In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | October 9, 2019

In The Paddock

Column

How Good (Or Bad) Is The Honda

The most intriguing thing about Jorge Lorenzo’s failure to mesh with the Honda is Marquez’s success.

Yes, we know the rider makes the difference. We’ve been told this over the years by riders as diverse as Valentino Rossi and, most recently, Marquez himself.

But how much difference, and why?

As usual this year there are three riders on the latest factory-spec Honda. Their varying results are very striking.

By the end of the European season, Marquez had yet to finish below second, has eight wins and one non-finish, when he crashed in Austin. Business as usual.

Cal Crutchlow has been nine times in the top 10, including twice third, with four non-finishes. More or less as usual.

Jorge Lorenzo, as well as four non-starts, has one non-finish, but has yet to finish in the top 10. Indeed, 20th place at Aragon was not only the third time he has finished out of the points, previously after falling and remounting, it was his worst-ever MotoGP finish. How the mighty are fallen.

In The Paddock Column - With three great riders aboard the factory-spec Honda, why the widely different results? Is it bike or riders?
With three great riders aboard the factory-spec Honda, why the widely different results? Is it bike or riders?

There’s no pleasure in recounting this statistic, being a Lorenzo admirer, not least for his other worldly demeanor and his otherwise manner. But mainly for his beautiful riding.

It’s even worse seeing him hounded by the merciless Spanish press. “Are you going to quit at the end of the year,” they ask. He says no. He’s committed. He plans to see his Honda quest through.

So they ask him again. “Are you going to quit.” And then again, and again.

Jorge has already proved he can be versatile, given time. He modified his style from creamy Yamaha to brutish Ducati, and was winning races when the bike exacted its revenge, throwing him off and hurting him in Thailand.

The Honda (as much as these things can be simplified) is sort of halfway between Yamaha and Ducati. This suggested that it wouldn’t be too bad a fit for Lorenzo. That might well still be true. It is repeated injuries that have prevented the question being answered.

As he explained, during one of his grilling sessions: “I have never been 100 percent fit to ride the Honda,” adding that without injuries he was confident he could be challenging for the podium. Though he then undermined that by adding, “I’ve never felt really safe with the Honda, especially with the front.”

In another recent interview, he was more specific. It is this year’s Honda in particular that is difficult—a suggestion born out by a string of top-10s by relative MotoGP rookie Takaaki Nakagami, who is riding last year’s bike.

“When I first tried the 2018 bike, I found it very well,” said Lorenzo. “But as soon as I tried the new motorcycle, I realized that it had a very powerful engine, but there was something that was not well in the corners.”

It leads to the other unavoidable question. Just how good is the Honda, really?

Crutchlow frequently has good pace, but as often has trouble qualifying as well as he should, and equally often finds himself pushing too hard—the consequence being four non-finishes through falling off. He has the same complaint as Lorenzo: lack of confidence in the front. All his crashes are front-end slide-aways.

So turn the question round. Just how good is Marquez? It can’t be a quirk of riding technique that means he can cope with this wayward front grip and keep winning races. Dominating in both smaller classes and on various versions of the RC213V suggests that it’s an aspect of all-round talent rather than a quirk.

Crutchlow calls Marquez “The Cat,” because when he falls off, he always lands on his feet. But there is another aspect. It is his catlike reflexes that enable him to get away with one incredible save after another. The front wheel lets go, but he’s already anticipated that, and is not only holding the bike up on knee and elbow, but also playing the throttle right so that the rear grip can pick it up again. Works almost every time.

In Thailand, however, an off-throttle high-side finally caught him out. The RC213V can bite even the best.

Now here’s the thing. If Marquez is so good that he can win and win on a bike that has other extremely good riders struggling, how would it be to put him something else.

Marquez on a KTM is an intriguing prospect. Or on an Aprilia. No disrespect to the Espargaro brothers currently wielding those bikes, but I reckon a bit of Marquez work on the twist-grips would be pretty illuminating.

Maybe he’d find himself all at sea, as Lorenzo did on both Ducati and Honda. And Rossi on the Ducati—though he managed the Honda-Yamaha switch seamlessly.

Be fascinating to find out. Maybe it ought to be compulsory.CN

 

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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.

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