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“If Marc Márquez decides to leave, we will not hold him back”

Faced with the possible departure of Marc Márquez, Koji Watanabe says that he would like Márquez to stay, but “he is the one who must decide”.

“If Marc Márquez decides to leave, we will not hold him back”

It is the great soap opera melodrama of the summer, and it looks as if there won’t be a quick ending to this one. Not even in a month’s time, when the MotoGP World Championship returns with the start of the second half of the season.

Rumors were already flying around the paddock and, with the riders enjoying a well deserved summer break, the echo of the silly season continues to be more present than ever. In all of this, Marc Márquez is, without a doubt, the great protagonist.

The existential crisis within Honda’s ranks has pushed the Spaniard to his physical and mental limits, so much so that the six-time champion had to withdraw from the last two races. The doctors didn’t give him the go-ahead in Assen, nor was it prudent to go out on the track at the Sachsenring, stretching the rider to his limits in a vainglorious attempt to make Top 10. It was time to press pause, recover physically and, above all, reflect on his future.

While Repsol Honda’s star rider relaxes on Spain’s beaches, the team in Japan keeps working away. The team is in the midst of the worst crisis for the brand since they entered MotoGP. Vacations at the factory are cancelled and all hands are to the pump in a desperate attempt to salvage the remainder of their season. Their mission? The seemingly impossible task of putting as close to a flawless motorcycle as they can achieve onto the track in only five weeks time. Even in his lowest moments, Koji Watanabe, president of Honda Racing Corporation, remains hopeful, pointing out in a chat with Motorsport that despite “struggling in MotoGP”, HRC have “just started working, and the two-wheel and four-wheel divisions will collaborate on development.”

“We have to improve the chassis, the aerodynamics and the engines. We want to do it by also incorporating four-wheel technology,” explains Watanabe, who believes that it is possible to “take on a different perspective” with this new method of working with which they want and hope to “catch up with our rivals as soon as possible.” But the freezing of the engines makes noticeable development on the bike almost impossible.

Honda is keen to show Márquez that they are still working, looking for those advances that the Spaniard asked for during the pre-season tests in Valencia, and although he admitted that he could see the effort being put forward, he also called it insufficient. So Honda are working not only on this year’s prototype, but they are also looking ahead to 2024. “We will incorporate various aspects step by step, but basically we will put them on next year’s bike,” admits Watanabe.

The biggest question in this whole drama will be whether or not 2024 will find Marc Márquez astride this new bike. A machine that must be revolutionary, completely new, and capable of seeing Honda finish the season on top. Márquez is no stranger to this story. He has done the same thing with his own battered and broken body. Looking now like he is back to 100%, his only goal, like Watanabe’s, is to win.

The Spaniard has one year left to run on his contract and, despite his feelings of loyalty to the brand, he must also consider the possibilities that are laid on the table before him. As a six-time champion, the chance to return to dominance is a strong aphrodisiac.

At HRC, they are staying out of the decision making process. “Of course we want to keep him,” explains Watanabe of his star rider. “Obviously we’d like him to continue with us. But in the end it is him who must decide. If he decides that he wants to leave, we will not hold him back.” Watanabe’s ultimate goal is to keep Márquez on the team, and for that to happen, there is only one path to take. “I think we have to show him with our actions that we want him to stay. Honda is not limited to simply asking him to stay.” Now, for Márquez, the ball is in his court.