Pol Espargaro may have dropped the biggest hint yet that he’s on the way out of the Repsol Honda MotoGP team at the end of this season.
He has further fueled speculation that Honda is close to putting pen to paper with Suzuki refugee Joan Mir by admitting that new development parts originally set for him have instead been diverted to Honda satellite rider Taka Nakagami at this weekend’s Catalan Grand Prix, in what comes across as a clear sign of how Honda regards Espargaro’s future with it.
Marc Marquez first trialled a new chassis and swing arm last weekend at the Italian Grand Prix, devoting the weekend at Mugello to development work once he knew that he was about to enter an absence from the sport due to his latest operation, which took place today in the United States.
“We are trying to understand the way to turn better,” said Marquez of the inspiration behind the mid-season changes.
“It’s true that as soon as you improve in some points you lose in another, but we are trying to understand the way to turn better, to better understand the front tyre, the way to turn in a shorter time.
“In MotoGP, if you turn in a long time you cannot use the power, cannot use the torque, so you are then missing tenths. We need to understand that and we are working on that area.”
It seems that those experiments have been at least somewhat successful, too, with the new chassis and swing arm continuing to Montmelo this weekend – but not in the hands of Marquez’s team-mate Espargaro or even with his replacement, test rider Stefan Bradl.
Instead, it’s been handed over to LCR Honda rider Nakagami, in what is hard to read as anything but a snub towards Espargaro – who admitted that he’s keen to try out as many new parts as possible in his attempts to make the RC213V better.
“Yeah, 100%,” he said when asked if he would have preferred to have been on the new chassis and frame. “I like to try new things and I like to improve the situation. To improve the situation, the only way to do it is to try new stuff, to improve the bike, to improve the results. If you don’t try anything, you don’t improve.
“But even like that, I’m going to keep pushing like I have always done, and let’s see if this weekend something changes and we can be faster.
“I asked for Marc’s bike, but I didn’t get it. [Why] is not my concern. I ask for the best things, for the new things, for the last evolution of the bike – but I’m not the guy who chooses if I’m going to have it or not.
“I’m a guy who gets paid to ride the bike as fast as possible and that’s what I’m going to try to do this weekend.”
Switching development parts away from riders who are set to leave a team’s project is a well-established tactic of most factory teams, meaning that the decision adds very much fuel to the fire that Espargaro won’t be a part of Honda next year.
Though Nakagami’s future in a Honda MotoGP race seat is even more uncertain, he still looks likely to be part of the fold – perhaps in World Superbikes.
Moto2 frontrunner Ai Ogura believed to be destined for the LCR seat while Nakagami is moved aside to concentrate on superbike projects like the Suzuka 8 Hour, arguably the single most important race of the year for Honda.
However, while it might be the case that something has already been communicated to Espargaro about his future (a rumor he denied last month as ‘fake news’), 2020 world champion Mir says that it doesn’t mean that he’s yet put pen to paper with anyone else, and instead is still trying to find a solution to the mess he was put in when Suzuki unexpectedly announced that it would pull out of MotoGP at the end of 2022.
“I don’t know,” Mir insisted. “I would like to have news soon but I don’t know when it will be.
“I’m being completely transparent with you. But more than myself, I think nobody wants to explain where I will be.
“It’s difficult. This year was especially difficult for many reasons and we just have to continue like this for many reasons.”