After Honda got their predictions of how to build a title-winning 800cc MotoGP bike so utterly wrong in 2007, expectations were raised that they would not make the same mistake again in 2008. If there was ever a year that you might expect HRC to come out with an unbeatable factory bike, surely this would be it.
Apparently, those expectations are also wide of the mark, for this afternoon, at Losail, Repsol Honda staff were spotted by our Italian counterparts GPOne.com unpacking the parts for 2007 RC212Vs from flight cases, and cleaning them ready for use. The initial diagnosis is that HRC will be testing the 2007 bikes during Friday's free practice sessions, pitting them up against the 2008 bikes to see which is faster.
Such a decision would be a remarkable implicit admission by HRC that their new bike is just not up to scratch yet. However, there are a few mitigating circumstances: the new factory RC212V suffered serious problems with grip during the night tests last week at Losail, as the cool track temperatures played havoc with traction. With no burning desert sun to warm the track, track temperature remains stubbornly around air temp, which is falling to around 10-15 degrees Centigrade out in the desert. The problem was highlighted by the fact that on race tires, the satellite Hondas - all basically running a version of the 2007bike which was victorious at Valencia - were significantly quicker than the factory Repsol bikes during the tests under the floodlights.
Although remarkable, the choice to revert to the previous year's bike would not be unique: in 1984, "Fast" Freddie Spencer elected not to run the brand new V4 Honda 500 at the German GP, choosing instead to go out on the older V3 design. Spencer claimed both the pole and the win that race, a fact which may help allay any qualms held by Nicky Hayden or Dani Pedrosa.
~~~ UPDATE ~~~
The story has just been confirmed by Motorcycle News. MCN's Matthew Birt is saying that Hayden will definitely be running the 2007 RC212V, while Pedrosa is as yet undecided.