Ever since the inception of the MotoGP era, Honda has borne most of the burden of keeping the grid full of bikes, never supplying less than 6 machines. In the heyday of the 990s, any one of those bikes, satellite or factory, was capable of a podium on any given day. That all changed with the advent of the 800s. HRC's grave miscalculation of what it would take to build a winning 800cc MotoGP bike left the factory struggling, and satellite spec Hondas went from a prerequisite for success to a liability.
That could be all about to change, according to the Motorcycle News. Speaking to MCN's Matt Birt, LCR Honda boss Lucio Cecchinello revealed that Honda is examining offering satellite teams a near factory-spec level RC212V, to allow them to be more competitive from the start of the season, which would in turn allow them to generate more sponsorship.
At the moment, satellite teams are supplied with bikes that are close to the spec of the factory machines at the end of the previous season, but the development that the new factory bikes receive over the winter means that satellite teams are uncompetitive at the start of the season, only gaining some speed as the season goes on. The Gresini team is a prime example of the current situation, with both Alex de Angelis and Toni Elias scoring miserable results for the first half of the season, their performance only really picking up once they received extra parts at the midway point. Since then, both Elias and De Angelis have been on the podium, and have featured far more frequently at the sharp end, the new parts giving them a better chance of running near the front.
Under the new scheme, put forward by HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto, satellite teams could opt to pay a 10-20% higher lease fee to receive bikes which are very similar to the factory bikes at the start of the season. Updates would not come as quickly as for HRC's officially factory-supported riders, but would follow within a few races, offering at least the chance of being competitive, rather than hopelessly outgunned. The extra cost - somewhere between 110,000 and 270,000 euros - would not be too difficult for teams to cover with sponsorship, and would offer at least the chance of competing for the top 5, and even the occasional podium.
The proposal - for it is nothing more than that at the moment - would put Honda's satellite riders in a similar position as the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team right now. The bikes run by the satellite Yamaha team are probably 4 races behind the machines being fielded by Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and Colin Edwards results on the Monster M1 have shown that the concept is a sound one. With a little help from the hand of fate, Edwards took a podium at Donington and has been competitive all year. There is every reason to believe that the satellite Honda riders would be in much the same boat under a similar scheme run by HRC.
What the proposal doesn't solve, however, is MotoGP's biggest problem: The Fantastic Four. When Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa are healthy, they are simply a serious step ahead of the competition, and out of reach of any of the mortals competing in MotoGP, factory equipment or no. Right now, the Fantastic four are a half a second a lap quicker than the rest of the field on talent alone, and as long as that remains the case, they will remain the Untouchables.