Friday, December 05, 2008

What Does Honda's F1 Shutdown Mean For MotoGP?

The global credit crunch is really starting to take a big chomp out of motorsport, with the shock announcement that Honda has ditched its Boremula One team and run screaming for the hills. Like virtually all car manufacturers, Honda is in a major crisis as nobody can afford to buy a new car. What does Honda's bailout from F1 mean for MotoGP?

Firstly, let's look at why Honda left F1. For a start, they were performing atrociously, having built one of the worst cars on the grid. Their drivers were quite highly rated in terms of speed, but lagged behind the sheer punchability of the leading pilots. (There has been a shocking drop in Jenson Button's punchability lately, and most people would rather punch an injured baby rabbit than Button's Brazilian team-mate, whatsisname, the guy off Frasier.) Then there was Honda's F1 budget: a staggering $500 million per year. Half a billion dollars to build that crapwagon and hire those loveable losers??? Credit crunch... plummeting car sales... Mayday! Mayday!... Eject! Eject!

Could this happen to Honda's MotoGP project? You'd be an idiot if you didn't say yes, it's a possibility. HRC spends bucketloads of money on MotoGP, some people estimating anything from $50-100 million per year. (Admittedly a bargain compared to their worthless F1 effort.) If Honda pulled their two factory, one semi-factory and three privateer bikes off the 2009 grid, MotoGP would be massively screwed. By my count, that would put the MotoGP field at around 12 bikes. (You couldn't just buy the old Hondas and keep running them without HRC support, these things ain't 2-strokes.) However, I believe that Honda will stay in MotoGP, and here are the reasons why.

Firstly, while Honda made crap F1 cars, they make damn good MotoGP bikes. Not the best, but they are race winning, front-row qualifying machines. Secondly, Honda have some very good riders. Pedrosa is no overtaker but he's blisteringly quick. Dovizioso looks like being quick and a great racer, so the pair of them should get race wins next year. Add that to the fact that Pedrosa is, partly thanks to his sub-atomic size, the best starter in MotoGP, so he will lead the field into the first corner half the time. That's good advertising. Throw in the fact that Honda supply a third of the bikes on the grid and could not pull out without causing the greatest crisis in the history of MotoGP, and this pullout looks extremely unlikely.

One of the newspaper reports about the Honda F1 bailout said that removing F1 racing from Honda makes its whole existence pointless, because car racing is in their blood. Well the writer of that article is an idiot. Honda isn't a car company, it's a bike company that makes cars. (And lawnmowers, generators, outboards, etc.) Old man Honda started out with bicycles, then motorcycle engines, then motorcycles. Honda started winning motorcycle Grand Prix championships (125cc and 250cc) in 1961, two years before they even entered F1.

Honda's first ever production car was the 1963 S500, a beautiful, rollerskate-sized sports car heavily influenced by state of the art motorcycle technology, its tiny 531cc inline-4, double overhead cam, quad-carburettor, 4-stroke engine delivering peak power at a howling 8000rpm through chain drive to the rear wheels. Their first car to be widely sold outside Japan was the 1965 S800, still tiny but with a larger 791cc engine.

So Honda's bailout from F1 is worrying, but their MotoGP programme shouldn't be in immediate jeopardy. Their budget may well take a hit, but so will everyone else's. Still, it will make everybody in MotoGP a little uneasy knowing that the impossible can happen when there's a big enough credit crunch.


Anonymous said...

I have recently been made aware of your blog and enjoy it very much. Thanks for the effort that you put into it.

Dean Adams

Jimmy said...

Much appreciated, Dean!


Anonymous said...

what about superbike? honda annouced that they will withdraw from superbike.. how you comment on that?

Jimmy said...

They're withdrawing their factory team from AMA Superbike, but there will still be non-factory Honda teams in AMA. I don't know enough about the AMA series to say more than that.

Honda has no factory team in WSBK. The closest thing would be the "semi-factory" Ten Kate team, who cost Honda relatively little money as they do most of the development themselves.

Honda have also confirmed that they will remain in British Superbike, again with a semi-factory team.