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Opinion

The crisis point Honda has reached in MotoGP after its Mugello hell

OPINION: Honda's miserable 2023 season continued at the Italian Grand Prix, as crashes for Alex Rins and Joan Mir took both out of the round, and a tumble for Marc Marquez in the main race while fighting for the podium compounded the difficulties. At Mugello, Marquez had a meeting with top Honda brass about the reaction to its problems. What happens next will be vital in quashing fears of Marquez suffering more injury problems because of the RC213V

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team

Last Sunday at Mugello, Marc Marquez met with Shinji Aoyama - the second-highest ranking executive at Honda Motor Company - to discuss the crisis that HRC is going through in MotoGP and to convey his frustration at the lack of a reaction.

The meeting took place at Honda's motorhome, starting at 11am and lasting for 25 minutes. In addition to Marquez and Aoyama, who had arrived at the circuit by helicopter earlier that morning, the meeting was also attended by Koji Watanabe, president of Honda Racing Corporation - the racing division - which since last year has brought together both the motorcycle and car divisions.

PLUS: 10 things we learned from the 2023 MotoGP Italian GP

Marquez was accompanied by Jimmy Martinez, his manager. Tetsuhiro Kuwata, the HRC director, was only with them for the first five minutes, while neither Shinichi Kokubu, the top technical manager, nor Alberto Puig, the team manager, were present. After saying goodbye to Aoyama, Marquez went to the Honda garage to prepare for the race, of which he was only able to complete six laps before crashing out on lap seven while fighting for a podium place with Luca Marini - continuing a 100% grand prix non-finish record in 2023.

What could have been expected to be a complicated race for both Marquez and Honda ended up being a real disaster - yet another one - for the Japanese company and its main attraction.

On Friday it was Joan Mir who, after equalling his personal record of crashes since he has been competing in MotoGP of 12, decided to withdraw from Mugello due to a fractured pinky finger of his right hand. Honda announced on Tuesday that the Mir has not yet recovered from the accident and will not travel to Sachsenring for this weekend's German GP.

Things got a lot worse on Saturday after Alex Rins shattered his right leg during the sprint race. Pending a second operation, which will be carried out on the Spaniard on Tuesday, Rins will not be back on the bike until after the summer break. With the two Spaniards out of action at Mugello, Marquez left LCR's Takaaki Nakagami as the only Honda rider to get to the chequered flag in the grand prix, doing so in 13th.

The Spaniard has always been known for his ability to build a wall capable of camouflaging his mood, especially when he's not going through a good moment. At Mugello, after crashing, he decided to lock himself inside the HRC truck before returning to the garage.

Marc Marquez hasn't finished any of the three grands prix he has started so far this year

Marc Marquez hasn't finished any of the three grands prix he has started so far this year

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

"Sometimes you have to breathe to calm down. I took a breath before returning to the garage and before talking to you," he admitted to reporters. This time it was impossible for him to hide his frustration at the lack of reaction from what, in theory, is the most powerful factory in the championship.

At Le Mans, Marquez asked Honda for a series of improvements that did not arrive at Mugello, even though there was a month gap between the two events. In addition, at the start of the sprint, his bike had a problem that the engineers were unable to solve for the next day when he also lost several positions before reaching the first corner.

"It's clear that if you don't bring new things, you can't test them on the track. It's difficult to know what's going on in Japan, but since we've started the season we've only received one new chassis, little else," said Marquez when asked by Autosport whether he believed the Tokyo-based manufacturer was doing all it could to reverse a situation that was difficult to sustain over time.

"The worrying thing is that all of us Honda riders are crashing and that's what we have to try to change with a view to the future. The more you fall, the more chances you have of getting injured" Marc Marquez

Marquez's level of disillusionment with Honda is much greater than anyone can guess from the outside. The more than two-year ordeal he went through after breaking his arm at Jerez in July 2020 is now behind him, and with that, also that feeling of debt he had with Honda for having respected his decisions, for having allowed him to manage the injury and its medical complications without getting in the way.

After the fourth operation, which he underwent just over a year ago, and the corresponding recovery process, he no longer has any physical limitations. That is something that has been amply proven this year every time he has been on the bike. In Portugal, pole and podium in the sprint race; at Le Mans, second on the grid and fifth in the sprint; and also at Mugello, where he got back on the front row and where he rode with the front group at all times.

"He is ready to win again and you can see that every time he goes out on track. The bike isn't," sources from his entourage claim.

Marquez held a meeting with senior Honda management, which went well... for now

Marquez held a meeting with senior Honda management, which went well... for now

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

The concern from the rider's inner circle revolves around a possibility that terrifies them all: another injury. The combination of the current RC213V and Marquez's way of racing justifies that fear, something that the rider himself contemplates.

"The worrying thing is that all of us Honda riders are crashing and that's what we have to try to change with a view to the future. The more you fall, the more chances you have of getting injured," he said just before Autosport asked him about his feelings after the summit with Aoyama.

"The meeting went well. Meetings always go well. Then we'll see what happens," Marquez replied, as the HRC workers dismantled the whole set-up to leave for Germany.

The atmosphere is so tense at HRC that arriving at Sachsenring, a track where Marquez has won every time he has visited it, is perceived more as a trap than an opportunity.

Marquez's return to Sachsenring hasn't brought with it much hope of continuing his unbeaten run there

Marquez's return to Sachsenring hasn't brought with it much hope of continuing his unbeaten run there

Photo by: Dorna

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