Has Honda rediscovered the sweet spot ahead of the 2022 MotoGP season?

Honda hits the ground running in 2022 MotoGP pre-season testing as Pol Espargaro sets the pace in Indonesia, while Marc Marquez gets up to speed

Pol Espargaro - Repsol Honda, 2022 MotoGP
Pol Espargaro - Repsol Honda, 2022 MotoGP

Honda has upgraded its 2022 MotoGP aspirations to winning its World Championship titles back after an eye-catching performance during pre-season testing at Sepang and Mandalika.

The dominant force of MotoGP in the hands of six-time title-winning Marc Marquez through much of the 2010s, Honda’s fortunes slipped in 2020 and 2021 in the wake of the Spaniard’s lengthy injury timeouts and an erroneous shift in development that made the RC213V tricky to ride on the limit.

In response, Honda is bringing visibly the most radically new bike to the grid in 2022, the RC213V adopting a new philosophy from the Japanese manufacturer as demonstrated by its more tapered front-end and reconfigured front-wing design.

The aim has been to improve rear-end stability to both improve drive out of corners, as well as keep the RC213V from snapping into a high-side, as demonstrated on numerous bruising occasions last season.

Indeed, Pol Espargaro - quickest on two of the three days in Indonesia - has been very positive in his feedback, while he notes that he was one of the few to stay on the bike throughout testing.

"In the end it doesn’t matter, it’s just one lap in a test, [but] it’s good because it shows the potential is so high in our bike in one lap which is something we needed to improve from last year after seeing how fast the Ducati’s are in one lap,” he said.

“But the most important thing is the pace, the bike is working well and there are no crashes. It’s so important to build up the confidence for the first race in Qatar. Already feeling ready for that."

"No, honestly no. I’ve never been so fast before. For sure the Honda is working good. We performed well in one lap and with the rhythm, but at the end of the day no points were given today. 

"What really matters is in a few weeks in Qatar and we must be ready. All the work we have done here is more than good and we all feel like we’re ready to start.”

Though Marquez, who is nearing full fitness following a spell out with an eye injury, has taken time to get to grips with a bike that places less emphasis on the front-end, he is convinced Honda has done the right thing by taking a fresh direction.

"It's true that I was fast, in a good pace, riding well," Marquez said. "When I tried different set-ups, still the lap time was coming. I tried different aerodynamics, the lap time was coming. I tried different tyres, medium rear and soft rear, the lap time was coming. When you have this feeling it's because the potential is there.

"It's true that it's a special track also, it was slippery and in these conditions normally I feel really good. But by the end the grip was very high. So I'm happy because we go leave the Mandalika test with the job done.”

Takaaki Nakagami - LCR Honda RC213V MotoGP 2022
Takaaki Nakagami - LCR Honda RC213V MotoGP 2022

Are Honda favourites coming into the 2022 MotoGP season?

Given Honda and Marquez’s sheer dominance only a couple of years ago, it’s strange to be pausing to ponder whether the combination is in the running for 2022, but it’s a measure of the uphill task they have faced for different reasons recently.

There is little denying, however, that the new Honda RC213V has been quick out of the box and - encouragingly for the manufacturer, yet ominously for rivals - there is still seemingly plenty to come from the package based on the programmes being run across both the Repsol and LCR teams.

The new set-up seemingly favours Espargaro’s style more immediately to suggest he is in podium contention from round one, but Marquez - though modestly placed on the timesheets - was making notable strides without looking his most comfortable. Suffice to say, Honda will be working hard to bring the RC213V more to his liking during the initial rounds.

It’s not just the factory riders that have looked good too. Both LCR riders are under pressure for their seats coming into the season but Alex Marquez joined Espargaro in looking more comfortable on this new evolution, while Takaaki Nakagami turned heads with particularly strong race pace, a notable trait of his impressive 2020 that disappeared with the switch to the 2021-spec Honda last season.

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