Honda and Marc Marquez seemed lost during pre-season testing and few would have predicted such a strong start to the season, but the Spaniard is charging hard and took another sizzling win in the Texas heat on Sunday.
Struggling with a multitude of problems on the Repsol Honda, it now looks like the hugely experienced HRC team are getting to grips with much-reduced rider aids, Michelin tyres and balance of the RCV’s power and handling.
A lot of that progress has come thanks to the incredible riding talents of Marquez. He’s gone back to his super-aggressive riding style that worked so well when he won the world title in 2013 and 2014.
In fact, such has been the improvement to his Honda package that the 23-year-old has gone from believing that the 2016 would be a write-off at the end of pre-season testing to now leading the championship chase – and looking like a good bet to lift his third crown come the end of the year.
“If you had told me that I would have a 21-point advantage over Jorge now, I would have told you ‘you are crazy!’ I remember the feeling of Sepang, pushing 100% on the first day and still being one-and-a-half seconds a lap slower than Lorenzo. That feeling was very frustrating!
“It’s great news for us and for the team. In pre-season, we struggled a lot. Then, we started to race and we were close in Qatar – it was ok. Then in Argentina we were happy with the victory, but with the flag-to-flag it was not a normal race so we were not sure how well we had really performed. But here it was a normal weekend, though, and we’re very happy.”
So what has led to the about face from Marquez and a Honda that only weeks ago was struggling with a smorgasbord of issues?
Key to the changes has been a much better understanding of the new control electronics, something that has finally allowed the HRC engineers to tackle issues with the chassis. Marquez explained: “Every time I ride, we find something new, in the electronics, in the bike, and we are improving step by step. Here, we improved the start, and it was much better. We improved a little bit the engine braking too, with something we found in Argentina. Step by step, we are getting better.
“The key as always is my team. They are working really hard, and still we must improve – we saw in the beginning of the race that Ducati and Yamaha have better acceleration. But we will improve it in the future.”
However, there are more improvements to come from the Honda as well, with Marquez expecting a host of new parts for the next round of the championship in two weeks time.
Returning to Europe and to Jerez, the race offers not only a return to more familiar tracks but also the first opportunity of the season to test, with a one-day outing directly after the race sure to help Marquez even more.
“You can see here – I tried wings, I tried a different fairing, and I believe that while it’s possible to go the wrong way, that we’re on the right path now and that we need to keep working like this
“Honda is still working, because we’re still not at 100% performance – but now I’m happy. I’m happy with the last three races, but on the other side I also want to get back to Europe.
“They are different kind of racetracks, more narrow and with a different style of tarmac – and we will see there. But now we have a 21-point lead, so something is there, and we must now see what Honda will bring.”