HRC Honda won’t be quick in WorldSBK straight away – Bradl

The new HRC Honda CBR1000RR-R 2020 WorldSBK effort won't be challenging for podiums straight away, reveals test rider Stefan Bradl

Honda CBR1000RR-R SP

Stefan Bradl has poured cold water on suggestions the much vaunted new HRC-developed Honda CBR1000RR-R will up to speed on its 2020 WorldSBK debut in Australia, revealing it is still needing development to be competitive.

After several seasons of watching its fortunes on the WorldSBK stage dwindle with an ageing package that has been surpassed by newer, more powerful offerings from the likes of Kawasaki, Ducati and Yamaha, Honda is throwing the full weight of factory support behind its latest machine, the CBR1000RR-R.

Revealing the bike at EICMA, the Honda – which now boasts 214hp in roadgoing trim – will have the firm’s MotoGP-dominating HRC arm developing it and be contested on track by Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam.

However, for now we have few reference points as to the bike’s competitiveness, with Honda swerving this week’s post-season WorldSBK tests at Motorland Aragon in favour of a probable first group appearance next year instead.

Even so, though Honda has been busily testing the CBR1000RR-R behind closed doors, Bradl - who has had a hand in developing the bike – admits it is still some way off where it needs to be in order to challenge for podiums when it makes its race debut at Phillip Island in February, pointing to its behaviour on Pirelli rubber as being the primary issue.

"If Honda appreciates my input, if they value my help with the Superbike and if there is a need, I'm happy to offer my help,” he told Speedweek. "The new bike has potential, but how much is left to do, I have no idea at the moment.

“HRC now has strong colleagues with the new rider duo, who can do that very well too. (Takumi) Takahashi will also be involved, but the WorldSBK racing season is starting again in February, so you cannot expect much from this project right at the start of the season, even if HRC is now at full speed behind it.

“Honda will not race for the podium in 2020 right from the start. That will take some time. The conversion of the all-Japan squad from Bridgestone to Pirelli will take some time.

“The new bike is not easy to match with the Pirelli tires. After three laps, the grip ratio changes dramatically. You're a second slower and need different settings that you need to get up and running fast. "

Honda managing expectations or pulling a fast one?

On the one hand, given the level of expectation – and effort - for this new project given HRC’s track record in anything else it has had a hand in and many will expect to see Honda up at the front in Australia. Anything less will be seen as disappointing from the outside given the high-profile build up.

On the other hand, Bradl’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise. Honda’s experience at WorldSBK level aside, this is such a new project from the ground up that it’s perhaps more prudent to look at Aprilia and BMW’s proper debuts in 2009 as a comparison, rather than Ducati hitting the ground running with the new Ducati Panigale V4 R in 2019.

Bradl’s comments about the tyres is notable as it shows Honda’s interests in racing don’t begin and end with its success on the world stage. It needs to be competitive in the Japanese domestic series too – which carries a lot of weight among Honda’s top brass – and explains why development has largely focused on using Bridgestone rather than Pirelli rubber.

One thing is for sure, even if the CBR1000RR-R is competitive out of the box, it still faces some stiff opposition to be challenging for podiums in the 2020 WorldSBK. Kawasaki and Ducati’s performances will no doubt take another step next year, while Yamaha is already underway with its updated R1, while BMW spent 2019 developing the S1000RR for the sole purpose of being right up there from 2020.

Few doubt the new Honda will be quicker than its predecessor, but such was the gulf in performance during 2019, it’s still going to take a big step forward just to be on a par with said rivals when racing begins again in just three months time.