Honda has a MotoGP seat it can’t seem to fill

Honda has a large hole to fill in its MotoGP rider line-up for the 2024 season, but no one seems able to actually commit to filling it

Fabio Di Giannantonio, Marc Marquez, 2023 MotoGP Malaysian Grand Prix. - Gold and Goose

There are only three-and-a-bit weeks until the first preseason test of the 2024 MotoGP season on the Tuesday after the 2023 season finale in Valencia, and HRC is still looking for its second factory rider.

Marc Marquez’ non-bombshell news after the Japanese Grand Prix last month that he will leave Honda for Gresini Ducati for the 2024 MotoGP season left Honda with a massive hole to fill in its Grand Prix racing programme for next year, and a number of riders have been thrown into the mix, but most of them have also been ejected.

The first rumours were that Honda was looking at Aprilia for their answer. Both Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Vinales floated the idea that they could partner Joan Mir in the Repsol Honda Team for 2024, but inescapable contracts with the Noale factory mean they are both staying put in their respective spots in 2024.

The possibility that Johann Zarco could skip his LCR Honda contract and move straight into the factory HRC team next season was also bounced around, but the Frenchman confirmed his commitment to Lucio Cecchinello’s squad shortly before winning his first premier-class Grand Prix in Australia.

Zarco’s teammate for next season, Takaaki Nakagami, was another candidate to replace Marquez. However, the Japanese is more or less the entire reason that LCR can field two bikes, as his seat is backed by Idemitsu, Japan’s second-largest petroleum refiner. If Ai Ogura were ready to make the step up to MotoGP next season, moving Nakagami to the Repsol team would have been feasible, but Ogura has signed with the MT Helmets MSi team to stick in Moto2 for another year.

When Zarco won in Australia, he was joined on the podium by Francesco Bagnaia and Fabio Di Giannantonio. As illustrious as HRC’s history is in Grand Prix racing, there’s no way Bagnaia is giving up his factory Ducati for a Repsol RC213V in 2024, but Di Giannantonio’s position is different.

The Italian’s podium in Australia was his first in the premier class and proved he is a competent rider at the top level of motorcycle racing, and can deliver results in the right circumstances. HRC’s current position means it is looking for someone on a short-term, one-year contract to fill a gap in 2024, and Di Giannantonio’s situation of having been kicked out of his Gresini Ducati seat by none other than the guy Honda is looking to replace - Marc Marquez - means he is open to more or less anything to keep him in MotoGP right now.

Those circumstances put Di Giannantonio at the top of the list for Honda for the past three weeks or so, but following the Thai Grand Prix, it emerged that Fermin Aldeguer was also being considered by Honda. Aldeguer had won the Moto2 race in Thailand, that being his second Moto2 World Championship win of the season and of his career after the 2023 British Grand Prix, and did so in dominant fashion, beating KTM messiah Pedro Acosta by over three seconds. 

There were claims in the Spanish press that Aldeguer had an offer on the table from Honda, but that was rubbished by Repsol Honda boss Alberto Puig earlier today during practice for the Malaysian Grand Prix. In an interview with Spanish broadcaster DAZN, Puig dismissed Aldeguer as a potential option for HRC. Additionally, Aldeguer spoke to the same broadcaster at the end of the day in Malaysia and confirmed his commitment to the Speed Up team he currently rides for in Moto2.

So, Aldeguer is out, too, but Puig’s interview with DAZN during Malaysian GP practice also revealed that Honda had approached Pol Espargaro to return to its setup in 2024, less than one year after he departed the Repsol team to return to KTM and the Tech3 GasGas squad for 2023. Espargaro was the rider left out when KTM signed the aforementioned Acosta to its 2024 MotoGP line-up earlier this year, with the #44 being kept on by the Austrian brand as a test rider. Espargaro told Autosport earlier today, though, that he will be taking up that test rider role in 2024 with KTM, and not returning to Honda.

Another option for Honda that was proposed yesterday was that Luca Marini could join HRC. Marini is regarded as one of the more intelligent riders in MotoGP, if not as the most naturally talented, and his understanding of the Ducati he currently rides for the VR46 team could be of high importance to Honda. Alas, it’s not be, as Marini quashed the idea of him moving to Honda almost as quickly as it was posited, the #10 having already re-signed with the VR46 team for 2024, as was announced back in the summer, and that being a deal he does not want to try to escape from.

So, after all of the rumour since Thailand about Aldeguer being signed to replace Marc Marquez, since yesterday about Marini, and since this morning about Espargaro, we are left once again in the position that Fabio Di Giannantonio is the most likely candidate to be selected. Perhaps tomorrow Jake Dixon’s name will come up again.