Honda’s four MotoGP riders face a real challenge in tomorrow’s 13th race of the 20-round 2022 MotoGP World Championship at Red Bull Ring in Austria. And a forecast of changeable weather for race day, following a fully dry Saturday, may further complicate the situation for the riders and their teams.
The company’s top performers at the end of this afternoon’s Q1 and Q2 qualifying sessions were Takaaki Nakagami (LCR Honda IDEMITSU Honda RC213V) and Pol Espargaro (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V). The Japanese and Spaniard will start the race from 14th and 15th on the grid, their fastest times separated by just 0.085 seconds.
Nakagami had also been Honda’s fastest rider in the first three practice sessions, from Friday morning to Saturday morning, running 12th fastest, only 0.621 seconds off the fastest time, once again underlining the unique intensity and competitiveness of MotoGP. In qualifying the 30-year-old from Chiba was even closer to pole position, just 0.618 seconds off the pole time.
Both Nakagami and Espargaro, who is still trying to regain the pace that took him to a podium finish in the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, will do their best to fight their way into the points in the 28-lap race around this redesigned circuit. Following incidents during the 2020 and 2021 MotoGP races at Red Bull Ring the circuit has been changed, with a new low-speed chicane added in place of the original Turn 2 and christened Turn 2a and Turn 2b.
Repsol riders Espargaro and Stefan Bradl (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V) were joined earlier this weekend by Honda’s six-times MotoGP king Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team Honda RC213V), who is recovering from the latest surgery to fix the right upper arm he broke during the 2020 Spanish Grand Prix. During a media conference on Thursday afternoon the 29-year-old Spaniard revealed that he hopes to return to racing before the end of this season, so long as an important check-up next week allows him to intensify his physio regime.
Honda’s third best qualifier this afternoon was Honda’s official MotoGP test rider Bradl, who has been substituting for Marquez since June’s Catalan GP. The 32-year-old former Moto2 World Champion was 1.037 seconds off pole, an impressive performance for a test rider, and will start tomorrow’s Austrian Grand Prix from the row behind Nakagami and Espargaro.
LCR Honda team-mate Alex Marquez (LCR Honda CASTROL Honda RC213V) was very unlucky in qualifying, after ending the FP4 session as the best Honda rider. He slid off at the new chicane when another rider fell immediately in front of him. This was during his final run near the end of the Q1 session and the 26-year-old Spaniard was unable to return to his garage to get his spare bike. He will therefore start from 25th on the grid.
Following tomorrow’s Austrian GP the paddock packs up and heads south to Misano for the San Marino Grand Prix, then to Spain, for the third of this season’s four Spanish races, the Aragon GP. These are the final two races of the main European sector of the champion which precede the Japanese Grand Prix at Twin Ring Motegi on September 25, the first time MotoGP has visited Japan since the start of the pandemic.