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The Impending Crisis at HRC

Written by Reef Parker, Edited by Sean McKean

Nicky Hayden. Ricardo Tormo racetrack on October 29, 2006 in Valencia, Spain. Credit - Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Rossi, Hayden, Stoner and Marquez. Just a few World Champions that have swung their leg over a Repsol Honda in the MotoGP era.


Since the ‘MotoGP’ rebrand of motorcycle Grand Prix racing in 2002, Honda, paired with their seemingly inseparable sponsor Repsol, have set the standard of what a factory team is inside MotoGP. This formidable partnership has created a dynasty inside the premier class, achieving ten world championships, with four riders, across 20 years.


However, the legendary Japanese manufacturer is currently in a crisis. At the end of this season, it will have been four years since Honda won their last world championship, with Marc Marquez, their tenth in 18 years, and fourth consecutive.


A prime Marquez paired with a motorcycle that didn’t want to suddenly high- side any time it was put on the side of its Michelin tyre was nothing short of dominant. So dominant in fact, after only finishing off the podium once all season, some fans began to lose interest in MotoGP towards the end of 2019.


This was until the first round of the pandemic year, 2020. A Grand Prix weekend in Jerez that is still memorable to this day, the day we can now call the beginning of the end for Honda and Marc. After an awkward high side with only four laps to go, Marc was sent tumbling into the gravel trap of turn three. Marquez unfortunately suffered untold damage to his humerus on his right arm which forced him to take a year- long hiatus from racing.

Marc Marquez and his Repsol Honda. Misano Adriatico, Italy. Credit - Steve Wobser/Getty Images

It is undisputed that Marc Marquez is one of the greatest motorcycle riders of all time. His accolades paired with his dominance are only really comparable to the likes of his hero-turned enemy, Valentino Rossi. However, Marquez won so much because he took great risks.


Last corner lunge to win the race? Marquez would do it. Intermediate conditions? Marquez would go on slicks. This gladiator style mindset brought Marc and Honda alike so much success. However, it is also what has destroyed them.


Marc’s almost out of this world ability pre-injury meant that he could ride almost anything and still win. These years of Marquez winning week in, week out have caused the unravelling of Honda. The seasons where Marquez was winning caused Honda to get comfortable.


The current disparity between Honda and the European manufacturers such as Ducati and Aprillia is appalling. You’ve got the most talented rider of all time and a two time world champion in Joan Mir and the pair can’t even keep the bike upright at the moment, nevermind fight for the podiums and victories that people expect from Honda.


So that’s it, after a decade- long tenure, earlier this month Marquez and Honda agreed to break his multi million euro contract in favour of a non factory supported ride. A legend of the sport being so desperate to ride a competitive bike that he’s willing to lose out on millions of euros and leave his longtime crew chief , Santi Hernandez, spells awful PR for Honda.


Furthermore, it seems like Honda might struggle to find a replacement. With most contracts for the 2024 season already inked, Honda's list of candidates has dwindled over the last few weeks. The most likely candidate seems to be current RNF Aprilia man, Miguel Oliveira.

Rumoured to be Hondas Marquez replacement, Miguel Oliveira. Credit - Mirco Lazzari gp/Getty Images

2023 hasn’t been the season Oliveira hoped for. After a long relationship with KTM, Oliveira was forced out after the impending arrival of Jack Miller was announced midway through the 2022 season. To many, it seemed like Oliveira had landed on his feet though, as RNF Aprilia team principal, Razlan Razali has had previous success running a satellite team.


Unfortunately, Miguel hasn’t quite gelled with the Aprilia, often finding himself towards the back end of the points paying positions and currently sits 16th in the championship standings. With this being said, he may be willing to take a risk and put himself back on a factory supported machine. However, with HRC looking like a career-suicide move, it might be advised to make Honda get to the cheque book.


Another option, and something that’s been heavily linked since his sudden end of year resurgence, is for HRC and Gresini to do a straight swap of Marquez for Fabio Digiannantonio.


Since finding out he won’t be keeping his ride, it seems like a flip has been switched inside DiGi. From the worst performing Ducati rider by a landslide over the last 2 seasons, DiGi has transformed the setup of his Desmosedici. DiGi’s turnaround has been so drastic, data shows he has gone from Ducati’s worst braking performer to the best.


Picking up a nice haul of points in the last three rounds, with consistent top tens in both sprint races and feature races, Fabio may have sprung himself into contention for a factory ride. After achieving his maiden MotoGP podium last time out in Phillip Island, he will look to build on that with more top fives finishes in the remaining rounds of the year.


At the end of the day HRC is HRC, and to use a cliché:, form is temporary, class is permanent. It is no coincidence they won ten titles in 18 years. They’ve simply rested on their laurels for a few years and it has come back to haunt them. They will be back to the top soon enough, although it remains a mystery as to who will get them there…


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