Santi Hernandez adamant that 2020 will be full of surprises

Marc Marquez's crew chief is convinced that the unprecedented nature of the 2020 MotoGP™ World Championship will lead to a shock or two

Over the weekend, Santi Hernandez sat down with the MotoGP™ Spanish Podcast crew for the most recent episode of Cambia el Mapa. Marc Marquez's long-time crew chief inside the Repsol Honda box gave a fascinating insight into how the World Champion and his team are preparing for the extraordinary 2020 season, including whether Honda will be the latest factory to role out a holeshot device.

Marc Marquez is now doing MX training. Has his shoulder recovered 100%?

We’ve seen a video of Marc starting to ride his motocross bike and having his first contact with a motorbike after so much time without riding and the truth is that it’s been quite positive for Marc to get back on a bike, especially after the operation he had on his shoulder and it’s true that this enforced break has helped him with his recovery. We hope that when we start the season it won’t be a problem now like we thought it would at the start of the season. This is really important and really positive for us and our championship.

What contact do you have with Marc about bikes? What can you discuss from given the distance? Is it strategy or what do you talk about?

We have a group and we try, every so often, to get everyone together and see each other’s faces because it’s really important to be able to be in touch with the team. We have a good relationship between us and I think during this time that we’ve been in lockdown at home forces you to get on even better. With Marc, we talk about things that worry him about taking on this season. We especially try to stay in contact with Japan, with my boss Takeo. We try, more than anything, to talk a bit about what improvements that can be made or what we can work on during the season according to the changes made to the rules, but as it stands we’re waiting for them to confirm when we’re going to get back to work. It’s true that we’re planning some things, especially in preparation for the first race in terms of setup, how he’ll be in the first race after this pause since the Qatar Test, but right now, being completely serious, we’re not talking about anything concrete. First, we need to know officially when we’ll start and, from that point on, we’ll work like normal: conference calls, talking about things we’re concerned about and getting ready for the first race. 

You said you talk about what you’re worried about and what needs improving, what specifically are you concerned with and what would you like to improve with regards to the test?

A little of what worries us is that after the Qatar Test, we tried a lot of things during that weekend, we had an awful lot of problems, and in the end we came up with an answer to solve the problems that we were having but, logically, you can forget that for us this pre-season was a bit complicated because a lot of things that we tried, it’s not that they didn’t work, it wasn’t because of those improvements but rather because of the aerodynamics and now we have to do a bit of a reset and come up with a new plan. For us, the first race, and even the second, are going to be almost like new tests.

You have to try to evaluate what’s better, what will be the best base to start the first race with and especially to end up understanding and confirming that what we tried in Qatar on the last day was the right way to go and, from that point on, continue working for the following races. What worries us a bit is especially the engine braking, the brake points, trying to get more grip, the confidence with the front end… these are things we struggled with in the pre-season. On the last day, we realised that for some reason we had veered from the path a bit. The fact that we took a step back made us see things positively and I think that is the most important thing, but it won’t be easy because we haven’t had a normal pre-season, just because of Marc’s injury and the problems we had, it wasn’t easy.

Is it possible that the test ahead of the double-header at Jerez will be far more important for you guys?

Correct. For us, being able to do a one day test before the Championship starts will be very important, mostly to confirm the feeling we had in Qatar was correct and that it wasn’t just a fluke, but actually try to confirm that what we’re doing and improving is the right thing to do and that will help us relax into the rest of the season. That will be the most important thing. From then on, we’ll surely have to improve a lot of things but the most important will be going out on the first day at Jerez and getting the good feeling we had on that last day in Qatar. It would be very positive because he’ll want to say that the path we chose, in that last minute before the bell rang, was the correct one and that will give us the confidence to plan for the rest of the races.

Will there be a holeshot device when we go back or not?

I don’t know… we’re working on it. In the end, a factory like Honda works on every aspect and, as it stands, at the factory they’re testing a lot of things and one of those will be the holeshot device. But right now I’m not 100% certain we’ll have it, nor am I the one to decide. It’s an important system because we will gain a lot in the starts. Like we’ve seen in the other factories, they really do make a difference in the starts, but for us the most important thing, as I’ve said, is that the feeling Marc has is the same as we had on the last day in Qatar because this will allow us to feel ready to face the Championship and especially to keep improving the bike.

Marc can’t help but take risks. With so few races, he’s really going to make you sweat.

With Marc, I always suffer. We’ve not talked much about strategies yet, and how we’re going to contest this Championship. I consider that Marc, in recent years, as we’ve all been able to see, has matured a lot and especially has learned from his mistakes. I always say that he’s a rider who knows how to learn from his errors but the most important thing for me is what I always say; he can’t lose what’s in his DNA. He’s how he is, and everything he’s achieved is because of how he is and this ambition in his DNA, that he always gives 100%, even 200%, and I believe that he shouldn’t change this mentality.

Obviously, during the races and at the weekend you have to evaluate if you are at a level to fight for the victory, for the podium or even to not get the podium but the most points possible, because as we’ve seen in the past years, the most important thing is to be consistent, score points in every race and especially in such a short championship, a penalty or a crash or something could mean not scoring points, which will be more difficult to recover. 

I believe that in the first races we’re going to see a lot of surprises, especially because of this break. When we arrive at a circuit after the Christmas break, at the first test in Malaysia, there are always really fast riders and there are others that don’t pay attention to all that and are further back. Others struggle more to adapt to the bike after the break, this is why I say that there could be a lot of surprises. I believe that Marc should be able to do what he always does: think about his strategy and what’s in his DNA and, from there, about each race. I always say that a World Championship isn’t won in either the first or the last race, it’s won by increasing your point tally and always giving it your all at every race. Then you can make decisions or not, but for me that’s that most important thing; that he doesn’t change his DNA.

This time does he have less to lose than the others? Can he allow himself to lose this different World Championship whilst the others can’t miss this extraordinary opportunity to win?

I don’t agree with that. I think that when you’re with a rider like Marc or when you’re in a football team and the only thing worthwhile is winning the league or the Championship, anything less is a disaster, so I think that for us it doesn’t matter if there are 12 races or 20. In the end, our objective is to win the World Championship with a rider like Marc that, as we’re seeing, is breaking a lot of records and the only thing that matters to him is victory. For us, nothing changes. What others are doing doesn’t matter.

If this year we aren’t able to reach our objective, which is winning the World Championship, it won’t be the result we expected, but that’s not to say that we pile on the pressure. The pressure is there every year and especially for Marc because he's the current World Champion. When you’re the current Champion of the world, everyone wants to beat you and the riders that did beat you last year want to go back and do it again. For us, this doesn’t change our mentality. Every season has its points and this year it’s going to be a bit different and, even, weird because of the situation, but that doesn’t change our objective. We go out to win. Nobody will change that, not coronavirus nor 10 races nor 20. We’ll go out as we always do; to win.