In case you were wondering how things have been going at Honda, after 13 races Marc Marquez is currently the best-placed HRC rider in the 2022 MotoGP championship. Marc Marquez is in 15th place, with 60 points, Takaaki Nakagami is 16th, with 45 points, Pol Espargaro 17th, with 42 points, and Alex Marquez 18th, with 29 points. After the next race at Misano, the 14th race of 2022, Marc Marquez is still likely to be the best placed Honda rider.
And to refresh your memory, that is the same Marc Marquez who raced the season opener at Qatar, then highsided himself to the moon in Indonesia, and missed that race and Argentina, then competed from Portimão through to Mugello, where he revealed that the humerus in his right arm had healed with a 30° rotation in it, and he had to have a fourth (and almost certainly last, whichever way it turns out) operation on the arm to straighten it out before he can compete again.
So not only has Marc Marquez missed 7 of the 13 grand prix this year, but in the ones he did compete in, he was effectively riding with one arm. And yet he is still top Honda.
Are his stablemates so bad? Pol Espargaro and Alex Marquez are both Moto2 champions, and both have podiums in MotoGP. Takaaki Nakagami has two grand prix victories to his name (in Moto2), and a total of 14 podiums (all in Moto2). These three are no mugs, as the English expression has it. Espargaro was fastest at the Mandalika test and finished on the podium with the Repsol Honda at Qatar this year.
Clearly, the 2022 Honda RC213V is a difficult proposition. Espargaro's podium remains the only one for Honda so far this year. There might have been a second, had a sensor not become dislodged when a mechanic removed the tire warmer from Marc Marquez' bike on the grid at Austin. But you know what they say about ifs and buts...
The problems are evident to the opposition as well. Andrea Dovizioso passed both Stefan Bradl and Pol Espargaro in the race at the Red Bull Ring, and could see how much they were struggling. Bradl was riding well, Dovizioso said, but he was still not back up to speed as a full-time racer, rather than a test rider.
But the same could not be said for Pol Espargaro. "I think Pol has lost confidence, and he's not able to use the potential of the bike." Dovizioso remarked, referring to his own difficulties adapting to the Yamaha. "He's like me. I'm not able to use the good point of the bike and he's struggling a lot on the bad point of the bike. This is the final result at the end of the race."
Espargaro acknowledged he just couldn't find a way to ride the bike and be competitive. "It was a painful race," the Spaniard said. "It was very difficult. I've been struggling all the race with the traction, to stop the bike I had some problems on the brake. Together with some arm pump because of these problems, I'm riding very slow."
He was not just slow, he wasn't riding the Honda as it needs to be ridden, Espargaro admitted. "Actually, I'm not riding well at all because of all these problems and because I feel I'm not fast, I'm not riding fast and at the moment I'm struggling to ride this bike. But the thing is that actually we all are struggling and with this situation I feel I'm struggling more than the others. It's a difficult situation."
Clearly, there are problems with the bike. That is understandable, perhaps: the 2022 Honda RC213V is a completely new machine built from the ground up, and bears little or no resemblance to the bike HRC have had in competition up until the end of 2021. Looking at other manufacturers who have done the same, Yamaha took a year to iron out the issues with the new bike they introduced in 2020, which was a much smaller change. And Aprilia have taken two years of problems with their new bike to finally become competitive enough to challenge for a championship. This was always going to be a hard year.
But HRC are not used to struggling like this. They seem to be powerless to find ways to make the bike competitive. They have brought new chassis, new swingarms, new aero and yet the Honda riders still regularly struggle to get into the points. HRC is taking action, but it is hard to see whether that action equates to progress.
At the Red Bull Ring, Marc Marquez spoke to the press at length. His words were laden with portent, something made even more ominous by the storm which descended in the middle of his press conference and which threatened to rip the roof off the HRC hospitality. It failed, but it was enough to put the fear of Gaia into the assembled media, as well as the normally fearless Marquez himself.
Marquez was very clear about Honda's situation, however. "Obviously you see that Honda HRC is in a difficult moment. Not only one rider, all the riders, and when all the riders are in a difficult moment it means that the project is not in its best moment," he told us.
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