2015 Barcelona MotoGP Test Notes: Honda's 2014/2015 Hybrid, And The Frustration Of Weather

Frustration and resignation. Those were the two most prominent emotions at the post-race MotoGP test at Barcelona. Two sides of the same coin, in reality, as the weather robbed teams in desperate need of track time of any chance of doing the hard work which will make them all a bit more competitive. After an hour and a half of a dry track, a massive thunderstorm washed over the circuit, drenching the track and leaving it wet for the rest of the day. Dani Pedrosa was phlegmatic about the situation. " The weather is what it what is," he shrugged. "Obviously it would have been perfect for it to have stayed dry but we don't control that."

In the Tech 3 garage, Pol Espargaro, suffering badly through a slump in his form, did nothing to hide his frustration. "We tested two things, one of them was not good, one of them was good, we improve a little bit. Then the rain comes, it's impossible to make one fast lap time, impossible to make a rhythm, impossible to make anything. We are looking to go to Assen to continue, because it was a disaster today." It has been a tough year for the younger of the two Espargaro brothers, as he is struggling to ride the Yamaha, a bike which requires a radically different approach than his natural tendency, to move around, and be aggressive.

The rain was perhaps toughest on Marc Márquez. Márquez' biggest problem is on corner entry, where he cannot slide the rear controllably once it touches down during braking. The reigning world champion feels strongly that braking is where he has his biggest advantage, and the ability to either pass or make up time on his opponents. Take away that advantage and he feels shackled, fighting with one hand behind his back.

The 2015 Honda RC213V – or rather, the version which Márquez uses, which is stiffer in the front to allow him to push the front tire harder – is a step back in braking. Márquez blames the aggressive nature of the engine on reducing his ability to brake, the engine being grabby in engine braking, meaning that he cannot control the way and the direction in which he slides the rear tire into the corner. Unfortunately for Márquez, the engines are sealed, and the rules do not allow either Honda or Yamaha to change engine internals for the rest of the year.

The only options Honda have are the electronics and the chassis, both ways of affecting the way the rear tire behaves once it hits the ground. Work continues on the electronics, all the way up to the software freeze due at the end of this month, ahead of the adoption of spec electronics for 2016. But Honda have also brought a new option in terms of chassis, Márquez trying what he called "a package" on Monday morning at Barcelona. That package consists of the 2014 chassis together with the latest 2015 swingarm and the 2015 engine. The 2014 chassis has a different stiffness to it, but Márquez was coy on just where the differences lay. "About the stiffness, I think it is similar but the position is in a different way. But I don’t know. They only say ‘try this’ and I don’t want to understand so much about the technical things because then you can confuse your head." Pleading ignorance, real of feigned, is a good way of fobbing off prying journalists. Those who cannot plead ignorance tend to fob us off with disinformation.

Was the package better? "The feeling was good. I feel good and a good potential," Márquez said. "It was different, but especially more-or-less like year. I can do more mistakes, and then with the new one it is like you need to be really precise. You cannot do any mistakes like Sunday. With this one it is more like 2013, 2014. You can do more mistakes." Márquez' riding style has always been to try to push the limit of the bike, riding on the knife edge confident that he can correct any minor mistakes he makes. The 2015 bike has made that knife edge more precarious. Any small errors he makes are now fatal, ending with the bike in the gravel. He could of course back off just a fraction from the limit and try to be as fast as possible without making mistakes, but then he would not have two world titles and so many race wins. Márquez believes firmly that the point of motorcycle racing is to win, and not to circulate safely in seventh.

Márquez may have had a better feeling with the 2014/2015 hybrid package, but the weather had precluded drawing any firm conclusions. He had done just five laps on the bike, and not had time to do more runs. "I only did 5 laps and I cannot say if it is much better or much worse, because you need to try with new tires, with old tires, with a long run. But today we didn’t have the opportunity." The problem in corner entry gets worse as tires wear during the race, the grip dropping more as the race progresses. Doing just one run of a few laps can only give the first glimpse of how the changes might be. It will take a lot more testing to provide a definitive answer. Márquez spoke to us directly after holding a meeting with his crew and HRC technicians, to discuss the option of trying it again at Assen. That will only be possible with stable, dry weather, however. Right now, the weather forecast for Assen is typical of a Dutch summer: not very warm, and not very settled.

If corner entry is Márquez' most pressing problem, the problem all the Hondas face is with exit grip. The RC213V's aggressive engine means that the rear tire spins coming out of the corner, then when it finally grips, the front wheel starts clawing skyward, and the rider is fighting wheelies all the way down the straight. So fierce is the tendency to wheelie that Honda riders have to try to weave down the straights to help keep the front wheel on the ground. That only works at some tracks, such as Barcelona. "Here, when you come on the straight, you can flow because you have time for the next corner," Scott Redding explained. At other tracks, like Mugello, that didn't work, he said.

Even then, it did not help much. "We do still lose time compared to other manufacturers, like Ducati, Suzuki Yamaha," Redding said. "Exiting the corner they have a bit better drive than us, and they can also keep the front wheel down and use the power. We're kind of spinning, then we get the grip, and then we have the wheelie. So it's kind of balancing between the two areas."

Redding was one of the few riders to go out in the wet in the afternoon. The Marc VDS Racing rider has a lot of work to do to adapt his riding style to the RC213V, which is radically different to the Open class RCV1000R he was on last year. The dry laps in the morning helped, but so did the time in the wet. "We got a couple of laps under our belt, then with the rain coming, we did a couple of laps in the rain. So it was nice to have a little bit the feeling again in the rain, which was good." It was better than no testing at all, at least. "Like I say, a bad test is better than a good stand," Redding quipped.

Not everyone was badly affected by the rain, however. Though the factory Yamaha team did not turn a wheel, they had already made plans to head to Aragon, their officially designated test track, for further testing. Yamaha had brought a new chassis for Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi, to help improve corner entry. Though the M1 is vastly improved in that area compared to last year, it remains the weakest point of the bike. Yamaha may only be giving away a tiny fraction to the Hondas (at least, when the Hondas are working), Ducatis and Suzukis, but if they can match or even beat their rivals, the M1 would be dominant in almost every area. The 2015 M1 brakes extremely well, can carry fantastic corner speed, and has astounding mechanical grip on the exit, giving it superb punch out of corners and onto the straights. The Ducati is a little better on braking for corner entry, the Suzuki is superior in corner speed, but nobody gets out of corners like the Yamahas. If the chassis they test at Aragon gives them the improvements they need, then we could see Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi take another one-two at Assen.

Yamaha will be joined at Aragon by Suzuki, who are allowed to test much more freely under the concessions allowed to factories with a recent win. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales both tested on Monday morning, stopping when the rain started to fall, The weather was less of an inconvenience to them than Espargaro's crash early on. The Spaniard had been testing a new fairing on the Suzuki GSX-RR when he crashed it, aimed at helping the top speed of the bike. With that fairing destroyed, Espargaro was worried that a replacement would not get to Aragon on time for him to carry on with the test program. "We were trying something new but I destroyed it with the crash, so bad luck," Espargaro said. He hoped that a replacement would be available at Aragon. "We need to retry in Aragon," he said. "The team is working, we will try all the stuff, and also all the plan we had for this test we will do at Aragon, because we just did 10 laps." Part of that plan is to continue work on getting the most out of the new engine they raced at Barcelona. It was an improvement, but there is much more to come from it.

Teammate Maverick Viñales had less to work on at Barcelona, but as a rookie, his priorities are different. It is all about learning how the bike feels with old tires, and managing to be more smooth in braking and acceleration. "The plan was trying to get better pace with old tires, and finally we did it," Viñales said. "We arrived six tenths faster than the race, also the weather was quite different, so this helps. It was less hot." Working with old tires is key for Viñales, his objective being "to try to understand what the bike needs when the tire drops down," he said. Part of that comes from saving tire wear before it happens by being smoother. "Today we concentrate a lot on try to be really smooth on the gas and also on the brakes to try to save the tires." Suzuki's test plan for Viñales is smart, not letting the Spaniard get ahead of himself. At Barcelona, he had already started switching engine maps to help save tires, something he had struggled with in the first couple of races. Now, he is being allowed to focus on riding, rather than on confusing himself by testing new parts on the bike and trying to figure out whether they are an improvement or not. Suzuki will continue that work at Aragon, on Wednesday and Thursday.

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Total votes: 130
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"Márquez believes firmly that the point of motorcycle racing is to win, and not to circulate safely in seventh."
I suspect if Marc asked his bosses, they'd tell him his job is to win the championship, rather than individual races. If Honda quickly find a way to mollify their angry engine, he might regret chasing lost causes and tossing 30 or 40 points into the gravel, when the circus arrives in Valencia.
As for the hand tied behind his back, that's just the nature of the game. Didn't he enjoy an extra hand when Honda had their seamless box, and Yamaha didn't? If he yearns for an even playing field, he could always go back to Moto2.

Total votes: 159

Nobody ever won a championship by circulating in seventh.

Total votes: 144

Its called using your head and minimizing your losses. If he had moderated his agression when the bike was difficult to ride, instead of 4x0 points for those crashes, he would get 4x9=36 points, and championships have been decided by fewer points. Instead of being 69 points back and needing a few mistakes by both Lorenzo and Rossi to even have a chance, he would be only 33 points back, a much more manageable gap to close for when Honda make improvements.


Total votes: 136

Nicky Hayden won the 2006 championship by 5 points. He only won 2 of the races. His finishes included a 9th place which provided 7 points and the margin for victory.

Total votes: 142

Perhaps you can explain the math theories under-pinning Marquez' catch-up strategy of scoring zero points. When I make the calculations after each race, it seems he's fallen further behind.

Total votes: 127

Ironically, now that I check, circulating in 7th at Valencia in 2006 would have won the championship for Rossi by one point.

Total votes: 102

Where did 7th come from? Is someone actually suggesting the combination of Marquez and the 2015 Honda are not capable of completing a race in better than seventh position?

Frankly both Honda's and The Human Bowling Ball's championships would be looking a whole lot healthier if Marquez had collected a few thirds/fourths while he waited for the bike's shortcomings to be addressed. I for one am surprised at such a lack of professionalism from one of the world's finest motorcycle racers and at Honda's apparent tolerance of his approach.

On the bright side, it's been fun to watch. :)

Total votes: 133

Lorenzo started off the season with problems. He was distraught, but he managed to keep it together. During the opening three rounds, Lorenzo scored (2) 4ths and (1) 5th place. He waited for the team to find the necessary adjustments.

By contrast, Marquez has not used much discretion. He threw 20 points in the bin by battling Rossi in Argentina, despite the disparity in lap times. He made a mistake in Mugello, and then he put the Moto2 divebomb whistles on his RCV and took aim at Lorenzo in Catalunya.

The 2015 season illustrates the difference between a world champ, and a talented kid on a fast Honda. Still a long way to go. Maybe Marquez can put it together, but it doesn't look good right now.

Total votes: 142

To put down Marc just as a talented rider on a fast bike is way more than understated. Of course Lorenzo is more mature, he's older and he has more experience. So is Rossi to him. And probably Ago to anyone else.

He is having a bad season, like it can happen, and true to his spirit is going for win or bin. You may like it or not, you may argue is the best tactic or not (probably not) but that doesn't take away anything from his stature. And we should not forget how young he still is.

Total votes: 124

Marquez will get his due when he puts up results. Every young rider goes through this phase in their career. Winning isn't easy anymore, and people begin to doubt the efficacy of his achievements. The season is long, and maybe Marquez will pull himself together, but we have no reason to confer anything other than scorn for his unfocused title defense to date.

90% of motorcycle racing is between the ears. Marquez is tilting at windmills. Let's not pretend this is a chivalrous defense from a savvy world champ. He's lost somewhere in his own mind, which calls into question his achievements.

I'm not going to pretend this kid isn't spaced out. Furthermore, he's still riding Stoner's bike with Stoner's crew, which means we still don't know whether or not he can develop a bike. I don't need to remember how young he is. He needs to prove that he can be mentally strong and mature.

Total votes: 132

Stoner's crew have all dispersed. Marquez brought half his crew in when he joined Honda in 2013, then the other half for the 2014 season. The crew he now has are the guys he was working with in Moto2, with, I think, 1 data guy from Stoner's crew.

Total votes: 114

I forgot Gabbarini left at the end of 2013. However, we still have to see if he can develop the RCV into what it needs to be. Difficult in the days of limited testing, but we'll see.

Total votes: 113

"The 2015 season illustrates the difference between a world champ, and a talented kid on a fast Honda."

Funny, I thought Marquez WAS a world champ - for the past two seasons. Is this where we say he's not that talented and he just had the best bike the last two years?

Marquez has always taken risks - that's what I like about him. Sure, he can finish 4-6th and gather some points and only get a little farther behind. That way he'll just lose by less points. Or he can do what he does, and try to run with Lorenzo, take the gamble he can keep the Honda on that edge and finish the race ahead of the Yamahas and maybe actually pick up points on someone.

To close the gap he needs to be in front of the Yamahas, not behind. If they're at the front, he needs to be at the front. He only has 11 more chances to pick up points on them this season.

He's gambling. If he actually wants to win the championship this year, he has to.

Total votes: 121

offers another great read. Casey stoner who tested the bike said the engine wasnt aggressive and if i would be it could easely be softend with the electronics. now that mm has the 2014 frame which honda said they wil never use again theres little he said about the engine. what he says he can make more mistakes and that almost sounds like he cant ride the bike faultless and constant have to correct it and thats a strange way of riding.

hope yamaha improves yet again and make assen a 1 2 again

Total votes: 132

You can read the original version of the interview on the website of Marca, the Spanish sports daily. It's in Spanish.

However, the first time Stoner rode the Honda he said he couldn't believe how smooth the engine was. This was after Pedrosa and Dovizioso had spent all year complaining about how aggressive the engine was. So Stoner is probably not a good yardstick to measure engine aggressiveness again.

Total votes: 142

at the time was one of the few that I ever thought he made just to unsettle everyone, Ducati, Rossi, and his new teammate. Seemed to work a treat too.

While I appreciate MM saying he is in bin it or win it mode, unfortunately that often comes with a high price in terms of damage to the body and I suspect at this stage his manager, his team, his mates and his mum are all saying "time to pull yer head in, forget the 2015 championship and work on solutions"

Total votes: 132

>>the first time Stoner rode the Honda he said he couldn't believe how smooth the engine was.

This was coming from just riding the Ducati, a bike that Rossi knew after riding for only a couple of laps that he was in the shit. In comparison the Honda likely was very smooth.


Total votes: 123

but do you have any updates on the V4? Haven't been to your site in a while.

Total votes: 121

>>Haven't been to your site in a while.

Neither have I!

Honestly I'm quite a bit disillusioned with the current state of GP racing and part of that stems from the very bad taste left in my mouth from the Moto2 fiasco. Yes, it is a very long time to nurse a grudge but it keeps getting refreshed by the creeping spec-series that used to be GP racing that is being stuffed down our throats. I don't have a lot of incentive to dump a lot more money and effort into a project that only has a future club racing. Not to mention I don't have more money to dump! I would like to finish the project just on principle to prove that I can but unfortunately getting the business back on a financially sound footing takes precedence. If anyone reading has a pile of cash burning a hole and wants a super-exotic true 250GP successor with performance to match then please give me a call, I'll be happy to start the project right back up if I don't have to pay the hard costs. It will beat the pants off of Honda's new US spec RC213V waste of money. Otherwise I'll likely whip up a unique 150cc dirt bike for some flat track and ice racing fun and ride more and watch riding less. I guess that is one thing to thank Dorna for.


Total votes: 133

Interesting to see the 2014 chassis come back out. If they can do one more upgrade of the electronics, and MM93 can modulate his exuberance a bit, they can get some results. I am sure we would all love to see him back in the mix.

Stoner had the most sensitive throttle hand we have seen in the 4 stroke era, his take is exceptional (meaning the exception, as opposed to good). And he has an axe to grind with both the electronics elves AND the press taking notes about them.

MM93 doesn't get any criticism from me for his fighting spirit. I can picture him slugging his way straight from gravel traps to the front with some HRC help. It is his gift. I like it. His spirit won't be easily broken.

After the next round Honda might begin focusing on developing a new package around the Michelin tires and just hunker down to get the rest of 2015 behind them. They have a lot of work to do. Or undo. The general characteristics of the front - rear balance needed for the Michelin front tire are known. They have a LONG way to go from this bike to that one and they had better get cracking.

You think Yamaha was dominant THIS year...

Total votes: 136

You have to remember Stoner won a title on maybe the most hostile engine since the 90s 500 two strokes. The 2007 screamer 800 desmo sacrificed rideability for top end power, with an extremely peaky throttle response. Capirossi said it was far too aggressive, and this was from a guy who was a contender on the previous gen 990 brutes.

Total votes: 128

He seems like that he's just defending himself everytym he crashes. If he says he cant finish 3rd or 4th then how did he finished 4th in le mans, he shudve crashed and wat abt jerez he was looking quite comfortable finishing second. Instead of saying foolish things he should try to finish the races and see how much of a gap he needs to close to fight for the win.

Total votes: 141

Marques is doing in 2015 what many predicted he would do in his rookie year and is paying the price in terms of points and probably confidence. Happily he has avoided injury so far.
It is a testament to how good (and lucky?)he and the Honda were in 2013 and 14 that he has two MotoGP chapionships in the back at such a young age. This year he is making what look like rookie mistakes when faced with a bike that will not do what he wants it to.

Total votes: 113