Honda’s heyday may have felt like a distant dream for Alberto Puig in 2021 as injury continued to plague his star MotoGP rider.
Marc Marquez’ return to dominance failed to materialise as quickly as anticipated for HRC as the eight-time world champion began the year struggling with his physical condition after nearly a full season off the bike while new signing Pol Espargaro struggled to get to grips with the RC213V.
Three victories - at Sachsenring, Austin and Misano - added to Aragon’s further podium and things were looking up for Marquez mid-season before an off-track training accident curtailed the progress once more. Espargaro completed a resounding success for the Repsol Honda Team at the Emilia-Romagna GP claiming second position behind his teammate, his debut podium with HRC and his highest ever result in the premier class before he too was forced to end the season early after an FP1 crash.
“We cannot say it's a good balance,” Repsol Honda Team Manager, Puig reflected on the fluctuating season. “Because we started the session with Marc not fit. It took him a while to get to, let's say a decent level, and on the other hand with Pol, it was difficult for him to understand in the beginning the bike. So it has been, for a company like Honda, from HRC that has a long history in racing with a lot of victories, it's not a perfect balance of course.
"We managed to win some races and make some podiums,” he continued, "but of course this is not our target. Of course we had a lot of inconvenience and a lot of problems during this period, with the riders and also we were struggling sometimes with our bike in many tracks. So overall it was not as we expected but probably the worst thing was that Marc was really not recovered as we expected, or as he expected. Also, at the end of the year, he's had this last problem which is also completely unexpected. Let's hope and think for a better 2022 and better future.
“For Pol, it was a complicated start to the season,” he continued, switching his attention to the newest member of the garage. “He was expecting one type of bike and then he find another type of bike. But it's true that during the season he has been understanding. He managed to do the pole position at Silverstone and from then on, in Misano, we had an important test. We changed the bike quite a lot for him and from then to today he's always been in his normal speed.
“Pol is a fast rider, we know this, that's why we contracted him. So I think now he's really understanding more the bike and this is important. Alex [Marquez, LCR Honda] also. He had some crashes this year, but now he's going back to the level he showed last year. The only pity is that now the year is finishing so we cannot continue growing with them but we hope and we expect that for next year we will start already from a higher position and level.”
Espargaro has been vocal about the progress made during the Misano test in September, with HRC briefly rolling out the new 2022 Honda, before continuing to work at Jerez as the season concluded. Many have described next season’s machine as radically different to the current offering but Puig seems less inclined to agree.
"Radically new? I don't think so,” he said simply. “It's a different bike. We try to improve always small things but many things. We changed something in the bike and we are trying to understand if this is the correct way - we think yes, but we will see.
“At the end it's a bike, two wheels, and we just have to click on the points that we are weak. But it's true that we also have some very good, positive things in our bike so we want to keep them. Let's see if we manage and we are ready for next year.”