Suzuki MotoGP news will put a key Honda rider theory to the test

Suzuki’s exit bomb suddenly left two of MotoGP’s top riders needing to make a 2023 change they hadn’t expected – but the quality of these two means that when the music stops it will almost certainly be someone else who will be left without a chair to sit on.

And there is a name that stands out. Just as Joan Mir’s apparent intention to re-sign with Suzuki ahead of the shock news would have greatly boosted Pol Espargaro’s chances of staying with Honda beyond 2022, Suzuki’s impending exit will inevitably hurt his bargaining position.

Mir manager Paco Sanchez made it as clear as he could that Mir-to-Honda was far from a sure thing, but it’s at the very least an option, with the connection reinforced by the fact that Honda had great interest in giving Mir his first-class debut a few years ago before Suzuki stepped in.

Alex Rins’ presence in the market is also noteworthy, but he’s a far less natural fit for Honda for a variety of reasons – historical and otherwise – while Mir’s availability is a shockwave, given he was almost better when from his 2021 run to third in the standings than in his title-winning 2020 campaign.

And a pure benchmark battle between Mir and Espargaro isn’t one the latter can win, especially since his first season with Honda has effectively been a washout and his current results on the revised RC213V aren’t up to snuff. lives up to expectations – although the same can be said for each of his three full-time Honda colleagues.

But while on the Yamaha side of the fence some frustration with Franco Morbidelli – who has a 2023 contract – has recently been made public, Espargaro hasn’t really been criticized at Honda.

“Pol Espargaro had a good start, but he didn’t manage to get a good position in the first laps after a big moment at turn 5, so in the end it was not so easy. He had the speed this weekend. end, but unfortunately we couldn’t find a good setting and it wasn’t possible to get a good result,” is how Honda team principal Alberto Puig was quoted. as describing its rider’s low-key outing at Jerez during a regular race feature with title sponsor Repsol.

It’s not effusive praise, and perhaps you wouldn’t exactly expect an excoriation from a team-hosted Q&A – but there’s still reason to believe Puig is at least staying. partly in the corner of Espargaro. Because, according to Espargaro himself, that’s how Puig operates – despite a stern, almost ruthless exterior aura.

“You know Alberto is one of the best guys I’ve ever met here in MotoGP,” Espargaro told a month ago.

“You see him and it’s hard to tell from the outside how he’s doing. It is very different from what you can see from the outside, very different.

Alberto Puig Honda MotoGP

“He’s a guy who supports you all the way and to the limit, you can’t imagine how much. He pushes with you. It’s hard [to get him] on your side, but as soon as he stays by your side and you know he is on your side, he will defend you as much as possible. And it’s good to have a guy like that in the pitbox.

“It shows you that you are protected. It gives you confidence to go beyond the limit. Because you know that if you fail, you know that guy is going to pick you up and say, “OK, here we go again, and again, and again.” You know it’s not a guy who’s going to blame you for crashing.

“If he needs to tell you things, he will tell you, in the strongest and most direct way, which I am grateful for. But after that, he’ll put it back in play [for you].

“So it’s very nice to have a guy like that in the pitbox – especially since he’s Spanish, so we understand each other very well.”

Espargaro’s description indeed paints a very different picture not only of 500cc race winner Puig’s trademark media behavior – brutal and often defensive in appearance – but also of his record of having already replaced two drivers from Honda factory first its long-time protege Dani Pedrosa and then Alex Marquez.

Yet it’s also accurate to say that Puig tirelessly defended his lead driver Marc Marquez, even as Marquez entered his current injury-strewn career, and it’s also true that during this off-season he has harshly rejected Honda’s suggestion to sue Mir, describing speculation to that effect as a “disrespect” for Espargaro.

Marc Marquez Honda Joan Mir Suzuki MotoGP

It certainly goes in line with Espargaro’s claim that Puig ‘respects us [Honda factory riders] so much” and “defends us so much because he knows how hard it is”.

Does this mean that if Mir signals his willingness to come to Honda, he will be passed over in favor of Espargaro? No of course not. It’s hard to imagine that any personal affinity for the latter, on the part of anyone in Honda’s decision-making process, could negate Mir’s obvious blend of youth and general excellence.

But if Puig remains a strong supporter of Espargaro, it will strengthen all other arguments to keep him – be it financial arguments or those based on team harmony.

And if Mir proves inevitable, there’s also the potential prospect of the LCR Honda ride currently occupied by Alex Marquez and potentially destined for Jack Miller. Given that Honda definitely has a say in this seat, could Puig argue that Espargaro is a better choice than Miller or young Marquez?

We’ll have to wait and see, but we won’t have to wait long. And beyond the obvious interest in seeing how the 2023 grid plays out, the result for Espargaro will prove instructive in how “one of the best guys I’ve ever met here” tackles the building a MotoGP roster.

Earnest L. Veasey