Pol ‘nightmare’, Honda ‘deep discussion with Michelin’, Mir ‘like Marquez’ | MotoGP

“Point One: Marc had many crashes and could not race. Point Two: In the pre-season we were very fast and then suddenly Michelin changed the tire and our bike was also changed completely,” Puig said.

“We still don’t fully understand what happened and we will have to discuss deeply with Michelin the tire situation.

“To go from being very, very almost one month ago to the situation we are in this weekend, it’s very difficult for our riders to be consistent and have confidence. Overall, we can’t be happy.”

Pol Espargaro had gone further on Sunday, putting team-mate Marquez’s huge warm-up accident down to an ‘external partner choice’.

Espargaro had been fastest at last month’s Mandalika test, when all four Honda riders set a very strong race pace on the all-new RC213V, putting them as favorites for the race weekend.

But blistering issues due to the searing heat saw Michelin call-up a special heat-resistant tire casing for the grand prix – not used since Buriram 2018 – onto which the latest compounds were attached.

While ultimate lap times were the same as the test, the unfamiliar stiffer carcass shuffled the deck.

Ducati and KTM appeared to take a step forward, with riders such as Jack Miller enjoying the stability of the modified casing. Yamaha and Aprilia performed roughly the same, Fabio Quartararo matching Espargaro’s best test lap for pole position.

But Suzuki and especially Honda struggled for rear grip. Such issues were magnified by relying more on the front tire to turn, causing overheating problems.

In other words, they were suffering for both one-lap speed and race distance endurance.

By the end of Saturday, the top Honda of Marc Marquez was only 15th on the grid, after three accidents, with Espargaro directly behind and openly questioning if his front tire could finish the race.

LCR Honda riders Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami, who had delivered among the best race simulations at the test, qualified 19th and last (24th) respectively.

Despite Rins qualifying in eighth, the tire situation was similar at Suzuki.

“With the front tire we are on the limit,” said Rins. “But when we tried the hardest compound, it was too hard.”

Team-mate and former world champion Joan Mir, starting down in 18th, felt he was more likely to fall than finish.

“I’m struggling a lot to find the correct setting, the electronics, the geometry, everything. I’m almost crashing in every corner, I’m going really on the limit and I’m not able to be strong,” Mir said on Saturday afternoon.

“I was struggling for rear grip with the [normal 2022] carcass. With this [modified] one, I’m struggling even more. The biggest problem is going into the corners. I don’t have grip going in fast and the rear wants to come around.

“I will not be able to, in these conditions, finish the race. I think I will crash, honestly. I’m too much on the limit in every corner and like this it’s really easy to make a mistake.”

A Sunday afternoon downpour and familiar wet weather tires washed away such concerns for the race, but not before a lack of rear grip into corners had asked Marc Marquez spectacularly in warm-up.

The eight-time world champion’s final accident of a punishing weekend saw the rear step out at almost 200km/h on the entry to Turn 7. The resulting highside left the Spaniard unfit to race due to concussion.

“Get well soon,” was Mir’s message to Marquez after a brilliant 17th to sixth place ride in the rain. “All weekend I was having similar problems going into that corner, and a bit everywhere.

“I almost crashed like that a couple of times or even more. It was one of my biggest problems. Finally, he made a huge highside so I hope he’s back soon.”

The Spaniard added: “This weekend was really special, for the tires. This made everything really complicated. A lot of crashes.

“It’s not easy when you work all these years to give the bike your style and everything and then straight away they change the tyres. It’s not easy to make them work.

“For some riders this fits a bit better and you see that someone is faster and for others it’s more a disaster. We were on the bad side of that all weekend, but we saved it [in the wet race].”

After salvaging twelfth place on the lone remaining Repsol Honda, Espargaro said on Sunday evening: “When we were complaining about Michelin, it is not because we like to complain about Michelin.

“It’s because we were facing serious problems about front tire consumption and we could not complete the race because the front temperature was too high. And then the rear was locking into the entry of the corners – as Marc crashed – to all the riders all the weekend.

“When we complain it is because we feel we really have a problem and finally from being fast and safe at the test, we were slow and [felt unsafe]. I think today Marc was lucky not to get injured and if he was injured then it would have been the consequences of an external partner choice for us this weekend.”

Michelin rejected that accusation, telling its Two-Wheel Motorsport Manager Piero Taramasso “We analyzed the crash data and I can exclude that it was due to the tires.”

Marquez didn’t speak to the media before leaving Lombok, but on Saturday night he had taken a stoical view of the situation, acknowledging all the Hondas were struggling but adding that the tire was clearly working for others.

“All Hondas have had unexpected problems since FP1,” said Marquez, who fell once during the Qatar season opener on the normal 2022 casing. “I say unexpected problems because at the test we all rode very well: me, Pol, Taka, my brother. Since we arrived here we start to struggle a lot with the rear and we push a lot with the front.

“But the others have the same tyre, so it’s the same for everyone. We need to understand the situation to take profit from these tyres. Quartararo did the same time today as in the test so the performance [from the modified tyres] is there.”

Taramasso insisted that the modified casing had not only performed well but was ‘more importantly the safest choice’:

“I know there was a lot of talk during the weekend about the casing design of the new rear tires in our allocation, but the fast lap times – equal to the best during the three day winter test – that we saw right from the start in all sessions has shown that this was the optimum, and more importantly the safest choice, for this new and challenging Mandalika circuit,”

Taramasso also told that using the test tires for the grand prix weekend was not an option: “The test tires would not have held up to the race distance because the temperatures were very high and none of the compounds worked. All the riders and teams noticed it. The only possible solution was this carcuss, which they had already used in 2017 and 2018, paired with the compounds from the test so as not to upset everything.”

But the lesson for the future, according to Espargaro, is that any such major tire changes always need to be tested before a race weekend.

“Whatever we do at the test, it should stay the same otherwise you create a big mess,” he said. “You prepare the bike for something and then you arrive at the race and have completely different things.

“For us it was a waste of time and money to come here in pre-season. What we did during the test was zero [use] for this week-end.”

“We came here a few weeks ago, we were fast and now we are slow,” Puig reiterated. “We need to understand what happened with the Michelin tyre, we need to have a deep conversation with them.

“The next races are at circuits that have been good for Marc and for Honda in the past. We hope that Marc is better and that we can do our best when we go there.”

Unfortunately, Marquez’s latest eye injury was subsequently diagnosed following medical checks upon his arrival back in Spain.

Although Marquez says the nerve damage is “less severe than at the end of last year”, given the previous 2.5-month absence from any form of motorcycle, it seems unlikely he will take part in the back-to-back Termas and COTA events .

Meanwhile, with the rain working against Qatar winner Enea Bastianini (11th), Espargaro moves on from the Mandalika ‘nightmare’ still within touch of the title lead.

“We are sixth in the world championship and just 10 points from first place after this nightmare weekend, so this is not bad at all. It feels like the full weekend has been upside down for us,” said Espargaro, who was third in the season opener

Marquez is now twelfth in the standings and 19 points from the top.


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