STEVE ENGLISH OPINION: have Honda made enough progress?

Wednesday, 3 May 2023 08:22 GMT

The Japanese manufacturer are looking to join the party for regular podiums this year; WorldSBK commentator Steve English analyses their performance up to this point


Since Honda’s official return in 2020 to the MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, the Fireblade has had one pole position, four front row starts and five podiums. Honda hasn’t led a lap for five years and whilst progress has been made, it’s been slow and steady rather than the steps that many expected. Iker Lecuona (Team HRC) and teammate Xavi Vierge have been solid performers but now into their second year in WorldSBK, more is expected from them. Even though they have underperformed, there is a belief around the paddock that they are now close to being able to exploit their package. A strong engine and super concession upgrades to the chassis has put the bike into the ballpark but now it’s time for the talking to stop. Honda needs; results.

PERFECT TIMING: is Barcelona the chance to showcase?

This weekend in Barcelona is a home round for the team, they’re based nearby, and with many of the team and both riders Spanish, this is an ideal opportunity to shine. Last year, Lecuona took pole position and both riders had top six finishes. For Vierge, a podium man in Indonesia earlier this year, he is also returning to a track where he had a Moto2™ rostrum finish. Last weekend, Lecuona was called back up for MotoGP™ action with Honda. A sign of the confidence that HRC has in their young charge and whilst Jerez proved a solid if unspectacular weekend, it was good to see him rewarded for his successes with Honda. The most notable of those successes was seen at last year’s Suzuka 8 Hours.

In WorldSBK, Honda has struggled. They’ve cycled through experienced riders and brought in two rookies. Alvaro Bautista, well on the way to a second WorldSBK title with Ducati, had a miserable two-year stint with HRC. The Spaniard’s high point of his Honda tenure was Catalunya 2021. A Superpole Race podium and fourth in the afternoon was a great return to form for him. That being said, matching that feat this weekend will be almost impossible for Lecuona and Vierge.

DRAWING COMPARISONS: is it BMW who are still ahead of Honda?

Honda and BMW are the most natural comparisons to make in WorldSBK. The manufacturers have put resources in over the last few years but have little to show for it. That being said, BMW’s form since 2020 when Honda returned is much more impressive. The German manufacturer has won a race, with Michael van der Mark (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) at Portimao in 2021, claimed eight podiums and had three pole positions. Their form has been hit and miss but they do have more to show than Honda for their efforts, including beating them in the manufacturers’ Championship last year. The time between now and the summer break features five rounds and it’s critical for teams and riders to make a step. Can you make your bike and package attractive to a top rider? Can you jump onto a more competitive bike? The only way to do that is to have good results and show that there is performance as well as potential.

A CHANCE IN BARCELONA: can Honda outshine BMW?

This weekend is an opportunity for Honda to prove their progress. For the riders, it’s also a chance to stake their claim to the bike for 2024. Lecuona is the better regarded Honda man but since stepping over from the Grand Prix paddock, he has shown only flashes of what’s expected of him. The speed is definitely there but with a package that has underperformed, he hasn’t been able to put his best foot forward. Xavi Vierge has shown himself to be a capable top ten performer who doesn’t make many mistakes. He’ll feel that as a slow burner he’s now ready to show his full potential. 

Now is the time for Honda to step up to the plate. Winning races is the end goal but right now it’s about getting into the top five because Vierge’s podium in Indonesia is their only top five all season. Catalunya has been their best track since returning to WorldSBK in 2020 and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Team HRC.

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