Honda’s current problems are so bad that Marc Marquez remains the dominant rider in the 2022 standings by 14 points despite not competing after the Italian Grand Prix.
Before the summer break, Honda boss Alberto Puig admitted Honda needed to “change the way of thinking” in the Japanese position to dig itself out of the hole it finds itself in.
Honda’s problem is a combination of factors. In the year Marquez’s major injury problems in 2020 have highlighted just how much of a difference he is making on the RC213V, making it almost impossible for any other rider to get the best of him.
In the year A sub-par ride in 2021 and an eye injury at the end of the year meant Marquez couldn’t contribute much to the bike’s development in 2022.
Honda made a big change to the bike’s concept this year, making it more rear-biased to cure the rear grip problems that plagued its riders in 2021.
This didn’t work, and Marquez also changed the way he rode his bike. Marquez, famous for cornering and showing a front tire, was unable to use his normal riding style of the season before finishing behind Mugello to undergo fourth surgery on his right hand.
Back in the paddock in Austria, Marquez said Honda needed to “change the concept” of the bike and how it works in general.
HRC technical chief Takeo Yokoyama reviewed Honda’s year so far in Aragon on Thursday: “From 21 to 22 we made a radical change to the bike. At first we were more confident that we were on the right track.
But we can never be so sure. Of course, now is the time to study and make a decision on what to do with the bike next year.
Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
“Obviously, we found that some things are going as we expected, but some things are not working as expected. So, we have to make some kind of combination for next year. So we will not stay completely as we are now, but we will not go back to the previous concept.
While all eyes were on Marquez last week at the two-day post-San Marino GP test at Misano in his first outing on a MotoGP bike since Mugello, what was going on in the Honda garages was just as important.
In a departure from traditional practices, Honda developed a Kalex-designed swingarm rather than an in-house designed body.
Calex remains the all-conquering chassis manufacturer in the Moto2 class, winning its 10th consecutive Constructors’ Championship and remains the favorite of most teams. Calex has built something in the range of 50 swingarms in 2022 for the 24 riders who will run the chassis in Moto2.
The Kalex swingarm is also a general departure in rear suspension design in MotoGP, as most – including Honda – have worked with carbon fiber swingarms in recent years.
Marquez challenges him with Misano, but he keeps quiet about what he feels about him. However, LCR’s Takaki Nakagami praised Aragon.
“For a long time, we focused on carbon wheels, but Misano Test Calex brought an aluminum wheel and I had some question marks about the performance,” said Nakagami. But after trying a couple rounds, I felt something interesting. In general, there was nothing negative, I felt good. Honestly, it was positive. So I explained the pure feel of the bike to HRC and the Calex engineer.
The swingarm design aesthetic, regardless of its technical merits – Honda certainly hopes the rear suspension will help solve its problems – is a radical shift in philosophy from traditional Japanese manufacturers.
Pol Espargaro said at Misano that Honda’s reluctance to test despite the problems it still faces in 2022 is the Japanese marque’s fear of losing its secrets to rivals. That said, at least they’re happy to open the door to outside influence.
Yamaha has brought in ex-Formula 1 engine chief Luca Marmori as a consultant to help develop the low-power M1 engine for 2023. World champion Fabio Quattararo has spoken of the benefits of Yamaha’s trials with the new engine. It’s at Misano last week.
Takaki Nakagami, Team LCR Honda
Photo by: MotoGP
While European manufacturers like Honda and Yamaha never followed suit, it seems they finally realized that sticking to their path was more harmful than taking a risk.
This Yokoyama made clear in Aragon: “Overall we are the sixth producer – we are at the bottom. [of the table]. So we have to go up as soon as possible. So, we try to do everything we can. We got to know people from Kalex, had some discussions and understood that they could do something very quickly. We know very well that their technology is very high, so we decided to cooperate. This is not the end of the story. We are doing everything to everything.
The new Calex swingarms engine will not be a quick process. This has apparently been in the works for some months. However, that’s still faster than Japan’s marques tend to release updates.
In Autosport’s Tank Slappers podcast, Suzuki’s Alex Rins offers this insight into the working methods of the Japanese MotoGP manufacturers.
“We say that the Japanese are very bad, but they are very good,” he said. “They take their time to develop and improve things. For example, in the championship we can see that maybe Ducati has some new aero parts, and Aprilia – the Italian guys – are trying to improve the aero. It’s not copying Ducati, Ducati is looking. I pushed Suzuki to improve in some areas and it will take time. But they have an explanation for how long they took.
Given how tight MotoGP is now, it’s very easy to lose ground in the pecking order from one week to the next. Sending something like Swingarm Design to Calex not only brings the much-needed fresh look and technical expertise of a high-end, championship-winning brand. But this means that resources at Honda in Japan can then be transferred to other areas of the bike.
During FP1 in Aragon, no Honda rider tested the new swingarm but it will probably make an appearance later today in FP2.
The new Calex Swinger also doesn’t change Honda’s season and suddenly pushes it down the order. But the fact that he’s broadening his horizons to reverse his hunger for results suggests MotoGP Japan’s manufacturers have learned their lesson.