Marc Marquez has admitted he’s still got some way to go in understanding the 2021 Honda RC213V MotoGP bike after the quiet results of his comeback so far.
The six-time MotoGP champion missed a full season of racing through his 2020 arm injury, and Honda’s development continued while he was on the sidelines.
Missing the chance to steer development in the way that he has since the middle of his rookie season in 2013, Marquez has returned to a bike that’s very different from what he was used to, even despite MotoGP’s limited freeze on development introduced as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
That has restricted teams from changing their specification of engines, an area where Honda has historically made the biggest deviations from its norm, but there was still the chance to modify frames and aerodynamics – and without Marquez and racing test rider Cal Crutchlow, who was injured for most of 2020 himself before retiring at the end of the season, the bike was always likely to move in a different direction.
That’s something that Honda Racing Corporation technical manager Takeo Yokoyama admitted to The Race last season, acknowledging that with satellite rider Takaaki Nakagami the fastest Honda rider, development was always going to diverge from Marquez’s machine.
“When Honda has an incredible champion, our philosophy is to adapt the bike more and more to them,” Yokoyama said.
“That’s what we’ve been doing for the past seven years – and then suddenly that brief was gone.
“We weren’t lost, but we had to reflect on what we were doing because the riding style of the others is different.
“So it was a good moment for us to sit down with all the engineers and think about what areas we had to work on without Marc.
“We had to take the maximum from what we had: the bike, the tyre, the rider line-up. It was challenging but it was quite refreshing.
“If I imagine Marc hadn’t got injured at the start of the season, maybe I can imagine that the bike of today wouldn’t be the same.”
Listening to Marquez following Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, it sounds like that strategy hasn’t exactly been a success.
Coming home in ninth, he was the second Honda in the race ahead of factory team-mate Pol Espargaro – but both were shown up by an excellent performance by LCR man Nakagami in fourth.
Marquez is still not riding at full fitness even though he is now largely recovered from the injuries sustained at Jerez last July and exacerbated by his botched attempt to ride again only a week later.
He admitted that Saturday’s practice sessions at Jerez were the first since his return to MotoGP action where he felt able to analyse the bike – and that he’s not delighted with what he’s found.
“I’m starting to be in a position to understand things and to find the way,” he said when asked about his progress by The Race.
“It’s true that we’re losing a lot in some areas, and we’re not in the best situation.
“On our side of the box, and together with Honda, the most important thing is to not lose the way.
“Honda is working very hard, bringing a lot of new things, but we have to not lose the way with the riders’ feelings.
“This is where we have to manage well, and I’m starting to be in a position now to try things.
“We’ll see now what they did last year when I was not here, what is going on and what we have and what we had in the past.”
Monday’s post-race test at Jerez was a chance for Marquez and his close-knit team to start making some progress on that.
His crew hopes that as Marquez’s bike set-up becomes less compromised by his improving physical condition, there’s more to be done with what they’ve already got under them – rather than the Honda needing a radical rethink to work for Marquez again.
“We have to try to find a balance,” he added.
“I already feel like I’m riding the bike like I want to, but that I don’t have my balance, my set-up that I want.
“So it’s time to work, but to do it step by step so that we don’t lose our way.”