Everyone knows that Honda Motor Company have, without a shadow of doubt, been the prime movers behind the return and development of four-stroke engines in the Motorcycle Road Racing World Championship in the past decade. The MotoGP 990 era (2002-2006) saw the Japanese manufacturer achieve their greatest success - running an exotic V5 engine - first in the hands of Valentino Rossi and later in those of Nicky Hayden. The years on the 800's (2007-2011) were finally rewarded with a solitary crown at the very last attempt, thanks to the most successful rider of the 800cc class, Casey Stoner.
However, Honda's efforts to repeat that victory in the class they more or less invented translated into the slower development of the new-for-2012 MotoGP 1000cc prototype, and this time the closest man was the Spaniard, Dani Pedrosa. By the end of 2012 it was clear that Honda had the best 1000cc machine, but even if it was too late to close the gap to Yamaha and Jorge Lorenzo, Pedrosa got one more victory than Lorenzo and got extremely close to the world title.
With Stoner now caught between fishing and racing V8 cars, Honda will make another strong bet on the 2013 title race, lining up Dani Pedrosa plus 2012 Moto2 World Champion Marc Márquez.
Motomatters.com had this correspondent in Madrid, attending the Repsol Honda Team official presentation last Friday, and had the chance to speak with both riders after the show. I thought I would never see some hallucinatory images in my life, such as seeing Shuhei Nakamoto walking and smoking on Méndez Álvaro Street, a very depressed area in the south east of Madrid for last two decades, now in a renovation process thanks to some big companies choosing the place to built their new aluminium/glassed headquarters. Designed around three colossal buildings, the surrounding garden seems to be inspired in the film "2001, a Space Odyssey", even more so with the signals and 'racetrack-look' small roads placed for the occasion.
Apart from these matters, there were some other questions hanging in the air which people did not talk about. One of them was that eight years ago Pedrosa joined the team representing the same fresh air which Márquez does now. For Pedrosa, even after proving he's one of the top three motorcycle racers in the world, being second again in 2013 would mean his fourth time, equating Randy Mamola's almost impossible record in the premier class. At the same time, the next generation is knocking the door with Márquez.
A quick look at the statistics of every world champion in the premier class -500 or MotoGP- who joined the class as a Honda rider (with the exceptions of Eddie Lawson in 1989 and Casey Stoner in 2011). Freddie Spencer became champion, so did Wayne Gardner, Michael Doohan, Alex Crivillé, Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden too. Yes, we seem to be missing one talented name as Honda's only non-champion factory rider, and that's precisely Dani Pedrosa.
So, we guess the atmosphere in the Repsol Honda team will see a lot of smiling tension, but also a fierce battle in the track between both riders. Marquez is maybe the hungriest rider on the track, even more so than the unforgettable Marco Simoncelli. So he will not miss any single chance to pass Pedrosa. At the same time, Pedrosa seems to be stronger than ever and ready to finally take the biggest prize in racing. He wants everyone out of his way, including Marc Márquez.
We talked to both riders separately this time and, of course, there were a lot of diplomatic answers. Anyway, we wanted to get these first few words from two apparently friendly team mates, who have no intention of becoming merely a small part of the success of the other.
Marc Márquez interview
In order to ride a more powerful and heavier MotoGP bike, did you work harder on fitness during the off season?
"The winter is long and gives you time to do everything. I have had time for some rest and since the start of January I worked on fitness more than last season. I really prefer to get at a higher level than being under what I need to ride a MotoGP bike. So, I'll try to increase my strength and I think I will find out if I got it once I'm back on bike again for the first test of the year in Malaysia. My body weight keeps around 60kg now, so I hope it's enough for riding this bigger bike. After Sepang test at the end of last year I felt more tired when I finished opening day than the last one because, riding a MotoGP bike, makes you feel a bit stiffer at the beginning. You don't know what to expect from the bike and that makes you feel some physical tension. Once you have some experience on the track everything becomes easier and you feel more relaxed".
What do you think is going to be the most difficult side of being a MotoGP rookie? As Nakamoto-san said, there won't be any pressure on for you in the 2013 season.
"I'm sure there will be many difficult sides for me in this season, and the biggest problem will come from my lack of experience in this class. So the most important goal for me must be having a good preseason. That means riding the bike as much as I can to find out about its behaviour, and also learning everything I can on and off the track. I must get ready for the first race in Qatar, so let's see how everything goes until then".
After these few first rides on the Honda's RC 213V, did you feel a big difference because of the influence of electronics?
"To be honest, I have to acknowledge that I don't understand too much about the electronics yet. I don't know a lot about how it works . I have already felt the influence from traction control and tried some more small changes on settings, but I still have to learn a lot about electronics. There is a huge different if I compare it to a Moto2 bike, because there are no electronics in the intermediate class, but it means everything on a MotoGP bike".
Would you sign today for being second on points behind Dani Pedrosa at the end of 2013 season?
"That would be great for Dani and the team! But at this moment I don't want to look that far forward. I know nothing about Pedrosa's goals, so I would not sign for a result which his higher or lower. I just wish to make Honda and Repsol happy at the end of the season. I would like to feel that I really made the best of my opportunity of riding a MotoGP bike".
Former world champions and experienced riders admitted that tarmac feels a lot harsher when you crash on a 500 or MotoGP bike. Did anybody warn you about crashes? Did you learn the lessons from your rookie season in 2011 at Moto2, with three crashes in the first three races?
"Some people around warned me about how much more painful a MotoGP crash can be. Of course, I'll try to learn step by step, maybe avoiding crashes, but I know they will come sooner or later. Hopefully I may not make the same mistakes I made in 2010. For sure, three DNF's in the first three races was not a good start, but everything counts at the end, whatever you have learnt riding a 125 or a Moto2 bike".
Will riding the new and complex MotoGP tyres be one of the other big challenges in the coming season?
"That's one of the few facts I have already learnt from MotoGP. The first few laps on these tires have such a strong influence on its overall behaviour. I feel I still have a lot to understand and even more if we talk about the front tire. Things were easier with the rear. Tire condition in the final laps was a big concern in Moto2, so it seems to be even more important in MotoGP".
Do you thing Valentino Rossi will be a title contender on his return to the factory Yamaha team? And also, how do you see Jorge Lorenzo?
"You can never leave Valentino out of the fastest riders. I'm sure he will be back on the top of the rostrum. To become champion again Rossi will have to beat Lorenzo and Pedrosa in the very best moment of their racing careers, but I'm still sure Rossi will be in the battle again. About Lorenzo, what can I say? He's just become a double MotoGP world champion, he will be defend his crown and be winning races again".
Nakamoto also said since the start of your MotoGP experience that he was sure you would be on the rostrum at the opening race in Qatar. Do these words put any extra pressure on you?
"It's great you enjoy such a deep confidence from him, but all of us in the team know this is going to be a very big and difficult challenge. Those words just give me a little more self-confidence, but they mean nothing once you're trying to improve on the track. We have a long road ahead and will try to follow our own upward line".
Dani Pedrosa Interview
After your best ever season in 2012, are you even more determined this year to finally become MotoGP world champion?
I am always determined in a very positive way. I really do feel like I have to start again. Last year I took an important step forward and I keep my hopes up that I can continue in that way. We also have lot of technical changes this season, like a heavier bike or one engine less than last year. We will also have a new practice and qualifying system and so on. The main goal is getting ready so we can be competitive at the first race of the season. At least there were no rule changes fifteen days before the start of this season [Pedrosa smiles ironically - MM], and that's good".
Did you have time last winter to analyze the 2012 season and figure out what you missed in your attempt of becoming world champion?
"Apart from what happened on the grid at Misano, which really colored the whole season, I think I did everything in the right way. I think we all could see that".
You just showed us your team's new colours for a season in which you have more chance than ever to become world champion, but at the same time you have a very talented new team mate, much as you were in 2006. Does Marquez remind you of yourself some years ago?
"I don't really see myself in Marquez now. If I think about that time, I remember coming to the new team and also the change in the relationship with the sponsors and greater attention from the media too. However, for the rider it doesn't matter what class you're racing in, because when you race a 125, that's the most important class in the world for you. About Marquez, I could never offer advice to someone that is already a world champion. Back then, I would have loved to have something impossible so early, just experience".
What do you expect form Marquez as a new team mate?
"I expect him to show his full talent. After watching him racing in the lower classes, I think he will bring some new fresh air to the series because his wild riding and racing style. He'll be definitely good for the team but also for the class".
A few days ago Jorge Lorenzo declared that you will be the rider with the most pressure on the grid this season, because Lorenzo and Rossi have already been MotoGP world champions and also because it will be a rookie season for Márquez. Do you agree with him?
"I never try to see things from someone else's point of view. I just think about myself, about what I can do in order to improve, trying to feel good or about my present or future plans, but never about someone else's pressure or whatever.
I just know that if I am feeling really good, that's enough for me. Last season I could race in every race and things went much better. I have a great team and ride a great bike. I think I have the skills needed, also proved my determination to win. If I can keep that eighteen times in this season, I'll have no more worries".
Last year you did not feel comfortable on the bike until the middle of the season. Now you seem to be in perfect physical condition and you won't have to wait to improve an already extremely competitive bike. Do you feel this going to be a much better start than last year's?
"Well, I can't read the future. I don't know how the season is going to start. We still suffer a lot from front and rear chattering and I don't know if we will be able to solve this problem. There are lots of variables in motorcycle racing, so it's very difficult to say anything until you have already raced three or four events in the season. So the main thing is arriving at the first race and being ready. We would definitely like to avoid such a difficult start as we experienced in 2012, which made everything more difficult".
What do you thing about Valentino Rossi's return to Yamaha?
"I think many fans will celebrate that. There are no doubts about Rossi's talent to ride, but we still have to see if he can ride at hundred percent. I think he will, but he still has to prove he is the same Valentino he was before. We have all raced against Rossi and already know how much he loves racing, so we don't have doubts about he will be back in the front".
We asked Márquez about his thoughts on next season and also if he could accept today a 2013 rookie season being second in points behind you as a great result, but he did not accept any result, including finishing second behind anyone. Do you already see him a real menace for you in the MotoGP title race?
"His talent is so real and we have several tests sessions ahead before we race in Qatar, so I don't think he is not going be ready in Qatar. So, I think it is possible for him to race at the front from the very beginning of the season".
You're a lightweight rider and MotoGP Bikes become heavier every season. Does this fact affect you in terms of physical training?
"In the last couple of years the bikes became 7kg heavier, and you can definitely feel it, even more at higher speed. I have tried my best to adapt myself to these changes and it's just something we have to deal with".
The Repsol Honda team will test for the first time at Austin, did you have any influence in that decision?
"I could see a lot about the track when Formula 1 raced there and thought it must be a difficult track because of its layout. It's also wide and you ride up and down the hill. I think it will take a while for the riders to feel confident on this track, so that's why I tried to go and test there".
You are getting older every season, Stoner is 27 and Rossi 34. How many more racing years do you think you still have?
"I was so young when I started in road racing that even though I'm now 27, I still feel young. I'm having a long career. Because I've had so many injuries, there was a time a couple of years ago when I really felt some doubts. It was normal because I was suffering from so many injuries together that, even if you still feel the energy, your motivation goes down a bit. Then I did not know how long I could be in the sport when I was in such a painful condition, but fortunately everything started to change last year. I don't know really know how long I will last in the sport. I am keeping in good physical condition, maybe I could race for a few more years".
You said at team's official presentation you were "excited" about next season. Where do you take your hopes from at the start of every new season and fight for the championship time after time?
"I can't really say where it comes from. Maybe it's a matter of passion for racing motorcycles, something I still have with me".