For obvious reasons, Sunday at the Gran Premio Nolan del Made in Italy e dell'Emilia-Romagna belonged to 2021 World Champion Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP). However, that historic Sunday was also a colossal day for MotoGP™’s most successful manufacturer: HRC.
For the first time since the 2019 Australian GP, the Japanese giants bagged a premier class 1-2. Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) led LCR Honda Castrol’s Cal Crutchlow over the line at Phillip Island, and little did anyone know that it would be almost two years exactly until Honda would claim the top two steps on the rostrum.
Remarkably, Repsol Honda havn’t celebrated a 1-2 finish since 2017 – Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa finishing less than a second apart at MotorLand Aragon. Tricky seasons in 2018 and 2019 for Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo alongside Marc Marquez in the Repsol Honda garage, before Marquez’ season-ending injury at the beginning of the 2020 campaign, has signalled a difficult few years for HRC. Marquez’ titles in 2017, 2018 and 2019 softened the blow somewhat.
2021 was never going to be plain sailing either. Marquez returning from injury – far from fully fit – and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team) debuting on the complex RC213V was, obviously, not the ideal scenario for HRC. But an emotional victory for Marquez at the Sachsenring, Pol Espargaro’s pole position at Silverstone and Marquez’ exhilarating scrap with Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati Lenovo Team) in Aragon were some much-needed boosts for all involved at HRC.
Then, along came COTA. One of Marc Marquez’ stomping grounds. The physical nature of Austin’s famous layout cast some doubts as to whether the eight-time World Champion would be able to claim a seventh win or not. Those questions were firmly put to bed when the number 93 dominated proceedings. But another question persisted: can Marquez fight or secure victory on a right-handed circuit? After all, the Sachsenring, Aragon and COTA are, probably, his three strongest circuits on the calendar. Next up was a second instalment at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.
“I was able to ride in a good way because the last laps I was struggling a bit with my physical condition. The fact that all weekend was wet conditions gave me the chance to arrive Sunday fresh. I arrived with energy. Today when I woke up I said, okay, I feel the arm is there. I feel power. So, this helps me,” said Marquez, after winning the Emilia-Romagna GP.
There’s absolutely no doubt that Marquez’ latest victory was bigger and more important than his other two so far this season. It was his first win on a clockwise circuit since the 2019 Japanese GP – 735 days before Sunday at Misnao. Marquez admitted he needed that victory, on a track like Misano, to give him all the motivation he needs heading into the winter.
“Yeah, I mean, it's much more important this victory than Austin, obviously. My target was to try and be on the podium here or in Portimao, because I say I need a podium for myself, for my feeling, I need a podium on a right corner circuit before the end of the season,” commented Marquez. “So, we won. We won here in Misano, on a circuit I didn’t expect, in conditions and in a race that was incredibly fast. But for some reason, the pace was there. And you know even like this, we were lucky because Pecco was faster than us.
“But when he pushed, I gave up but especially on that lap when he pushed and I gave up, he crashed. So, fortunately, he’s ok but we took the profit from that crash and we finished the race in a good way. Important for me was that I was able to ride in my normal way in the first half of the race, then in the last part of the race I started to feel something and lose the way on the front, and then I was not riding like I want but even like this I was able to keep a constant pace. And yeah, we keep improving. And this is the best way to finish the 2021 season to prepare well for 2022.”
Marquez finished P4 at the San Marino GP, 10 seconds adrift of race winner Bagnaia. Fast forward a month and Marquez was the only rider – after Jack Miller’s (Ducati Lenovo Team) early tumble at Turn 15 – to keep Pecco honest.
“Today, I was very happy because in Misano one I finished fourth but 10 seconds from Pecco. And today I was able to follow Pecco and the third guy was eight seconds behind us. It’s a big difference,” continued Marquez. “Pecco in Misano is like Austin for me. So I was very impressed and very happy with the way I ride and follow Pecco. It was an important day for us, blah blah blah, but today was not our day. Today was the day of Fabio, the day of the fastest and most consistent rider of the year, so congrats to Fabio, and now it’s time to work and fight against him, against the Champion next year.”
After his Emilia-Romagna victory, Marquez will be heading into 2022 as one of the title favourites. But just as significant was his teammate’s maiden rostrum with Honda. Pol Espargaro has found the going tough in 2021, but as the saying goes: when the going gets tough, the tough get going. A podium at Misano was – arguably – his most significant top three finish to date, but what was the most important factor to his best finish in MotoGP™?
“The importance of this podium, I think first of all the most important is for Honda which to have the two bikes first and second. This is unbelievable after a tough season, after some tough seasons – not just this one. The last year also was also a tough season for Honda,” said Pol Espargaro in the post-race Press Conference.
“For me, talking about ego, this is super important for me as a rider. I think it’s my best position ever in MotoGP, second position. Always I was in third position at KTM. It’s an important moment for my career for sure, but I feel more relief for Honda. You guys have not seen these guys working huge in the past days. I said already, in the COVID time… I’ve been in the European manufacturer. I know how they work. They were working during the COVID and it was flat out even if the COVID was hitting strong in Europe.
“But as you all know for sure, the Japanese took safety super-seriously, more seriously than Europeans, and for sure during COVID, they were struggling more than European manufacturers. So, we have seen the European manufacturers doing huge steps in these COVID times while the Japanese were struggling a little bit more. For sure it’s important for me, as I said, but I just see Takeo’s face today, Kuwata-san’s face today, and it’s more than amazing. It’s crazy how happy they are.”
Is Takeo Tuesday a thing? pic.twitter.com/DSnx2ivaxd— Repsol Honda Team (@HRC_MotoGP) October 26, 2021
There’s no doubt 2021 has been tough for HRC. But this 1-2 is the perfect springboard that will undoubtedly see Honda bounce back to where they belong: fighting for World Championship titles in MotoGP™. A couple more podiums in Portimao and Valencia will be the perfect recipe to take into the winter, as HRC continue to develop a brand-new looking RC213V for 2022.