Pity poor Honda. The company has formed the backbone of the MotoGP class - and the 500cc two strokes before that - since the mid-1990s. Without the 6 bikes that HRC puts on the grid year on year, MotoGP would be in a very difficult place. And yet still the company continues to be the target of a barrage of abuse and vituperation on message boards and fan sites around the world. How could this be?
Ask any MotoGP fan and they will tell you that it is Honda which has driven the decisions which - from a fan's perspective - have ruined MotoGP. It was Honda that killed the 990s and demanded the switch to 800cc, a move which took a lot of the spectacle out of the racing, and it was Honda that killed off the two-strokes in the 250 class, and demanded their replacement with the Moto2 series. Whether there is any truth in these assertions is irrelevant, that is the way that the fans see it, and that image is hard to shake off.
These claims all stem from a perception that at Honda, what matters is the bike, not the rider. Whenever Honda has won championships, it has been quick to claim the credit, yet when riders on other brands of motorcycle have kept Honda from the title, the factory has been quick to blame the rider, rather than the equipment they gave him to compete on. This perception was further strengthened in Valentino Rossi's biography, in which he claimed he left Honda because he felt under-appreciated, and annoyed at the emphasis placed on the bike, rather than rider skill.
So it is truly remarkable to read that Honda seems to have had a change of heart. According to Colin Young of SpeedTV, Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC, has said that if Dani Pedrosa does not win the MotoGP World Championship this season, the blame will not lie with Pedrosa, but with Honda. "This is the Honda way," Young quotes Nakamoto as saying. "If we win the championship then the rider is good, if we don't win the championship then bike is not good --- this is the Honda way."
Nakamoto's comments come after Pedrosa - along with several other Honda riders - aimed some very harsh criticism of the 2009 iteration of Honda's RC212V. The chassis is simply not providing the traction the riders need to compete with the Yamahas, and the riders are becoming increasingly frustrated at the perceived refusal of the Japanese engineers to listen to the riders' input. Pedrosa himself reportedly said to the Catalan press "Let's see if they listen to me for once."
Nakamoto's remarks show the HRC boss is trying to make clear that he is listening. "I think Dani's potential as a rider is enough to win the championship but at the moment the machine potential is not high enough," Nakamoto said, a clear sign to both Pedrosa and HRC's engineers. Honda needs to turn the RC212V project around, as ever since its debut, it has consistently underperformed. Before the start of the 800cc era, Honda was expected to walk away with the class, as they had done in the 500cc and MotoGP era, when only bad luck and the brilliance of riders like Kevin Schwantz and Valentino Rossi have kept them from the title. Nakamoto clearly expects Honda to do something to change their fortunes, and put them back at the top of the standings, where they feel they belong.