How MotoGP’s Coronavirus pause could be a blessing for Honda

While we'd all rather be racing, HRC Honda will get a couple of extra weeks to work on its under-performing RC213V and Marc Marquez can recover from injury

Marc Marquez, Alex Marquez - Repsol Honda

Had the 2020 MotoGP World Championship gone ahead as it was supposed to in Qatar this weekend, one of the pre-event questions we would have been asking is whether Honda’s last minute boost on the final day of testing was indeed the breakthrough it had been seeking.

Indeed, while it’s never wise to write Honda or Marc Marquez off regardless of what they say during pre-season testing, it was hard to deny the reigning champions looked somewhat all at sea on five of the six scheduled days as Yamaha and Suzuki stamped their claim on the top spot.

Resorting to combining parts of the 2020 RC213V with the championship-winning 2019 model on the final day of track action in Losail, Marquez declared himself happier with the ‘mongrel’ Honda but chopping and changing a bike just days before it is homologated is always a risk.

Of course, the onset of the Covid-19 coronavirus means this weekend’s opening round is not happening as planned and since homologation takes place at Technical Control for the first event – the Thursday before the opening round – there will also be no freeze on development.

As such, teams are essentially able to continue working on their machines right up until MotoGP hits the track, whenever that may be.

Which MotoGP teams benefit from a delay to start of season?

No-one is relishing the prospect of another month to wait for any MotoGP racing to take place, but it’s no secret Marquez will certainly benefit from the longer winter period to get over his shoulder surgery.

The Spaniard – whether you believe him or not - claimed he’d only be 70% fit for the opening round, which was music to the ears of his rivals in their hopes to steal a march on the six-time champion. When it transpired the Honda RC213V was proving quite the handful even in Marquez’s magic hands, the premise for an exciting start to the year was put in motion.

Now Honda has potentially a month to continue working on and developing the RC213V to the extent it could arrive at the opening round – whenever that may be – with quite a different looking machine. Other teams of course can do the same, but it’s unlikely to be more than minor tweaks.

The risk for Honda though is that it can make changes, but it cannot allow either of its Marquez brothers to test it. Instead, it would come down to its test team – headed up by Stefan Bradl – to trial any changes, but since the RC213V is so finely-tuned to Marquez’s fairly specialist needs, the German’s input in terms of aero could be limited.

Either way, this is a window of opportunity opening up for Honda whether it opts to take it or not.

Other than Honda, Aprilia will appreciate the extra time to work on its young RS-GP, which only broke cover a month ago. It has shown promising performance but is still a short distance down the road of development, making this period an invaluable boost.

Speaking of Aprilia, this also now gives time for Andrea Iannone’s drugs ban to be resolved, with a decision on the fate of the Italian – either exoneration or a formal long-term suspension – to be made in the next few days.

Who loses out in MotoGP calendar reshuffle?

The delay to the start of the season is a particular frustration for teams like Yamaha and Suzuki, who evidently nailed their pre-season workloads and were heading into the opening round confident they had fine-tuned their machines to fight for victory.

While it wasn’t exactly the strongest pre-season period for the team, Ducati will also be frustrated to see Qatar axed simply because it has been so strong at Losail the past two seasons. That said it could also probably benefit from the extra couple of weeks to tweak a package that didn’t exactly sparkle in testing.

Similarly, Thailand was one of Yamaha’s best venues last year as well, though efforts are being made to reschedule it for later in the year.

Regardless though, even if it gives Honda and Marquez time to recover both form and fitness, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone pleased about the situation the sport is currently facing right now.