4 years ago
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It wasn't much more than three weeks ago that Honda seemed lost heading into the new Michelin and unified software era in MotoGP™.
With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
Honda was having a tough time trying to tame its aggressive RC213v motor, with an abundance of horsepower creating wheelie and wheelspin with this year’s more basic electronics package.
The new software and switch to Michelin tyres was also supposed to require a more softly, softly approach in terms of riding style, which is everything Marc Marquez isn’t.
Yet just two races into the season and he has a 100 per cent podium record, took his first win in dominant fashion in Argentina last weekend and leads the World Championship for the first time in 18 months.
Next up is the stunning Circuit of the Americas, a track that the Spaniard has made his personal playground since the inaugural race back in 2013.
He's never been beaten in qualifying or a race in Texas. In fact, he's only been off top spot in just three practice sessions and it was the track on which he became MotoGP™’s youngest ever winner three years ago.
A fourth win in a row this weekend will hardly be a surprise, not least because Marquez has made America his second home.
He’s on an astonishing run of nine successive victories Stateside, which started way back at the Indianapolis Moto2™ round in 2011.
Marquez has made winning in Texas look easy in the past, but to extend his record might prove more problematic this weekend.
The jaw-dropping Circuit of the Americas is littered with low gear acceleration points out of turns one, nine, 11, and 20.
So there’s a bigger question mark than normal when it comes to evaluating the prospects of another one-man demolition job by Marquez this weekend.
Acceleration has already been exposed as the main weakness of this year’s Honda.
And in all the jubilation of his first win since that epic but controversial Australian round last October, Marquez sounded a note of caution ahead of Texas about how the aggressive Honda engine might give the rest a glimmer of hope.
The Circuit of the Americas will definitely have better grip than the greasy and slick Termas de Rio Hondo track in Argentina.
But it is in low grip circumstances that the Honda currently has the edge.
The sight of Marquez power sliding his RC213v through turns six and 11 in Argentina was a breathtaking spectacle.
With the rear tyre spinning under acceleration, that’s how he gets the Honda turned. The Yamaha and Ducati just don’t generate the same amount of wheelspin on a low grip track; so turn more with both wheels rather than just the rear.
This could be key at the Circuit of the Americas, which is a track that’s been notoriously harsh on front tyre wear in the past, particularly for the Yamaha, which relies on the front-end so much for its fast turning and high corner speed style.
Honda is not in the deep hole many suspected during an underwhelming winter, but the concern must be that Marquez is currently raging a one man offensive against Yamaha and Ducati.
All the momentum Dani Pedrosa built up with two wins in the last four races of 2015 has already vanished without trace.
He seems bereft of confidence and trust in the Honda and a first podium of the season in Argentina can't paper over the cracks when you consider he was a humbling 28 seconds behind Marquez.
Cal Crutchlow hasn’t scored a single point so far, while rookie Tito Rabat looks like a rabbit in the headlights; his graduation from Moto2™ already being a massive eye opener for the Spaniard.
Jack Miller has shown flashes of brilliance that suggests his decision to bypass Moto2™ last year was not a leap too far too soon.
The Aussie unquestionably has the speed and talent to justify Honda’s decision to give him an unprecedented three-year contract.
He just needs time.
Yamaha has already won one race with Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi has a fourth place and a podium.
Ducati has one podium and without doubt should have had more probably had Andrea Iannone not pressed the self-destruct button twice in two races.
The point is that Yamaha and Ducati have developed machinery that suits different riding styles and can be ridden to the limit by more than just one man.
Recent history has shown that Honda needs the super talent of a Casey Stoner or Marquez to win the title.
Pedrosa has won the odd race here and there but he’s not been able to extract the maximum performance out of the bike on a consistent basis.
Going back to Ducati, they might still be chasing an elusive first win since Phillip Island since 2010 but had Iannone kept his head in Argentina it is not unreasonable to think the Bologna factory could have already been celebrating four top three finishes and a dream start to 2016.
Iannone paid a high price for a tiny mistake in Qatar when he kissed a damp white line and waved goodbye to the podium.
In Argentina he committed the cardinal sin of wiping out his teammate on the last lap when both were just two corners away from the rostrum.
More Maniac Blow than Maniac Joe and the pressure is ramping up on Iannone. He's crashed in the last three races and after two races you have to say his title hopes could have already suffered irreparable damage.
He’ll go on a MotoGP™ pre-event to NASA in Houston this week and his first mission this weekend will be to see the chequered flag.
Don’t be surprised though to see Marquez see the chequered flag first this weekend.
His only issue in Argentina was a red-faced slip when he jumped on the podium, fell and almost crashed into Rossi next to him.
All Honda need now is another rider to start gate crashing the podium.
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