Honda confirms 2024 WorldSBK line-up

Honda has confirmed its rider line-up for its 2024 WorldSBK factory team, with both Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge staying with the team

Iker Lecuona, Xavi Vierge, 2023 Aragon WorldSBK. Gold and Goose

HRC has confirmed its 2024 WorldSBK line-up, with Xavi Vierge and Iker Lecuona both retained in its factory team. 

There had been speculation in recent weeks, especially since the Aragon round of the 2023 WorldSBK season, that there could be change coming in Honda’s WorldSBK factory line-up for 2024, but in the end it has remained the same.

Perhaps the most important part of the announcement from Honda is that it has extended its contracts with both riders for two years. This is indicative not only of how Vierge and Lecuona have endorsed themselves to HRC, but also vice versa. Honda has not found the success either it or its riders would have expected in WorldSBK since returning as a full factory effort in 2020, and it should be assumed that assurances have been made to Lecuona and Vierge in order for Honda to keep them on-board for another two years.

Iker Lecuona said: “It’s good to have everything clear on the contract side because we must focus on the job ahead.  I want to fight at the front and succeed, something HRC has always strived for in the racing field, but we must work hard to reach that level, so soon after the last round of the 2023 championship we will turn our full attention to testing as we start to prepare for the new season, aiming to take a consistent step forward in terms of performance and results.”

Xavi Vierge said: “I’m happy to have renewed my contract with Team HRC for another two years. It’s every rider’s dream to be part of a HRC factory team and my feelings have only grown since my early days with the squad. It is a source of motivation to continue together, as I believe in the project, in myself, and in my team. 

“Together we can accomplish our goal, which is to try to fight for the championship as soon as possible. And so we will continue to work as hard as we can in order to get there.”

Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC Director, said: “In nearly two years of working together, we have come to appreciate Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge in every respect, and we are therefore happy and pleased to announce that both will remain HRC factory riders for the next two years. 

“Xavi and Iker are two young, fast and competitive riders, always ready to face every challenge with positivity, dedication and team spirit. These are values that we fully share because they are the ones that allow us to strive and progress in the competitive world of racing. Good work to both our riders and our technicians for both the 2023 season finale and the years to come.”

The wider consequences

The aforementioned speculation stemmed from Marc Marquez’ decision to leave HRC in MotoGP to join the Gresini Ducati team, which left Honda with a gap to fill in MotoGP and limited options for the rider they could choose to fill that gap. 

Iker Lecuona’s appearances for Honda earlier this season in place of Marquez in the factory team at Jerez and Assen, and in place of Alex Rins in the satellite LCR squad in Britain and in Austria were thought to be an indication that HRC was considering Lecuona for 2024 if it needed him in MotoGP, especially since that British Grand Prix appearance meant he had to miss the Suzuka 8 Hour.

The prospect of Lecuona leaving Honda’s WSBK project to return to MotoGP meant a door was open for Michael Ruben Rinaldi to land at Honda after being fired out of Ducati’s factory team in favour of Nicolo Bulega, who is now WorldSSP champion with the Ducati team. 

Honda’s retention of Lecuona and Vierge in WorldSBK is of course a confirmation that Rinaldi will not be moving to Honda next year. Instead, Rinaldi’s options are now very limited. 

The factory teams for 2024 WorldSBK - including the Bonovo Action BMW team that is upgraded officially to factory status - are as follows:

  • BMW Motorrad - Michael van der Mark/Toprak Razgatlioglu
  • Bonovo Action BMW - Garrett Gerloff/Scott Redding
  • Team HRC - Xavi Vierge/Iker Lecuona
  • Pata Yamaha - Andrea Locatelli/Jonathan Rea
  • Kawasaki Racing Team - Alex Lowes/Axel Bassani
  • Racing Ducati - Alvaro Bautista/Nicolo Bulega

That means that all of the factory teams for next year are full, so Rinaldi has to go to a satellite team. There are also limited options here, because a satellite bike that is not a Ducati Panigale V4 R is unlikely to be contending for the podiums and wins that Rinaldi surely expects and hopes to be competing for in 2024. 

There is at least one additional Ducati team for 2024, with Marc VDS joining the WSBK grid, but VDS will only run one bike, for Sam Lowes. The Go Eleven team has already announced Andrea Iannone for next year, and Barni Spark has confirmed its retention of Danilo Petrucci. 

There has been rumours of Puccetti Kawasaki switching to red in WorldSBK next year, but it recently confirmed Can Oncu and Kawasaki ZX-6R machinery for 2024 WorldSSP, and that it will run a factory-spec Kawasaki ZX-10RR at this weekend’s final round of the 2023 WorldSBK season.

Assuming Puccetti stays with Kawasaki next year, the most logical destination for Rinaldi in 2024 is the Motocorsa seat left open by Axel Bassani’s move to Kawasaki.