The Power of Dreams or Nightmares?
By: Neil Everett | Published 01 July 2009, 21:40 | Views: 3,129 | tags: motogp, valentino rossi, wsb, sbk, bsb, superbikes, honda, dani pedrosa, nicky hayden, andrea dovizioso
If you mention motorcycles then one of the first manufacturers that you would be likely to mention is Honda. The company has a great prestige in the category stretching right back to the 1960’s when Honda first competed in the Isle of Man TT. However, over recent years the dreams have turned to nightmares as Honda uncharacteristically appears to have been caught out by a combination of the global economic situation and the onslaught of mechanical development from their various competitors.It has now been almost a calendar year since Honda last scored a victory in the MotoGP category. A shocking statistic, especially when you consider the dominance of the manufacturer during the 990cc and 500cc eras. It also appears that the company’s flagship superbike is in for a rough ride in the world and domestic series’ in 2009 with fierce rivals Yamaha, Ducati and the returning Aprilia all giving the Japanese giants a run for their money with honed and sharpened weapons.
No one can deny that the Honda Fireblade is a technical masterpiece that handles like a precise and efficient instrument, Honda’s have long been known for their clinical and calculated weight distribution and management, smooth but effective power delivery and their ability to inspire confidence with the level of feedback they provide, but with the technological advancements made recently by its competitors, Honda appears to slipping down the order.
In British Superbikes, despite the disappearance of the dominant Ducati’s, Honda Fireblades are yet to taste success, the Le Man 24 hour race was won by team Yamaha and in World Superbike’s the riders have been riding on and sometimes over the limit in an attempt to keep up with the opposition.
So where has it all been going wrong? Well although we know that Honda has an established racing development department in the form of HRC one thing that appears to be lacking recently is a clear direction. Honda’s first 800cc effort was widely criticised for being tailored to suit one rider in particular, Dani Pedrosa. Honda clearly looked at Pedrosa as the future of the company, maybe a rider that could lift the company back to the lofty days when Rossi and Doohan dominated the premier division. As we all now know this has yet to materialise through injury, under performing machinery and also because he just hasn’t been able to break the dominance of the riders in the upper echelons of the sport.
At the tail-end of 2007 the company then made a very un-Honda like move when they scrapped the initial RC212V from the factory team opting to enter the 2008 season with a very different variation on their initial concept. The bike amazingly sprung to life and started to obtain results despite the fact that the new evolution had suffered a torrid pre-season testing schedule that left many pundits stumped at its lack of performance. The end of season results didn’t provide happy reading however with Pedrosa only finishing third in the championship, while Nicky Hayden suffered another painful season on a development Honda. Since the beginning of the 800cc era Honda had amassed only four victories from 36 races. Not a statistic which will sit well with the company.
Changes were made, Nicky Hayden’s contract was not renewed, Andrea Dovizioso, the radical MotoGP rookie was drafted in to partner Pedrosa as Honda looked to strike revenge at it rivals in 2009.
Unfortunately another blow for the company was waiting in the wings. With the world’s economic structure in serious turmoil, Honda had to take a number of steps to ensure its day to day business was secure. Pulling out of the premier class of motor racing and abandoning any plans to run in the Suzuka 8 hour race assisted with the financial stability, but to think that concessions weren’t made across the board would be naive.
Honda supplies three of the teams on the MotoGP grid with Satellite bikes making them the premier bike supplier in the MotoGP paddock. Add to this the fact that they have just signed an agreement with Dorna to supply all the engines for the new Moto2 category which is set to debut in 2010 and it is clear that Honda has now changed its strategy from defence to attack.
What does the future hold for the Japanese giants? It seems like a series of tough decisions lie ahead in all forms of sporting competition. Whether to keep faith in Dani Pedrosa or take the company in a new direction with a new rider, Pedrosa has been unlucky with injury throughout his MotoGP career but at the same time he has come up short in every battle he has had with Valentino Rossi on track, will Dani Pedrosa ever fulfil his promise and win the MotoGP championship? Or is he destined to follow in the ranks of Sete Gibenau and Max Biaggi?
In superbike Honda have to make another tough decision in an effort to bring the Fireblade back in line with the other manufacturers. There are several options open to them, with Honda already discussing the development of their own V4 engine, an option which Aprilia have used to great success in the championship this year. The main point of debate appears not to be anything to do with a lack of power from the inline four produced by the Honda engine, but instead the level of grip obtained from the Pirelli tyres and the manner in which the Fireblade lays that power down out of the corners in reference to its opposition.
One thing is for sure if there is a company that can turn these nightmares back to dreams it’s Honda. Quick to respond to the criticism sustained from the factory Honda riders recently a raft of changes are expected for both Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso this weekend at the Catalan Grand Prix in an attempt to stem the onslaught. Can Honda turn things around and return back to the front as a dominant force in track racing? Only time will tell.