July 13, 2024
Why the Marquez/Zarco MotoGP spat shows Honda’s situation has become untenable

Everyone has their breaking point. And everyone reacts in a different way when frustrations boil over, generally doing so in a way that is out of character. This is very much what we are seeing unfold in front of us with Marc Marquez.

It’s no secret he is losing patience with Honda. Having gone through the injury hell of his badly broken right arm in 2020 and put himself through more misery with four operations to try and get back to a competitive level, Honda hasn’t been delivering him the tools he needs.

FEATURE: The crisis point Honda has reached in MotoGP after its Mugello hell

Honda has built some bad bikes in recent years, but the current one and last year’s model are perhaps the worst of the bunch. Even through 2019 and with the 2020/2021 bike, Marquez was still competitive on them. He dominated the 2019 campaign with top two finishes in all but one of the 19 grands prix, and eased to a sixth premier class crown by 151 points, as no other HRC rider got near a podium.

Prior to his season-ending crash at Jerez, Marquez was on course to win that Spanish Grand Prix in 2020, having been left fighting from the back by an early off. And he admitted in the winter of 2022 that, had he been fit, he would have probably won the 2021 title: after all, he still scored three victories with essentially only one functioning arm.

Honda’s radical concept change for 2022 is where the problems it faces now can be traced to. With Marquez out of action for several months at the end of 2021 due to a vision problem after a training crash, development of the 2022 bike was done without his input. When he returned in pre-season testing of that year, the bike started to bite him as the shift in balance to try and find more rear grip meant he couldn’t utilise his key strength of corner-entry.

His first proper taste of the 2023 bike in Valencia (he tried a prototype at Misano in September, but had just come back from three months on the sidelines after his fourth operation) wasn’t met positively, as he said it already wasn’t good enough to fight for the title. It never really improved from there.

So far, Marquez has crashed out of all three grands prix he has started in 2023 – the first one leading to a three-round spell out with injury – and has scored just 15 points. All of those crashes have been on the front-end.

Marquez has crashed 11 times already in 2023 as of qualifying in Germany, putting him seven away from his 2022 season tally

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The risks he is having to take to be vaguely competitive are taking a toll. While he may not publicly say anything, his inner circle is concerned about more injury problems. This weekend’s German GP does not feature Alex Rins – Honda’s only winner in 2023 – and Joan Mir, after both suffered injuries from crashes at Mugello.

Looking at the crash statistics for the season so far, Honda riders have totalled 35. Marquez has 11 for the season already, having missed three rounds, and is only seven away from his 2022 total. In 2021, he suffered 22 falls, but this was largely down to him not having strength on his right arm and shoulder to save a number of front-end moments.

Four of his 2023 spills have come in Germany – a track he has won at every year he has raced it in MotoGP – already, with three in qualifying and one on Friday. He very nearly ended up with two with a big moment going through Turn 11, his immediate reaction – giving his Honda the middle finger – telling of where his head is at now and a precursor to what happened later that day.

So far, Marquez has crashed out of all three grands prix he has started in 2023 – the first one leading to a three-round spell out with injury – and has scored just 15 points

Starting his final flying lap to try and bag a place in Q2 for qualifying, Marquez lost the front-end of his bike into Turn 1 while braking and it skittled into Johann Zarco’s Pramac Ducati. It was a sickening accident that both walked away from, but frustration clouded Marquez’s judgement.

He ran back to pitlane without checking on Zarco, which the Frenchman was not pleased about, and then later apportioned all of the blame onto the Pramac rider. While there is an argument to be made that the rider exiting the Sachsenring’s awkward pit lane should be extra vigilant for oncoming traffic, it was a racing incident.

Marquez’s crash was identical to those suffered by Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales at Turn 1 on Friday. Vinales’ bike came close to hitting Alex Marquez as he exited pitlane, but just missed. The Marquez/Zarco tangle was just misfortune, identical to what happened in Aragon in 2016 when Pol Espargaro crashed at Turn 2 and his bike hit Danilo Petrucci as he left pitlane.

Regardless, Marquez’s lack of empathy towards Zarco in the immediate aftermath of the crash was not befitting of an eight-time world champion and superstar athlete looked up to by millions. He did seek out Zarco in the paddock later to check on him. And, sitting from our armchairs, it’s hard to understand the adrenaline and pressure surging through a rider’s body in moments like this – not least under this new weekend format where so much emphasis is put on getting into the top 10 on Fridays. Marquez’s outburst to the media afterwards, however, was unnecessary.

Johann Zarco was unhappy with Marquez pinning the blame on him for their collision

Johann Zarco was unhappy with Marquez pinning the blame on him for their collision

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“I like the way Marc is riding and the way he is pushing,” Zarco noted on Friday. “He is a champion, but he is losing a bit of control when he speaks. He should think twice before speaking because just having the idea to say that it is my fault, this is not acceptable. I’m a nice guy and he can’t put the blame on me because I’m a nice guy.”

Zarco’s comment is spot on, but he could also do well to remember he found himself publicly scalded by KTM for outbursts he made about the bike during his difficult 2019 season with the Austrian marque.

The Marquez/Zarco incident led to a predictable pile-on by the masses on social media, from people claiming Marquez is always crashing, to some hilariously claiming he needs a race ban for something the absolute definition of a ‘racing incident’.

During the Mugello round, Marquez held a meeting with senior Honda management about the current dire situation it is going through in MotoGP. Repeatedly since last year he has stated that Honda is his priority, but he will look elsewhere if it can’t give him a winning bike. Time is now running out.

Marquez’s contract with Honda expires at the end of next season, and the rider market will move quickly for 2025 with all of the factory deals up for grabs. It’s unlikely he will ever find a contract as lucrative as the one he is on now, which is thought to be worth €100 million over four years.

The fact he isn’t just wobbling about on the Honda and finishing wherever is safest says a lot about how important his paycheque is to him, given the risk of injury faces every time he goes on track now.

Honda has tried to think outside of its box to get the RC213V to be more competitive, working with Kalex on chassis design. It was a small step forward when Marquez started racing it in France, but in Germany one of his bikes as the HRC-designed frame fitted. Tiny steps won’t fix a fundamentally broken bike.

With another concept change clearly needed with its 2024 bike to stop its skid, Honda is running out of time to convince Marquez to stay beyond next season. As the weight of the situation continues to grind away a rider who, when the bike is simply just manageable, is still the best on the grid, how much longer before it breaks him?

Honda needs a radical change to reverse its fortunes if it has any hope of convincing Marquez to stay beyond 2024

Honda needs a radical change to reverse its fortunes if it has any hope of convincing Marquez to stay beyond 2024

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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