Subscribe

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Australia Australia
Opinion

Espargaro becoming Honda MotoGP test rider is its first genuine improvement of 2024

OPINION: Honda’s MotoGP project continues to struggle as little progress is made in the development of its troubled RC213V. The hiring of Aleix Espargaro as test rider, however, represents HRC’s first genuine improvement in a long time

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

On Tuesday, Honda finally confirmed Motorsport.com's initial reports that three-time grand prix winner Aleix Espargaro will become its MotoGP test rider in 2025.

Honda’s 2024 campaign continues to limp along without much reward following a Dutch Grand Prix in which is leading rider (Johann Zarco) was 13th and 42.767s away from race winner Francesco Bagnaia.

To boot, Zarco was 18s away from the rider ahead of him – Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo, proving that the unofficial Japanese Cup to not be last of the manufacturers is easily going the way of the Iwata-based marque.

That’s not particularly surprising though. Yamaha brought a new engine to the Dutch GP aiming at returning the agility it has lost with its 2024 bike. While it did just that in the slow corners at Assen, Quartararo felt there wasn’t much of a gain through the fast turns.

But Yamaha tested several new engines in Valencia prior to the Dutch GP and one of those proved to be clearly better, with a race debut likely to happen soon.

With its concession benefits, Yamaha had both Quartararo and Alex Rins on track taking advantage of its ability to test in-season. In the three-week gap between the Italian GP and the Dutch GP, Honda did not. In fact, several of its riders spoke at Assen about not having a major update to the bike coming until possibly September time.

Yamaha’s efforts behind the scenes have yielded tangible gains, certainly relative to Honda.

Yamaha has gradually pulled clear of Honda this year

Yamaha has gradually pulled clear of Honda this year

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Analysing both manufacturers’ qualifying form in 2024 over the first eight rounds, Honda has not gotten a rider into Q2 yet while Yamaha has done so four times. Honda’s average pole deficit stands at 1.199s compared to Yamaha’s 0.739s.

In races (looking solely at grands prix), Yamaha’s average gap to the winner is 23.533s. For Honda, the deficit is 29.828s. Considering Honda has two more bikes on the grid than Yamaha, the difference in form is striking and perfectly demonstrates just how far behind HRC is from where it needs to be.

“We are going fast but the others have improved a lot – it’s unbelievable,” said Joan Mir, after crashing out for a sixth time in 2024 at Assen.

Neither Zarco nor Marini has successfully built a project from the ground up. Neither has Mir nor LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami

“How they [our rivals] accelerate out of the corners makes me feel angry. What I could do also is slow a bit down a few seconds and finish 40 seconds [away from the winner]. But this is not what I want.

“As a rider I always want more, I want to try, and if this means going to the ground… one day maybe I don’t go to the ground and I’m in front.”

He added: “Honestly, the last crashes I had were mostly with throttle. So, there is something happening on our bike.

“Normally when you start to open the throttle, you transfer the weight onto the rear and you shouldn’t really crash there. The typical crash is when you release the front brake.

“But in my case most of them are with throttle. So, we have to analyse this because the bike in that moment is quite critical.”

Mir has been plagued by crashes as he pushes to try and negate the Honda's weak points

Mir has been plagued by crashes as he pushes to try and negate the Honda's weak points

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Honda has brought in some Ducati experience to its line-up in 2024, with Johann Zarco joining LCR from Pramac and Luca Marini coming to the factory HRC squad from VR46. But that appears to have counted for little so far, and that isn’t surprising.

Zarco rode satellite Yamaha machinery in 2017 and 2018. He moved to the factory KTM team in 2019, but struggled so badly that he tore up his contract halfway through the season before being dropped with immediate effect after the San Marino GP. Since then he has ridden satellite Ducati bikes. Marini has only ever ridden year-old Ducati satellite bikes in his short MotoGP tenure and has scored no points at Honda so far.

Neither of those riders have successfully built a project from the ground up. Neither has Mir nor LCR’s Takaaki Nakagami.

Yamaha is, of course, limited in what it can do with just two riders – albeit fielding arguably one of the grid’s top pairings in Fabio Quartararo and Alex Rins. But behind the scenes it has three-time grand prix winner Cal Crutchlow entrenched in its test team pushing development along.

Crutchlow was the only other rider in 2019 next to world champion Marc Marquez to get the troubled RC213V to the podium. Since joining Honda in 2015 with LCR, he was a key pillar in developing that bike. When he retired from racing, Yamaha got itself a rider who was still competing at a high level and one who shoots straight when it comes to feedback.

Honda, then, has gotten just that with Aleix Espargaro. The role of test rider has always been important, but much of Ducati’s current success can be traced to its concerted efforts with Michele Pirro to have a top-notch test team developing bikes.

Other manufacturers have followed suit in recent years, with KTM taking MotoGP legend Dani Pedrosa into its test roster, while – as mentioned – Yamaha snapped up Crutchlow.

Stefan Bradl has done a solid job for HRC in his time as test rider, but Espargaro comes with knowledge of one of the grid’s current competitive bikes in the Aprilia. The RS-GP is a bike Espargaro inherited in 2017, after two years building Suzuki’s project into a race winner, and at the time the Noale marque’s machine was nowhere near even sniffing a podium.

Zarco and Marini have Ducati experience, but lack the track record of developing bikes that Espargaro can boast

Zarco and Marini have Ducati experience, but lack the track record of developing bikes that Espargaro can boast

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Since then, Espargaro developed it into getting Aprilia’s first podium of the modern era in 2021, its first grand prix victory in 2022 and sustaining a legitimate title charge for much of that year. He gave it its first brace of wins in 2023 and put it in a position to snap up the current championship leader and one of the grid’s absolute best talents in Jorge Martin for 2024.

That’s a CV Honda can really benefit from. Not to mention the fact that the strength of the RS-GP is its cornering and strong acceleration – two key weaknesses of the current Honda.

Espargaro’s immediate contribution to Honda will surely help its short-term goals of moving up the grid, but his experience will prove vital when development for the 2027 prototype ahead of that year’s major technical rules overhaul begins.

Read Also:
Espargaro's signing is a statement of intent from Honda that it will surely benefit from

Espargaro's signing is a statement of intent from Honda that it will surely benefit from

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Be part of Motorsport community

Join the conversation
Previous article Rins to miss Germany MotoGP round, Gardner set to be Yamaha's replacement
Next article Ducati hints at reduced factory bike presence on 2025 MotoGP grid

Top Comments

Sign up for free

  • Get quick access to your favorite articles

  • Manage alerts on breaking news and favorite drivers

  • Make your voice heard with article commenting.

Motorsport prime

Discover premium content
Subscribe

Edition

Australia Australia