MotoGP mid-season report: Honda ‘clearly not competitive’ - Puig

| | MotoGP
Picture: GeeBee Images

After a difficult couple of years for Repsol Honda, the first half of 2022 has not proved brighter for Alberto Puig.

A revised RC213V looked to be making strides across pre-season and the opening race, with a podium for Pol Espargaro at Qatar, but that was where the positives stopped for the Japanese firm.

Marc Marquez’ injury woes continued to impede the eight-time world champion, with the Spaniard admitting a fourth surgery was required after round eight at Mugello. While Espargaro’s form headed south as he struggled with the revolutionised machine, in a similar vein to that of LCR riders Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami.

“It’s not a good season for us and there’s nothing to go more deep in the situation,” Puig reflected succinctly as the summer break approached. “We are clearly not competitive, and we have to improve, and this is what we are trying to do.

“You can say many different ways of giving a long explanation, but the truth is that we must improve and we must change our procedures, and this is what we are trying to do. I mean, in the history of Honda, we’ve had more good moments than bad moments, results-wise, but now we are in a bad one. So, we have to fix it.”

“The history of Honda is that they never give up,” Puig continued. “We can take this time but we know we will get there. But, we have to try to probably change a little bit our way of thinking, and the key point is to not give up in the chase, in the will to find the better solutions.”

Marquez’ recovery remains paramount for the HRC project with the best-case scenario a return to test the bike at the close of the year.

“Yes, if possible, it would be good that he could try the bike by, let’s say, after summer, end of the year,” Puig confirmed. “This would be the best, especially for our engineers, so that they understand which direction.

“But, the priority is the total recovery of his arm, so this is something that is no question, and this is how we will proceed.”

With Suzuki’s dramatic decision to quit MotoGP at the end of the season, 2020 Champion Joan Mir and teammate Alex Rins are two hotly coveted riders. Both have been rumoured to be heading HRC’s way with Mir in talks for Espargaro’s seat alongside Marquez senior while Rins is expected to be announced as the younger brother’s replacement at LCR as Alex moves to Gresini for 2023.

“Well, when Suzuki’s story appeared, we were all shocked and obviously I think the Suzuki riders went to talk to all the [teams] it’s normal. There are options, there are different options, and we are considering them,” Puig said evasively.

“We said since the beginning that it will take more time this year for Honda to decide, and this is where we are now. We have possibilities, and regarding the satellite team, of course, the satellite team is run by Lucio [Cecchinello]. It’s his team, and we will support him with whatever decision he decides.

“All these guys are professional riders and they get paid for this job and this goes inside the package of being a rider, a MotoGP rider,” he said of the wait to confirm who’s going where. “In our case this year, we already inform our riders that this year probably will take the decisions later than we did in the past. So from that point on, all riders can decide if they want to wait, what they want to do but they have to handle this pressure because this is part of the game of motorsport racing, not only here but also in car racing.

“Regarding Moto2 riders, this is something that’s still not on the table, because still the championship is ongoing, and in case [Ai] Ogura can make a good result, it’s something that should be discussed probably in Japan.”

With Honda’s ‘all eggs in the Marquez basket’ strategy stalling in recent years, is it time for a fresh approach from Japan?

“I think that it’s all human, when we do something and it’s not working, we have to change the way of thinking to try to improve it,” Puig acknowledged. “That’s all I’m saying. What this includes, at the moment probably I cannot answer you. But what is sure is that because we are not performing as we were performing in the past, we maybe probably should make a deep analyse internalised to try to change how we are approaching to this environment of racing. Maybe more influenced from European or more support in Japan or more many, many things, but just probably modified the current operation.

“I think we were doing correctly,” he continued on the past success story. “We had the best rider and we were winning titles because he accepted that bike.

“Everything went well till Marc crashed. Then, since that moment on, we’ve been struggling.

“So you can modify the strategy from that time but since that time, we were doing fine. I mean for him the bike was okay, for other guys maybe no but he could win with that bike. So okay, now we are not in this situation. That’s why, probably, we have to change or to think a little bit to change the way we thought because maybe that situation is not happening. We don’t have a rider that is consistently on top. Then we probably will have to make analyse of how we can approach, this is my understanding.”

Picture: GeeBee Images
Picture: GeeBee Images