hard and, if your rider in on maximum or almost maximum lean when the horses hit, the rush of push loads the front working the tire and, now and then, ends up pushing the front so drastically that it folds. That can either be a crash or a confidence-breaking fright.

The Ducati engineers can program a richer initial mix because they have 20% more fuel.

The other danger in trying to match Ducati revs is what happen in COTA. Something started to break or broke…something in the RC213V wanted to come out for air…the warning light came on…Mark jumped the wall and amazed us, but we have not seen that engine again. My best info is that Marc was told it would´t be back…but from somewhere floated another rumor in the Media Center, saying that the engine was still sealed, being studied and might still be available at the end of the season for some limited duty in rain practice. Maybe.

But Hondas were as fast or faster than Ducati in the first two races and after the engine problem they have not been fastest again. The Dorna speeds are valuable for year to year comparison but the real times are known only to the teams. Ducati persons speaking under condition inn anonymity have confirmed to me the Brembo speeds of last year of over 360 kmh in Mugello and COTA…in fact the Dorna on screen GPS speed of 361 was briefly seen over Dovizioso´s Ducati. But we don´t need confirmation of what can clearly be seen. The Ducati is faster. If you give an elite race department such advantages you can only beat them in pure power if your elite group is smarter and with more development potential. It does not seem that Honda has been able to overcome the big handicap that the rules they accepted have given Ducati…and they are determined to take those advantages away in 2016 whether Ducati wins a race this year or not…a subject that David is on top of.

Meanwhile, while the Honda spins, the Yamaha, with its softer initial power delivery, gets off the corner so well and accelerates so well because of this that the extra speed of the others is not enough to get them from apex to apex in less time along a straight. Yamaha never fell into the trap of matching Ducati top speed, revs and pure power. That was never the Yamaha way even in the two-stroke days…remember the Yamaha riders used to talk about "the Honda lane." Now Honda pull out into the Honda lane and Ducati are there…coming hard. If Ducati riders had lights they´d flash them…like on the autobahn when you think you a mphre pretty fast at 125 mph and suddenly you have a disco in your mirrors.

Electronics cannot overcome a 20% disadvantage in energy, nor can electronics allow five engines to rev as high as 12 engines used over an 18 race season.

And that is without going in to engine braking, a problem that should, in theory, be more vulnerable to electrickery. We say in the States "Nothing beats cubes." Well, nothing beats more gas and more motors either…not down the straights anyway.

Sure Honda have some rolling chassis problems, but they can fix those. But Marc wants to get on the gas earlier without upsetting the bike. Take a look at some of those lowsiders and ask your self…did he just get on the gas when it went?

Total votes: 204

Ducati's fuel advantage is 10%, not 20%, but the 10% is still substantial, does not undermine your excellent analysis. Thank you, Mr. Noyes.

Total votes: 126

I think that Loris Caprirossi had exactly the same problems on the Ducati when they first started playing with the electronics, it cut the fuel on the overrun and when ever the throttle was shutting, and made the bike unrideable. Not a gradual turn down of power, all or nothing. Seems to be exactly the same problem that Honda has now. The frame and the whole of the bike are designed around the engine power delivery, particularly coming out of the corner getting the bike stood up which is where it used to excel.
It will not be an easy fix for Honda, as changing one thing will affect another. MM has already tried running the old frame with the new engine and rejected it.
Its only half way through the season, so it is going to be interesting. Can't wait for Friday. Oh wait, rain is forecast for all three days so it will be more interesting.

Total votes: 105

The real question is.....does Honda know it, and are they starting to fix it now? Or are they dragging their feet? I guess we'll have an idea in the next couple races maybe...

Total votes: 103

The hypothesis falls apart if you look at Bradl this Year.
He should be flying on the Yamaha but he is not.

Total votes: 128

Bradl has two problems. The first is culture shock, coming off a factory Honda and onto an Open class Yamaha. The riding style doesn't suit him at all, and he is struggling to adapt. The second is merely motivation. For an example, see Marco Melandri. Bradl's goal is to trying to fight for podiums, and the Open Yamaha won't let him do that. He believes he is handicapped before he even gets on the bike, and that is worth half a second.

Total votes: 135

I wish I had something to add, but I don't.

What are the odds people at HRC will ever read this story and think about it?

Total votes: 132

....insensitivity to the bike? Are you kidding me? The reason he was so fast is because of his stunning 'sensitivity' to the bike. You cant go that fast, with a pile, unless you're extremely sensitive to what the bike is telling you!

Total votes: 158

insensitivity to the bike?

File that under "shit people say on the interwebs"

Total votes: 136

is that all of the 'Stoner can't develop a bike' rubbish has been comprehensively debunked numerous times - as has the myth that riders actually do develop a bike themselves - yet we still regularly see it spouted like it's an inalienable truth.

Total votes: 136

Yes. Rossi is often credited with making the Yamaha a success, but he won his first race on it. How much "development" do you think he did on the bike in the pre-season testing? The bike had already been made into a capable package, it just needed a great rider to take it and win on it.

Total votes: 135

They couldn't get it to work! Max lost the front end every time he tried to get serious on it. They changed the engine based on Jezza's input (5 to 4 valves) and a whole lot more.

Total votes: 122

As I understand it, what happened when Rossi and Burgess arrived at Yamaha is that they chose from among a number of engines which Furusawa had already prepared for the 2004 season. Among those engines was a four-valve motor, which produced less power but was easier to ride. Rossi and Burgess chose the engines which Furusawa had hoped they would, and which he believed were the best option.

So Burgess and Rossi started off on the right foot with Yamaha, and because Rossi provided good rider feedback, which Burgess was able to translate into great technical feedback, Furusawa was able to improve the bike even further. Without wishing to downplay the roles of either Rossi or Burgess, neither of them designed the M1 which Rossi won the championship on. What they did was point Yamaha's engineers in the right direction, and Yamaha's engineers were willing to listen carefully to their input, and act on it.

Total votes: 153

Max and Chubby couldn't do that. The whole package is what you need, factory engineers, riders and riders engineering team working together, something that Yamaha lacked before Rossi and co arrived. And most importantly, the listened, understood and worked together toa chieve that fantastic first win for VR.

Total votes: 125

Absolutely correct, David. Here is video evidence directly matching your account of Rossi's arrival at Yamaha:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32G-qcyXSzE

Compulsory viewing for anyone who hasn't seen it. Furasawa's genius is marvelous to behold.

Total votes: 111

Actually, the four-valve engine was more powerful than the five-valve engine they had before. That five-valve concept was mainly used in the early M1 because of marketing reasons, it being their trademark since the FZ750, and also in use in the YZF-R1 at that time. For high rpm power, it is not good.
The engine that was easier to ride (but slightly less powerful) was the one with the so-called crossplane crankshaft, giving the bike the firing intervals of a 90 degree V4 and also a smoother running because of the pistons not coming to a stop all at the same time, like in a conventional inline four with a 180-degree crankshaft.

So from all the combinations of five-valve, four-valve, 180-degree crankshaft and 90-degree crankshaft, Rossi chose the four-valve crossplane, the concept we still have today in the M1 (and since 2009 also the R1 of course).

Total votes: 128

Q What was the trick you found in your riding style that you could push so hard with the Ducati?
A I don't think it was so much riding style. For me it's more inside, it's a mental game. The biggest thing I found in my riding was, you can't be proud. You can't just sit there and go, "I'm fine. The bike's the problem." The biggest thing is you need to adapt. If that's all you've got to ride, then that's what you've got to ride, and that's what you need to adapt to. So that was something myself and my engineers were very good at, was getting the most out of whatever we had to work with. Our time at Ducati, we didn't get new parts supplied to us throughout the year. It was, whatever we started the season with, was what we finished with. So we really had to find something inside there every time, and that made us work a lot harder with what we had. I think people maybe over-complicate things sometimes, throwing too many things at it, when there's normally a bike that's fast enough inside there somewhere - you just have to discover it.

Total votes: 147

But how can we call it a decline when the pace is as fast if not faster than the year before.

As was dutifully pointed out it is more an increase from the others. And looking back it seems those gains have been gradually improving as well from second half last year onwards and not just a step change as presumed.

We have also not seen a fully fit Pedrosa either this year. Last race was closest and he had reeled in and was tailing Marquez when he crashed. All while looking smooth and in control while Marquez looked loose and in his own words has riding at an unsustainable pace. Yet Pedro could and some.

With a healthy Pedrosa I think they will be ontop of this sooner than we think and that their curent predicament will favor a smoother style.

Total votes: 119

You can call it a decline if the rate of progress slows down while the competitors' stay the same or increase. Keeping the competitiveness means keeping the rate of progress the same (or better) than the competitors. Otherwise you are declining.

Total votes: 109

Yes, 10%…thanks for overlooking that Lew.

In today´s "Sport" Marc again refuses to attribute his problems to anything other than the power delivery of the engine…he says, "we are having trouble taming the bike" ("domar" is the word he uses, meaning to tame or domesticate). The real source of trouble with a very powerful engine´s initial response during the overlap phase is that when it kicks in, it goes bluuuuey!

Maybe bluuuuey´s not a good technical term. Here is how Kevin Cameron described it to me when I asked him about some 2012 Ducati problems.

"As a four-stroke is given more valve overlap in an effort to make more top power (which Ducati are forced to do because of the acceleration limits of their desmo system), at lower throttle the longer communication between intake and exhaust systems results in a lot of exhaust dilution of the charge, resulting in ragged exhaust sound and irregular torque at the rear wheel. Electronics can't do much about this, because if there's so much exhaust in the cylinder that it can't fire, that cycle is a miss. When it does fire, it is with the fresh charge of two or more cycles added together, so it fires pretty hard - possibly upsetting the back tire. You can always tell when a team has put in more cam because of the longer period of ragged operation as the rider throttles-up from zero"

That is what, perhaps a bit less brutally than with the 2012 Ducati, is what seems to be upsetting the Honda this year. And when you have an engine problem and can´t touch the engine, the tendency is to start chasing your figurative tail…lots of electronic tweaks, ride height, loading the front, unloading the front, swing arm length, pivot height…lots of different dresses for an ugly dolly.

It is interesting and ironic that, in spite of the limitations in acceleration of desmodromic distribution, the 10% advantage in fuel now allows Ducati to fight the overlap bluuuey blues and still outrev Honda, but not because of the valve gear but because they can richen the mix at throttle opening and, of course, because they have a dozen engines and can drop in a special engine for a specific track as they did in Mugello. I imagine the Mugello engines, if they still have life in them, will be let out of the box again in Barcelona.

By the way, and completely off topic, after several years of investigation I finally got a contact yesterday that may reveal clandestine collaboration in the early fifties between MZ in Communist East Germany and Montesa en Franco´s Spain….with lots of driving on dirt roads across backwoods borders.

But for the moment, Marc is trying to tame the RC213V without being able to take the head off.

Total votes: 134

The question of fuel and Honda's engine is interesting. It is entirely possible that the extra 2 liters allowed from next year will help solve some of the Honda's problems, taking the roughest edges off the throttle response and engine braking. So Honda may consider not making too many changes to next year's engine, as the 2015 engine may work just fine in 2016, when they face Ducati on equal footing once again.

Total votes: 118

So are you saying that we've finally reached the limits of what Honda's engineering prowess can conquer? Or given the ability to modify the engine would they be able to solve it? I see the concessions as a way to help balance against Honda's superior R&D budget - i.e. the ability and willingness to out-spend the opposition to win. This is, I think, the first time that Honda has had to actually face Ducati on equal footing. Previously they've simply had more resources to throw at the bike.

Total votes: 112

How exactly can Honda outspend the Volkswagen Audi Group (VAG), the second largest manufacturer of automobiles in the world? (First being Toyota)

I think people are caught up in the old days, where Ducati was a tiny Bologna factory dependent upon Phillip Morris. Now, they have a larger budget than Honda if they decide they need it. The VAG is a huge participant in motorsports, and spares no expense when it comes to winning.

Obviously, they have solved their money issues and are now focused on going fast, and we're clearly seeing the results.

Ducati is no longer a mom and pop shop, but a megacorp brand.

Total votes: 138

You're assuming that Audi/VW is pouring money into the GP R&D program. Any evidence on that? Because I don't expect it. They didn't buy Ducati so they could spend money on racing. They bought it for some of Ducati's technology.

Sure, Dad has a bigger pocketbook. But if Junior wants to go play, is Dad going to pay for it, especially when Junior has a paper route and his own money?

Honda has proven they're willing to spend - the cost of their seamless transmission must have been astronomical. So far Ducati hasn't done anything they haven't done before, just with GiGi they've done it better.

Total votes: 125

I can't imagine Marc van der Straten isn't having a few pointed words with the Honda bigwigs right now.

Scott Redding's a promising rider, and he's bright enough to watch Cal Crutchlow trying to over-ride the Honda to make up for its shortcomings, then land in the gravel and hurt himself, and think 'I'd better not do that'. However, the only alternative to an unpredictable yet inevitable trip to the Clinica Mobile is to finish safely, but way down the field. As he has been doing. Must be depressing.

As I think I said on Twitter after Italy, Honda seem to have built a Ducati GP13. Oops.

Total votes: 117

I'm sure Mr MVDS (or more accurately the person he pays too do that sort of thing) is having many pointed words but I doubt they are directed at Honda.
It's a somewhat sad truth, but riders are easier to replace than machines. Unless you are one of the handful that will realistically challenge for a win on any given sunday, under performing is not going to be blamed on the bike. I feel bad for Redding, I really hope he could shine this year. At this stage however I think he will be looking for a new ride before too long

Total votes: 113

Some incredible comments on this thread.

As always with these things everything is relative and depends on where you start.

My own view is the Honda isn't in decline, it is simply not improving at the same rate as Yamaha and Ducati. Analysis of race times and lap times tells that story much better than race position or gap to the winner.

Secondly, I think a lot of the comments about engineers not delivering what riders ask for is ignoring the enormous technical challenge and complex theoretical constructs the engineers are dealing with. There is a reason why, despite many different riders, race tracks, tyres and rules over the years, Hondas characteristic relative to Yamahas characteristics are similar. We could be talking about an RS250 vs a TZ250.

Total votes: 112

In order to get Honda to pay attention to him on the subject of shocks on the Honda 250 6, Mike Hailwood helpfully brought a set of Girlings to the preseason tests in Suzuka and when the mechanics were reluctant (horrified) to fit them, Mike, not known for his talent with the spanners, managed to get the Japanese units off and then in order to avoid confusion, heaved them into the little Suzuka pond. Once fitted with the Girlings he set a new and long-lasting lap record, but his argument was not that he couldn´t lap quickly with the standard units, but that he couldn´t do it over race distance. (I believe Honda quickly went back to the "standard" units but after informing themselves of the merits of the Brit units.)

Here is a little tidbit: For the first time since the Japanese GP of 2013 Marc Márquez at Mugello did not once put up a fastest session or race lap…that is, he did not have the fastest lap any any practice session, qualifying session (and he did 2 of those!) and not in the race either. In that respect, it was the first time since October of 2013 that the Marc never put up a single FL in any session.

Mugello was also the first time this season that Marc, who has to this point even in this troubles year been fastest in 15 of the 36 combined practice and warm up sessions, was not fastest in a single session.

I´ve been watching Marc since he was under 4 feet tall, and it is very, very unusual for him not to top a single session even on a bad weekend.

So, from looking at race and lap times for Honda riders and considering the very interesting contrast between the results of the three other Honda riders (Pedrosa, Bautista and Bradl) between 2013 and 2014, I think we can say that Honda may have begun slipping back before Marc´s results caused us to notice it and David was, I think, the first to point out.

Total votes: 136

I know HRC have said "Budget? What Budget?". In the past.

But with the F1 engine debacle playing out this season. Is it possible they are running low on Human Resources this season?

Total votes: 113

The quote:

"Por lo que respecta a la evolución de la moto, al final la ha hecho el piloto de pruebas japonés. Stoner, cuando hizo el test probó la moto, pero está claro que después de un año sin ir en moto, no puede desarrollar nada."

Translation (which I hope someone will correct if I get it wrong): "As far as the development of the engine is concerned, in the end, the Japanese test rider worked on it. Stoner tried the engine when he did the test, but it's clear that after a year without riding, he can't develop anything."

That is hardly blaming Stoner. If anything, it is blaming the Japanese test rider for not objecting to the power of the engine.  

Total votes: 114

Stoner has commented recently that he knew of "problems" with the Honda at the Sepang test but wasn't allowed by Honda to reveal what they were publicly.

Total votes: 121

What I heard in Spanish was not so much a criticism of Casey as much as saying, "What can a rider who has been out of action since the end of 2012 contribute to the development of a bike for 2015?" Those were´t the words, but that seemed to me to be the message.

It seems like Honda came into the Valencia post-season test already decided on their engine for 2015 and now they are stuck with it. That´s what all the frames in Sepang were about. On a big track like Sepang and with high humidity and heat, the engine was not as bright, but both Marc and Dani have consistently said the same thing…that the new engine comes on too aggressively. The only way, apparently, to soften it is to drop revs so as to have enough fuel to richen the mixture on overlap.

By the way, it is a pleasure to read the comments here…enough to restore my diminishing faith in that part of mankind that follows GP roadracing.

Total votes: 129

David, have you had a chance to analyze the data for the Tech 3 Yamaha's? I would imagine that a similar analysis would also help 'clarify' the HRC situation...

Total votes: 110

I did consider using Tech 3 as a benchmark, but the rider situation was too different and difficult. 2013 was Bradley Smith's first year in MotoGP, so he was always going to improve between 2013 and 2014. Cal Crutchlow was at Tech 3 for 2013, then moved to Ducati, making way for Pol Espargaro. But 2014 was Espargaro's rookie year.

Too many variables to make much sense of the data.

Total votes: 120

Great article by David Emmett, as well as great comments by Dennis Noyes and David Emmett.
Many times I have to read David's pieces two or three times to process all the information and ideas that were covered in the article.
Now I have to re-read Dennis Noyes comments to wrap my head around Honda's problems :)

Total votes: 123

That should show, once again, that Jorge has lost confidence in the wet.
Each time since his collar bone breaking accident at Assen, he has lost far more pace that those around him, at any sign of rain.

This should help keep 46 on track for championship number ten.

I would rather an exciting wet race than a no passing, run away at the front race.

The sooner everyone is on the same set of rules the better it will be. IMO

Total votes: 119

So now that Stoner is not out there winning races, is his opinion more valid? or is he just out there being paid to do track days on multi million dollar machinery?

Total votes: 125

David wrote an insightful article on this, to the effect that no test rider could ever make the bike work within its design parameters, because they simply couldn't ride it fast enough. So the racers would effectively end up testing the modifications.

This makes Stoner quite valuable to Honda - because he can take the bike to that level.

Look it up, worth a read.

To me it seems HRC could be using Stoner more than they do, but what do I know about how they go about their bike development?

Total votes: 111

David,

You've done a damn fine job of creating a place here where these kinds of informed discussions can be had. Thank you for that.

As I can recall as a long time race fan: HRC are very well known for conducting their business as the riders were a necessary evil, but their input neither wanted or welcomed by the engineers in their quests for seeking the perfect 'numbers' in the data. Only when forced to, would they grudgingly accede to the demands of the teams for changes.

Wasn't Burgess the one who chopped up HRC's latest bright idea and remade it into a competitive machine for Gardner, on the sly? Rossi leaving HRC for similar reasons, in part?

Ducati did the same until Gigi came along, correct?

Now, with the locked engines for the season, it looks like that hubris has come home to roost. Shame for the racers, their competitive 'lifespan' (for lack of a better word) is short enough, to lose a season like this has got to really chafe on them. Having a competitive career as long as Rossi is pretty rare, even more so nowadays, it seems.

I think they should put the engineers out for press conferences. Shine the spotlight on them, in good times and bad. It will reward them for their efforts, and help them own their designs. This will lead to a more cohesive effort I believe, as it will make them part of the overall team, making them look outside of their own box, as it were. I wouldn't bet a dollar on it ever happening, though.

Total votes: 114

As an engineer, you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Can you imagine if Honda had said in the 2015 Sepang tests: "We had a more powerful engine, but we knew neither Marquez nor Pedrosa could ride it, so we went with the 2014 engine."

Fans would skewer them. Marquez, Pedrosa, Crutchlow and Redding would blame every poor result on them. They would lose sales numbers, and be blasted in the media.

So what did they do? Built an absolute monster, and let the so called geniuses, a.k.a riders, deal with it.

As Dennis Noyes (!!!!) so masterfully elucidated above, the root of is this problem is that Honda gave Ducati too many concessions, and is now trying to beat a fully capable competitor with an arm tied behind their back. This isn't working now, and was never going to work in the first place.

I made a buzz about this in the pre-season, telling David that Ducati's concessions were too much and that Gigi and Ducati were no dummies as to need such a huge leg up. Most people said, "screw it, we want racing!". I tended to agree, but 12 UNSEALED engines and 2L of extra fuel PER RACE is too much. There could have been a middle ground, but as it stands, Ducati got too much.

Now Marquez et al are paying the price for Honda's poor negotiating skills at Dorna's rule table.

P.S. RANT INCOMING: It is a bit of poetic justice for me personally, as I will forever have a bone to pick with Honda for discontinuing support for the RS125 production racer, and replacing it with the $30,000 monstrosity that is the NSF250R.

Take that Honda! Give me back my two stroke racers!

Total votes: 126

Bring back all the two stroke racers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Total votes: 128

It's too much for Ducati to be competitive with Honda and Yamaha? Because that's all they are, competitive. Last time I checked they hasn't won a race, get the occasional podium, but they aren't by any means hammering Honda and Yamaha with the concessions they've been granted. 2nds and 3rds even when gearing up with a special engine just for Mugello. It's not too much. it's just about enough. Now that Ducati is competitive Honda wants to take that away early, beat them back down to their proper place, which is the 3rd manufacturer. Apparently occasional podiums is too much and Ducati needs to be subdued. Gives a good insight into Honda's mentality: they say they want competition, but they want it on their terms. Those terms being that Honda should be able to display their superiority over their competitors.

Total votes: 116

Honda having it's own excessive pride in ways of "stubbornness", almost diminishing riders to a second rate of importance, by somehow ignoring requests and hinted details, is historically known as something that later bites them in the arse.

Let's look first at the past.
It wouldn't be the first, nor second, nor third (nor forth, etc, etc) that Honda decided on a certain path that did NOT please the factory riders.
We can go back to episodes with Spencer, Gardner, Lawson, Doohan, Crivillé, Barros, Biaggi, Hayden and even Pedrosa.
All struggling (some more, some less) on top of the most expensive engineer-miracle-machine in the whole grid.

The difference here is that -at least as far as I can remember- through the 1980s and untill late 1990s, each team could do a self/own effort, like a separate intervention towards certain changes, within some limits.
For instances, Erv Kanemoto finding certain solutions in the chassis of the NSR500 for Eddie Lawson, and that making quite a difference. Which would not be found in Gardner's bike, who would be in the other side of the garage complaining how the bike was not working any good other than in a straight line (the famous "Honda lane"). You don't see that these days.

Remember when Doohan retired due to injury, and none of the three factory Repsol HRC riders then (Crivillé, Okada and Gibernau) succeeded?
If memory serves me right, Honda searched for more and more horsepower, which actually made the bikes snappier and harsher to ride, worse for a full race.
The 2000 season was probably the most strange (ever), as even the previous year NSR satelite bikes (Emerson Pons) were winning races, with all the Repsol HRC riders struggling to reach podium positions.

Look at Yamaha... it seems their ability to admit mistakes and to take feedback in serious consideration is somewhat historical, even finding desperate solutions through third parties (remember Rainey in '93 with the chassis from ROC that did work better? ...I don't think that would ever be allowed at Honda).
The M1, just like all GP bikes from past of Yamaha, still seems slower in a straight line (be it acceleration or top-speed) but it does look to be a much nicer machine to be at, a more usefull one for a full race distance.
And in the end that may be what matters most.

I'm less informed now than I used to be, but I'm inclined to agree with those relating the current problem in the Hondas to their old tradition of searching for a more agressive bike with more outright power, instead of making a "sweeter" machine (engine and chassis wise).
My understanding is that, with such limited fuel, electronics can only go so far. And even if it would cost them some HP and top-speed, a "sweeter" more friendly racebike would probably make a world of difference, for both factory and satelite riders.

.
.
.

PS: non-related but... one more vote for the "bring back the 2 strokes". :-)

Total votes: 127

What this thread and analysis prove, and many forget, is that racing is a TEAM sport! Without that, you get a disjointed, push-pull effort that doesnt allow 100% at the track during the race. Gigi greatest achievement at Ducati is not the GP15, but making 'everyone' at Ducati focused and functioning together. Being in charge of a 'factory' team takes a very special personality. You almost have to be an omnipotent dictator, very secure and confident, with an ego, but willing to listen and communicate at all levels the team does. That's NOT easy.

Total votes: 123

I'm pretty its the years Stoner won the championship he referred to above.

Total votes: 113

Racing is a constantly moving target---just because you win a couple of years doesn't mean you're gonna win this year. The other teams are making their bikes better---riders injure themselves, then recover---riders reinvent themselves (Rossi)---NOTHING stays the same! Expect this as normal and enjoy the races---I am...

Total votes: 117

the first event of the season. That would be Qatar.

Honda would have had ample opportunity to still decide based on testing in Sepang.

To be brutally honest, I don't think they've made a bad choice, when Marquez' points deficit is equal to the DNF's and throwing away good podium points at tracks that had not been Honda suited.

Engineers would have made a balanced decision looking at the calendar as a whole. And if on the bad days they are still in podium contention and on the good ones (eg. COTA) blow the doors off the rest, I'd say they didn't do half bad.

What the engineers will learn however is don't expect a rider like Marquez to wait for his chance at victory...depend on him going for it even if you had planned on a podium being a good enough result for the balance of the year.

Total votes: 103

I've not yet seen a more informed set of comments on the Internet!! Great stuff, except for the odd Stoner defensive rant.

What I find interesting is that whilst Ducati does have considerable advantage with fuel and engines, Yamaha are still hammering them and Honda-do we need to open up the rider percentage factor into the debate again as per 2004? With 2 of the 3 best riders in the class (and of all time!!!!) in the factory squad and two very strong riders in the tech 3 team Yamaha have all of the aces and an engineering department that appears to have built a fantastically adaptable machine since 2013, when Rossi was a distant 4th.

I believe Honda is just repeating history, remember 2007? They incited massive rule changes and built a mini bike for their golden boy Pedrosa, whilst leaving their world champion out in the cold, and subsequently got hammered by Ducati and Stoner (with a lot of help from Bridgestone and tyre supply reg changes ;)) and thereafter didn't factor into the title chase until they hired stoner in 2011.

And on the subject of Stoner, Marc is completely right, how can a rider that has been out of the sport for 3 years provide the necessary development feedback? It also highlights the humorous calls (mainly from his rather enthusiastic fans who are still out there in good numbers!) for him to replace Dani earlier this season and how he would have been fighting for podiums.

Total votes: 117

The 2007 Honda was not a 'minibike', it was a leap forward in GP bike design. Just look at every other manufacturer's bikes since then - all the same, all mass-centralisation and compact dimensions. The 'minibike' thing was simply a convenient target for fans who had it in for Pedrosa after 2006... the fact is that Honda simply built the next generation of GP bike before anyone else did. If Pedrosa had been taller, the punters would have just found another outlet to vent their anger (at the only serious error of judgement that I've ever seen him make - well, there was that yacht licence exam thing).

And on Stoner as test rider - I believe the counter-argument to that is 'How can a rider who's never won a world title provide the necessary development feedback'? Any suggestions there? No point bagging the current solution if you can't offer something better.

I'd suggest that Marquez needs to take a step back from his own self-importance and work with Stoner, not against him. And that's the gist of the whole 2015 HRC development dead end - people not working together. Consider this - Marquez brought his crew in to replace a proven winning team - his crew, who are proven masters of preparing a mildly tuned CBR600RR engined in a reasonably advanced chassis using second-tier tyre tech. Now they are prepping what is arguably the most advanced racebike that has ever been built. And HRC allowed that to happen. Hubris much?

Total votes: 112

I never thought about that for 2006... Interesting. As for the rest ive been thinking the same. Just too hard for me to over look how good Pedrosa looked running a pace quicker than Marquez.

Total votes: 114

If Stoner could do the times he'd be racing. As pointed out by Mat Mladin ten years ago, test riders doing a second or more off lap record times don't delevop anything for a faster rider.

I think that whole "Stoner's Testing The Factory Honda" thing was a failed pr event and is directly related to why Honda didn't bring him to Texas.

Total votes: 120

I think it was more a case of Honda ensuring that Stoner didn't go to work for a rival manufacturer. The PR stuff is just a little icing.

Also, 'If Stoner could ride a bike with his wrist rather than HRC's collective electronic brain, he'd be racing.'

I miss Mladin. He and Pedrosa are two of the most awesome motorcycle racers of all time.

(sorry David : )

Total votes: 115

Can you please provide your source for stoner's slow times? Or are you just making that up? Anyway, this year's Suzuka will provide an objective measure to see if Stoner has forgotten how to go fast.

Total votes: 109

Stoner was doing the times when he decided to call it quits. Whether he can still do the times or not we can't really judge, but we know that he left for reasons other than lack of competitive pace.

Total votes: 114

Honda are also have serious problems with their new F1 engine. Whatever people might think, I'm sure F1 will be top of their agenda, so it's possible their best engineers have been beaving away on F1 and MotoGP has been put on the back burner. If they've not been doing that before, after the last couple of F1 results, they probably will be now.

I don't believe VW will be outspending Honda or even Yamaha in developing the Ducati. Ducati is a small company and it doesn't make sense to throw money at them, when their link to VW isn't that well known and Ducati profits are not huge. Honda and Yamaha don't have that identity problem.

I agree with MM about Stoner. Riders often need a lot of practice to get back up to speed after the short winter break. After 2 years, no rider is going to be anywhere near race fit and I doubt if Stoner is capable of producing the extra few % to bring him up to works rider level. It's only when the bike is pushed hard that problems start to show.

Total votes: 99

Having gone through the article written by David Emmett and having read the various comments on his piece (especially the ones chipped in by Dennis Noyes), I think that some aspects of why the inputs of racers are not taken into consideration by the team engineers have been missed out and perhaps sometimes misinterpreted. I think the problem is not so much the egos of riders vs egos of engineers as it is of the goals of the riders vs the development goals of faceless corporations whose deliberations within boardrooms hardly ever come out into the open.

For long Honda has been the evil dominator MotoGP according to most fans of racing (me included). But I think the problem is that in order to get money to spend for R&D for a race, it becomes necessary for the racing divisions to go to the higher echelons of the bureaucracy and make a case for that spending and often times it not just saying we need to develop to beat our rivals but to create new technology that is cutting edge which at some point can become a part of road going bikes or cars if it is F1. F1 that way is more transparent, they hardly ever deny that the will not take up something that has benefits for road cars. Downsizing of engine capacity, reduction of cylinders, increase of emphasis on different kind of energy recovery systems, so much so that they are no longer called engines but power units, have all been cited as F1s attempts at not only going green in the immediate term but also conservation of fossil fuels in the long run. Honda went out of F1 citing the economic meltdown but also said that it did not believe in spending money on something that has no positive take away for the future. They re-entered saying that the new engine was challenge and it could be useful for road cars.

In MotoGP, matters of technology and its relation to road going machines is hush-hush (I do not if that has anything to do with the cultural evolution of the sport or if it is something else). But surely there will be some mention in the board rooms about correlating spends with long term profitability by transferring that technology on to road going machines. A lot of this also arises from the fact that the Sword of Damocles hangs over the collective head of the human race that one day we shall run out fossil futures and companies do not want to see the latest Mad Max kind of machines cobbled up from scavenging whatever parts are available. Admit it or not somewhere most of us do fear the apocalypse unleashed by the drying up of petroleum.

I personally think that decisions are taken by corporations in such a way that they see racing and spending on racing as a part of a much larger canvas, and what appears on that canvas can never be the same for every corporation because different people on different boards see different pictures. But what is probably the uniting part of the picture is the need to sell road going vehicles along with the petroleum deprived apocalypse. It is easy to see these people as brainless or egoistic and that maybe true of some of the people who sit on various boards of motorcycle manufacturing companies but that is probably not true of the entire collective. Of course, other factors like we pay the rider not to make demands on us but to ride what we give him could also be a very significant point. I think there is no one Truth here that explains all. That is my point of view. I am open to the idea that this analysis (if you can call it that) of mine is just plain foolish rubbish. I don't know I thought about it this way and so wrote it this way. You could all be in the nucleus and probably a solitary electron doing its own orbital. Apologies if this nonsense. Thank you.

Total votes: 114

How much of Honda's current problems, and Ducatis previous problems were due to Honda and Ducati PE's listening to data taken from software simulation, and motorcycle test rigs; versus the feedback they received from test riders?

Total votes: 96

The comments in this thread have been amazing! Almost, or possibly even more so than the original article. Hope we get plenty more postings of this quality. :-))))

Total votes: 87

Honda woes? Easy...F1

HRC have been off developing a turbo F1 engine...poorly.

I'm always perplexed by the perceived advantage of HRC in MotoGP.
If the Honda was soooo good, why hasn't Dani won a championship in 9 years?

Total votes: 105

Never thought that Honda was worse this year than the years before. If Marquez hadnt made the mistake in Qatar or crashed twice ( for whatever reason ) we would not have talket aboit this. Pedrosa has shown that he is riding just as good as can be expected and also Crutchlow.

Total votes: 98

Maybe the reason Marquez crashed is because the bike isn't as good as it should be.

Total votes: 104

He lost the front because he asked to much of it. He missed the previous corner and went to fast into the one he crashed in. Was it the Bike ? Was it the man ? A racer will ALWAYS blame someone else. The bike, the tyre, the weather, the competition. This crash was a RIDER error. The front went because he tried to turn to sharply and had to much speed. He should have been slower. Sometimes you just have to settle for 2nd, third, whatever and that was ecaxtely what MM said that he was going to do this year. To bed ( for him ) that he didnt listen to himself.

Total votes: 114

Apart from the comments from those who clearly have never forgiven Stoner for beating Rossi in 2007, and then continue to blame Stoner for Rossi's abysmal failure at Ducati, this thread has been very interesting, not least because David set the ball rolling in the first place.

Then there were the the well-informed comments of Dennis Noyes and his quotes from Kevin Cameron.

And a host of other comments from people who clearly have been watching racing for more than a few minutes.

From several thousand kilometres away and viewing only what is on the television screen, I had attributed the majority of Honda's problems to chassis-suspension set-up. I watched in disbelief Marquez' Honda's front wheel bouncing off the track under brakes at one of the earlier GPs, and also the bike 'hobby-horsing' into other corners. For sure an aggressive power delivery is no help, but I cannot help but wonder how much Honda has missed Pedrosa's input into chassis set-up.

I understand Stoner has huge respect for Pedrosa's 'feel' for a good set-up, gained from when he first tested the Honda at Valencia at the end of the 2010 season. It turned out he much preferred Dani's chassis to that of Dovizioso. I was later told Dani had tried "many" different frames that year but after trying just one new one, Dovizioso went back to the chassis he'd started the season on, and never changed.

The second time Pedrosa's input was mentioned (publicly this time) by Stoner was during the mid-part of the 2011 season when they were both scheduled to test the new 1000cc Honda at Brno. Pedrosa was unable to test so Stoner went there as the sole Honda rider, and I understand, set fastest time in the tests (Yamaha tested there too). But when asked if that made him happy about the direction Honda was taking with the new bike for 2012, Stoner said he was encouraged, but really wanted to get Pedrosa's opinion when the Spaniard was fit enough to test it too. That was so unlike any top-level rider I could think of. I have never heard a team-mate laud the ability of the other man in his team.

So, with Pedrosa's arm pump problem surfacing so early in the season, how much input did HE have with Honda in the pre-season tests?

Marquez poor points position can be attributed to his not pulling back from the brink. His race crashes this year - in my view - were due to the chassis problem and his decision to press on regardless. But his collision with Rossi (and subsequent crash) seemed to be due more to the red-mist descending than a machine problem. Rossi gave him the opportunity to make an arse of himself, and he grabbed it with both hands.

That said, it was a much more mature ride from Marquez at Assen - well, at least until he again collided with Rossi. This time he did not crash, but his post-race grizzling indicates he still has a lot of growing up to do.

I had thought Pedrosa was going to be the surprise packet in the race after looking at his consistently fast practice times, then he pelted himself down the track in warm-up on race day morning. I sure hope that did not set his confidence back again. Because only when we see a fully-fit Pedrosa on the Repsol Honda can we really judge just where the factory bikes are at.

Crutchlow? Well, he's brave, but he doesn't come across as being very intelligent. So I don't hold him in much regard as a yard-stick.

And despite the on-paper advantages Ducati has to work with, Yamaha has still built a superior all-round motorcycle - again. Don't get me wrong, Yamaha has proved in the past it can get things outstandingly wrong - as it did in 1993 with that year's YZR500. But this year's bike is a nice evolution of last year's.

Now, can we talk about the disadvantages Harley-Davidson XR750 riders have to work with and yet they are still winning?

Total votes: 112

IIRC, Marquez this season twice forfeited podium finishes by going for broke and crashing, resulting in zero points; and Danni struggled early and then missed races altogether because of arm pump. I don't see where Honda engineers had anything to do with any of that.

There's a Cycle world interview of Jorge Lorenzo on the Indy MotoGP web site. he was asked if the Yamaha is superior to the Honda this season:

CW: Can you say that your Yamaha is better than a Honda?

JL: We cannot say that because I haven't tried the other bike. We need to consider the whole picture. In Qatar, Marc [Marquez] went straight at the first corner. He could have won the race. He won in Texas and was leading in Argentina until he crashed on the last lap. He was 2nd in Jerez, he struggled in Le Mans, but he was fast and scored the pole position. Just think at Mugello: He started 13th and suddenly he was 2nd, but he crashed. In Montmelo, he was behind me and crashed. If the bike is bad as some in the paddock say, he wouldn't be able to get these results. The problem is that he crashed three times, ruling himself out of the title hunt.

Total votes: 113