'Different' Honda puzzles Marquez, delights his squadmates - The Race
MotoGP

‘Different’ Honda puzzles Marquez, delights his squadmates

Feb 5 2022
By Simon Patterson

Factory Honda MotoGP rider Pol Espargaro has finished his first day on the new-for-2022 RC213V delighted with the Japanese firm’s work over the winter, after delivering him a machine that may well finally allow the Spaniard to deliver on his promise with the team.

However, while the machine might be a step in the right direction, the adoption process hasn’t quite been smooth sailing for his team-mate Marc Marquez, who admitted that his crash-struck day was largely down to learning the new machine.

Espargaro, who posted the ninth fastest time of the opening day and was 0.066s slower than Marquez, has made no secret since arriving at Honda where he feels weakest, with a distinct lack of rear grip from a bike designed for late braker Marquez hampering Espargaro’s ability to ride in the most natural way.

Unable to feel the bike under braking as the rear tyre lets go, it’s something that last year meant he was only able to perform when track temperature dropped off.

But, taking to the Sepang International Circuit in the heat of the Malaysian day for a real attempt at assessing their improvement over the two-month break, he says that it finally feels like progress is being made.

“For sure we have gained a lot on the rear grip, the rear contact,” he explained. “We’ve gained a lot especially on corner entry, which is something for speed, to be better on lap time, but also for safety. All of us were asking for it, because it feels super uncomfortable when you’re entering into the corner and don’t know what is happening with the rear.

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“The front you can control, and you can crash many times because the crashes are small. You don’t get hurt, but with the rear ones you do. This was the main goal for me and we did it very well.

“Even in the hottest conditions, I was the only one riding at 3pm along with [Lorenzo] Savadori. We were trying in the worst scenario, the hottest part of the day, with used tyres – and it felt good.”

Pol also pledged to do his own part in getting better at the low-grip stuff in really focusing on flat track and motocross training in the off-season, but says that the reason it’s working better for him now is still more down to the bike than his own improvement.

“For sure I have worked a lot in different disciplines,” he said, “but in the entry of the corner, you cannot do anything. You’re just waiting for the bike to do something – to turn, to stop. There’s not so much you can do. For sure you can play with the rear brake, with the engine brake, sliding a little more – but there is one moment where everything is gone and you’re just trying to keep some corner speed.

“You can do nothing, and the rear contact must be there or it is super dangerous. You have to stop the bike to prevent a huge crash. And that is where we’ve improved a lot.”

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However, while the new bike might be safer in the long run, team-mate Marquez discovered the opposite, crashing out twice on what is essentially his very first time on the new bike after missing the end-of-season test at Jerez in November thanks to his eye injury.

Somewhat changing the balance of the bike from front to rear, he admitted that the process of adapting his style is what caused him to go down – uninjured – twice on the opening day of 2022.

“It’s true that it is a different bike,” he said. “I cannot lie. I can’t say exactly what the direction is but you can see from the side of the track if you understand well. The feeling of the bike is different, and on my personal side from a long time riding one style, now it’s true that the bike is [different].

“I had the last year bike too, and immediately I understood that the speed, the lap time, is easier to get with the new bike, but this creates another problem, like always. One of the things that I need to learn and understand is the front feeling, which has changed a lot.

“One mistake today was completely my fault, but another time I crashed and I still don’t understand why, because I didn’t make anything [different]. All these things plus not riding a MotoGP bike for a long time means I still don’t understand well this bike. The lap time was coming but I don’t know why!”

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Marquez’s brother Alex finished the day in 15th, three places behind LCR team-mate Takaaki Nakagami, but was extremely positive about his Saturday’s work – also because he avoided any crashes, having had a plethora of accidents in the pre-season last year.

Like Espargaro and Nakagami, the younger Marquez had a first taste of the 2022 prototype Honda in the end-of-year Jerez test, but Sepang marked his first day of getting to extensively focus on the new RC213V.

“For us, it was quite clear [in Jerez] that the new prototype had more potential,” he said.”For sure Honda made some improvements during the winter, some improvements on the engine, some improvements on the chassis, some improvements on all the package. But the main thing for us was to work with two prototypes and have time on track – because in Jerez, the bike was jumping from one rider to another one, we didn’t have a lot of time with the bike.

“We need all the time that we can be on track and we can make quality laps – not quantity, quality. Will be good for us to build up the confidence, to need more the secrets to take the profit of this bike because it’s completely different.

“I mean, from the [riding] style side, from the rider side, but also for the set-up and all this, it’s an exactly different way to extract the potential.”

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