‘Well-born’ new Honda still has a mountain to climb

‘Well-born’ new Honda still has a mountain to climb

One of the most anticipated storylines of the 2024 MotoGP season is over at Honda – as the paddock looks towards 2020 world champion Joan Mir and his new team-mate Luca Marini to see whether a supposed change in direction from the Japanese factory will live up to the hype and save Honda from a run of form so bad that it saw six-time champion Marc Marquez walk away from his contract at the end of 2023.

There’s added anticipation at this week’s Sepang tests, too, based on the final day of last year at Valencia, where both Mir and Marini showed good pace, hinting that the new RC213V model might finally be on a path to turning around Honda’s woes.

It’s been no secret for quite some time about why the bike has struggled so much, either.

Still very much retaining the DNA of past MotoGP machines and failing to move in time with the aerodynamics wars that now dominate the championship, it was apparent to all that Honda needed to adapt rather than persevere.

And, after the 2024-kickstarting shakedown (an outing that only Honda and Yamaha, with their newly-granted ‘Rank D’ concession status, were able to field their full line-ups at), it sounds like the changes Honda needed are finally coming along – even if that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll translate into instant results.

An RC213V rebuild

Joan Mir, Honda, MotoGP, Sepang shakedown

“Yes,” Mir emphatically told The Race when asked if Honda’s development direction had now changed for the better. “That is clear. Looks that the new bike is more powerful on the straight, you could see that the aerodynamics are not as last year, that were almost none, they started to work on it.

“They are still small compared to others, it’s true. But well, we are making some steps, trying to understand also for a rider, for me for example I was never… I don’t know how much we can do with aerodynamics, because the Suzuki was not the best bike in terms of aerodynamics. And last year this bike was also not the perfect machine in terms of aerodynamics.

“So we’re trying to understand many things on this. This test also I understood many things. So, let’s try to keep positive and to believe in the next three days we can make another step, that if we make another one we will be very close.”

Marini, too, was adamant things were moving in the right way, even compared to the already-promising Valencia outings.

“I have to say,” he said, “very good improvements compared to Valencia. But because Valencia was not so good, sincerely, [in terms of] the feeling in the bike, because there were many areas to work.

“While here everything is going in a good direction but still we need to work on every area, especially on acceleration, exit from the corners, more grip in the rear.

“So we need to work a little bit on this, first of all, and then also the aerodynamics side we are a little bit- not behind but with less experience than the other manufacturers, that are inventing many things in this moment.

“But we will have also our proposal in the next times, that we have time to test it, but sure that I give very good feedback, good ideas to the Japanese, I expect a lot from them.”

Johann Zarco, LCR Honda, MotoGP, Sepang shakedown

The reaction from LCR signing Johann Zarco, the actual fastest Honda rider during the shakedown, was an enthusiastic one as well.

“I think the potential is here,” he told MotoGP.com. “Because really the new bike has been born really well. I’m kind of lucky to arrive in that moment in Honda.”

But is it still last?

Joan Mir, Honda, MotoGP, Sepang shakedown

However, while the direction might at last be the correct one, it’s still apparent from Mir’s and Marini’s rather hesitant comments that they don’t quite believe that eradicating the gap to the all-conquering Ducatis will be possible in the near-term.

Lining up against Aprilias and KTMs expected to be closer to their Italian rivals and also facing a Yamaha that (should its new engine be as good as hinted at by the team) should be a lot more competitive, Honda could still easily – and perhaps likely – find itself fifth of five even its rebuild begins from what sounds like a decent foundation.

“It’s true that this winter they worked more than probably last year that I was there,” Mir added. “We could see many-many things, a lot of changes inside of the team, inside Honda. And I think they want to move on from this situation, this is what I see, it’s true.

“But you know, one thing is wanting it and the other thing is making it work. All the other manufacturers, they’ve worked super good for a lot of years. And they have a lot of information that we probably miss, a lot of tests.

“The direction we are following now, they have been following for three or four years or more. We are on that process, making good steps, but again, I feel not ready for the first race.”

“The bike has a good potential,” Marini acknowledged, before quipping: “It’s… good to ride when you are alone, because you don’t see the performance of the other bikes! So you feel that you are doing a great job.

Luca Marini, Honda, MotoGP, Sepang shakedown

“Then you pass the finish line and the laptime is a little bit slower than what you expected. So, we need to work a lot.”

The Italian has no doubt Honda will find more laptime – but is desperate to help the engineers do so “in as little time as possible”.

“Because I think that all the other manufacturers made huge steps this year. KTM looks incredible. Yamaha looks very fast in the straight.

“I think that Honda is in a very good condition now, but we have to work a lot.”


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