And why not? Thanks to frozen machine development, the technicalities are as before. Good news for some. But for whom? It’s never that simple. Consider the facts.
In spite of fewer races, 2020 equalled a record nine different winners, with whisker-close margins and a championship undecided until the penultimate race. Four different marques took wins: Yamaha seven, KTM three, then Suzuki and Ducati two each.
The notable absentee. It was the first season without a single Honda win since motorcycling’s biggest cheese rejoined in 1982. Prior to that, they’d contested 500s only for two years – 1966 and 1967 – winning five race in each of those years.
So does this mean that Yamaha, 2020’s biggest hitters, are going to walk away with it in 2021; and that the newest winners KTM will again beat the other established runners? Don’t bet on it. It didn’t even work like that last year. While Yamaha’s rider- and chequer-friendly R1 looked best on paper, in fact it was very erratic, favouring different riders in different circumstances. Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo won three races apiece, but finished second and eighth overall, with ultimate champion Joan Mir (Suzuki) prevailing with just one win, but better consistency.
Nor, more than obviously, will Honda take the setback lying down. The no-win disaster was more down to rider than machine problems. The season-long absence of Marc Marquez, their most successful rider (56 wins to Mick Doohan’s 54) was compounded by injury to seasoned former triple-winner Cal Crutchlow, and inexperience for junior riders Taka Nakagami and Alex Marquez. On a bike known to require a highly committed (read “aggressive”) riding style, the younger Marquez was a nonetheless a double podium finisher by the latter part of his rookie season, and the Japanese rider a regular top-three threat.
Given the development freeze, what can Honda do to regain pre-eminence – other than to hope for delays, to give big gun Marc’s right humerus more time to regain strength following his last major surgery in December?