It's been a tough year for Honda. The season got off to a bad start with the injury to Dani Pedrosa, then when it came time for the team to sign new riders, it took a suspiciously long time to actually reach deals with both Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, while rumors raged that HRC was also courting Jorge Lorenzo. Along with the rider difficulties, there have been continuing rumblings that Repsol, the factory Honda team's title sponsor, is dissatisfied with the way the team has performed and was looking at pulling its support for the squad.
To deal with this problem, Honda has invested a huge amount of time and effort to solve the problems they have faced. HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto has publicly admitted that the team's difficulties have been down to Honda's failure to produce a competitive motorcycle, rather than any shortcomings by the riders - as has been the previous practice. Honda has even started experimenting with Ohlins suspension, replacing the equipment produced by Honda subsidiary Showa.
These efforts have not been without result. The Honda RC212V has become increasingly competitive, and that improvement is paying off. The sponsor which has openly questioned their investment this year is finally about to sign on with Honda for another year. According to the Spanish sites Motocuatro.com and Motoworld.es, Honda will announce that they have reached a new agreement with the Spanish oil giant Repsol, renewing their title sponsorship of the factory Honda team.
Like Pedrosa's contract renewal, however, Repsol's faith in HRC is very much conditional. The Spanish petroleum company has only signed on for a single year, instead of the usual two-year deals it has previously done, and has reduced the amount of financial support it will provide for the team. The deal is very much a performance-based affair, with any further extension of the contract entirely dependent on producing a highly competitive machine.
With both Dani Pedrosa and Repsol only signed on for one more year, the pressure is on for HRC to produce the goods. If the 2010 iteration of the RC212V isn't competitive enough, then Honda could lose both its title sponsor and its star rider by the end of the season. The loss of Pedrosa would be deeply regrettable, but with all four of the Fantastic Four - Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner - coming onto the market at the same time in 2011, and a salary bidding war a racing certainty, the loss of the sponsor would be far more painful. If Pedrosa leaves, then there will be the other three Untouchables available to be picked up. But if Repsol leaves because the bike isn't fast enough, then they may not be able to persuade anyone to either stay or join the factory team.