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Why Marquez’s Ducati MotoGP form is bad news for Honda that could get a lot worse

“Instead of fighting for 15th, you are fighting for the MotoGP podium. It's like that. In the end the effort, the dedication, the concentration is exactly the same…”

When Alex Marquez recently aimed the above veiled/unveiled dig at former employers Honda, in some ways he wasn’t saying this for our benefit, he was saying it out loud to hear it himself.

Indeed, Marquez - after three seasons blending into the MotoGP mid-field in addition to the many more years spent in the shadow of his illustrious older brother, Marc - has emerged as one of the most fascinating talking points of the 2023 MotoGP World Championship season thus far.


While few can deny that even the year-old Ducati GP22 is a weapon right now, Marquez has made a greater impact in the opening two rounds of 2023 than almost the entirety of his three seasons spent with Honda.

In four starts, Marquez has picked up two fifths, one podium and a maiden MotoGP pole position. While it doesn’t surpass his Aragon and Le Mans podiums from 2020, there are marked improvements on anything he was doing in 2021 and 2022.

The results will bring some relief to Marquez having come into the season recognising this was his golden opportunity to prove he belongs among the elite. 

Alex’s move holds particular significance for himself too, and perhaps even the Marquez family as a whole. 

Quiet, well spoken and smart, Alex Marquez is nothing if not unassuming. He is one of only two riders - the other being his brother - to be a World Champion at both Moto3 and Moto2 level, yet is rarely acknowledged for it.

Indeed , he is a rider too easily dismissed as living in the shadow of his brother, lumbered with a reputation that has for a long time - at the detriment of his confidence - been defined by many for its nepotism rather than his abilities. 

Available: 1 Honda MotoGP ride... any takers? Anyone?

Perhaps more significantly, they are results that will send a bleak - and potentially game-changing - message to Honda.

Indeed, the Japanese firm will have been watching Marquez’s progress on the Gresini Ducati with a significant degree of interest, perhaps more than it would ever admit to publicly, since it now has an accurate gauge of how much performance it is giving up to its Italian counterparts, rivals that as recently as 2019 it was dismissing with relative ease.

Indeed, Alex Marquez has become something of a litmus test for MotoGP - not to mention Moto2 riders looking to graduate.


Whereas once a Honda seat was the prized target for any rider, Ducati is now MotoGP’s superpower with double the number of potential berths available. By contrast, the Honda looks like a poison chalice, so much so that the manufacturer decided against promoting its protege, Moto2 runner-up Ai Ogura, for fear of throwing him too far into the deep end.

Moreover, save for Ogura, Honda has been forced to take its eye off the next generation while it gets its wayward RC213V up to standard. Not that any other up-and-coming riders are talking up their chances of joining Honda anyway.

Indeed, it’s worth pointing out that three of Hondas more recent riders - Lorenzo, Cal Crutchlow and Dani Pedrosa - all retired straight off the RC213V, while Pol Espargaro might have been heading the same way but for his GasGas-KTM lifeline. 

While it has attracted quality riders in Joan Mir and Alex Rins to its midst for the 2023 MotoGP season, it was a fortuitous swoop motivated by Suzuki’s abrupt exit only.


It has been an alarming start to the season for Honda. Sure, it will have taken heart from Marquez’s herculean (dragged around) effort to get the RC213V on pole position in Portugal, but the edgy riding required to squeeze every hundredth from the package was made very clear with his clumsy crash in the main race.

As for Joan Mir, he’s failed to get past lap one in two Sprints, missed one feature and served a penalty in the other, while it’s easy to forget Alex Rins and Takaaki Nakagami are even on the grid.

TAKAAKI NAKAGAMI JPN LCR HONDA IDEMITSU  HONDA  MotoGP  GP Argentina 2023 (Circuit Termas de Rio Hondo) 31.03-02.04.2023  photo: Mateusz Jagielski www.photoPSP.com @photopsp_lukasz_swiderek

A crucial MotoGP Americas for Honda coming up?

Compared to Portimao - a fairly new addition to the calendar - and the largely wet Termas de Rio Hondo, this weekend’s Grand Prix of The Americas will likely provide the clearest idea of where Honda is in MotoGP’s pecking order, provided it stays dry, even without Marquez.

While the firm has been honest about the task it faces to iron out the RC213V’s aero and handling issues, it has been saying this for a while, during which time its decline from the top has languidly continued.

In Honda’s defence, it has been caught in a frustrating middle ground on development, the legacy of having developed the bike around Marquez. While some might say this ‘eggs in one basket’ approach will teach it a lesson, six MotoGP titles in seven years suggests it was worth it.

However, Marc’s on-off presence through injury has complicated matters further. While Honda definitely adopted a broader approach to bike development in Marquez’s absence, it is clear the Spaniard is still able to wring most from the package regardless.

But each time Honda works on getting Marquez comfortable on the bike, he is forced off it again through injury. It has left Honda with an RC213V that seems to please no-one, with its riders using different chassis at different races in 2022.

There have been so many low points at Honda since Marquez barrelled through the gravel trap at the Jerez opener back in 2020 that even Repsol’s zero score from Argentina barely made the news.

However, seeing Alex start from pole position and finish on the podium in Argentina might end up being its rudest wake up call yet. Indeed, though perhaps a disservice to Alex’s abilities, the immediate jump in performance by a rider many had written off demonstrates how large a hurdle Honda is facing.

FIM World Championship Grand Prix, Round 19, 15-17 November 2019, MotoGP, Valencia, Spain

"So... Alex, you liking that Ducati... also, pass the spuds"

Perhaps worst of all, it could lead to some far-reaching collateral damage for the firm should it dissuade its talisman to re-sign beyond 2024. 

After all, not only is Marc Marquez witnessing this on track, he’s doing so in real-time from within the family unit.

It’s easy to imagine Marc is curious to know more about the Ducati from Alex over the dinner table… and this intel may not necessarily be to help him on track, but to consider (fitness notwithstanding) whether the time has come for him to seek pastures new when his contract ends in 2024.

Those 18 months may seem a long way away now, but for a rider of Marc’s calibre (and demands), it is reasonable to assume any interested parties would be making advances around now… or, alternatively, they may be coming from Marc himself.

In short, if Alex keeps up this form and Honda can’t supply its number one rider with a package that is both competitive and won’t throw down the road, the likelihood of Marc Marquez donning something other than white and orange might not be too far away…

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