The Honda Team were looking good in the run up to the France GP, Casey Stoner having top time in free practice and a fine performance in qualifying putting Dani Pedrosa at pole and Stoner in second place. However, after a race made difficult by rain Stoner finished third, followed by Pedrosa in fourth. In the early stages, Stoner was chasing Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha) but couldn't raise his pace enough to catch the leader. He started making faster time in the middle stage and was closing the gap, but then the rain lifted and on the drying track the Hondas began suffering tire spin. This allowed Valentino Rossi (Ducati) to speed past and knock Stoner into third. Pedrosa, in his first pole of the season, was widely tipped to win this time, but right from the start he had grip problems and was lucky to end in fourth place. All in all, the most disappointing race so for Repsol Honda in 2012. HRC Team Principal Shuhei Nakamoto looks back at a hard-fought GP, held in very difficult conditions.
A bit of a disaster for us, really. At the end of morning warm up, I could see we were in for a tough fight. Casey couldn't get his tires warm enough in the early laps to increase his pace, and Jorge built up a four second lead. Once the tires were working right he closed the gap, but then came another problem – after the rain stopped and the track started to dry, his tires began to overheat and spin. Dani, on the other hand, never really managed to achieve a decent pace. In the early laps he was having the same trouble as Casey in warming his tires. Later on, although he was braking and cornering as fast as anyone, he wasn't getting enough rear traction in first and second and this lost him time. We'll be analyzing the data to get a more detailed picture, but there's no way to say it except that we lost this one.
No, it could never have turned out that way. I think anyone watching would agree – Crutchlow and Dovizioso had better pace and if those two hadn't fallen it's quite possible that they would have joined Rossi in overtaking Casey by the end. And that would have knocked Dani back to sixth instead of fourth. The way it turned out, I'd say we were very lucky to come in at three and four. We lost because we just weren't able to advance after Jorge started doing times that were way faster than we could have forecast. In the championship ranking, Jorge is now eight points ahead of Casey and 25 ahead of Dani. It's a tough position, but I'm very grateful to our riders who are hanging in there and keeping us in the game.
Yes, in that sense we had a chance to win this one. However, as I've said many times, the changed weight due to the new regulations has prevented us fixing the problem with chatter that has been troubling us since last year. And this year, not only do we have no advantage over the competition, I think you could actually say they have the edge in speed. Even so, Casey won both Spain and Portugal for us, and Dani was on the podium every time until now. It's purely the efforts of our riders that have brought us this far, and I think the result of this race shows clearly where we need to improve things.
We were able to do two types of test on the new spec swing arm, designed to stop the chattering. However, our time for testing was very limited so we'll have to wait until the next round of tests to confirm that the results we got are in fact correct. So really I couldn't say we are making very good progress at all with the new parts. It's our riders keeping us in there, and we hope that will give us time to put together a winning bike for them, but the weather really hasn't been on our side. It's very frustrating – we've got these parts ready, but we can't get on with the testing.
Two wins after four races. That's the same position we were in last season, when we had a big advantage with the bikes, so I think we are doing quite well, considering. With Casey and Dani we've got two strong riders, both potential winners, so basically our feeling is to simply aim to win every race. The problem is the bikes aren't right yet. We're still doing everything we can, hoping our riders will soon be able to tell us "now we have a winning machine." Stefan Bradl finished fifth here, his best result yet. He couldn't keep the pace up in the later laps, but it was a very good race for a rookie. Alvaro Bautista showed us how well he can ride in practice and qualifying, and it was a pity he was kept back in the race by a misted visor, due to heat from inside his chest guard rising past his collar. We have four excellent riders on our Honda bikes, and plenty of time yet to get out on top.
He had pretty much made his decision to retire before the start of the season. I think it was good for him to get out there in front of everyone and make it official – he can put it behind him now, relax and get on with trying to win. That's how I feel about it. I also think it will give him fresh motivation – I'm sure he really wants to win his final season and end his career still champion. So I think he'll be pushing himself even harder than before. And of course, that spurs us to give him the very best support we can. The next race will be held on Dani's home circuit. In every race, we aim for a one-two Honda finish, whether it's Dani-Casey or Casey-Dani. That's what we got in qualifying this time, and I'm hoping for it in the race next time. We'll be needing the support of all our fans even more from now on.