In an excellent article on crash.net, Honda Repsol team manager Livio Suppo lays out the concerns of Honda with regard to the new Open category, particularly in light of Ducati’s switch to that category with its formerly Factory team.
In fact, I think Honda sees the writing on the wall. The Open category allows too many advantages, and Ducati’s impressive testing performance backs this up (take a look at the Phillip Island tire test results posted earlier today, and Ducati is just getting started). Moreover, the close relationship between Ducati and the Open spec software designer, Magneti Marelli, leads to speculation by Honda that Ducati has influenced the Open software package to the point where it is much closer to the quality of the Factory software. If you recall, this was the only advantage the Factory bikes had, i.e., development of superior software. Once that advantage disappears, the Open category will be not only superior from a performance perspective, but vastly superior. Honda can see this more clearly now, if you read Suppo’s comments carefully.
It makes perfect sense that a bike with 20 percent more fuel and software that is close to the Factory quality will be able to make significantly more horsepower, and deliver that power in a better manner for rider performance. This is without even mentioning the other Open class advantages, such as the softer Bridgestone rear tire specifically developed for the class, more than twice as many engines available to the category during the year (12 versus 5 for Factory bikes), and the ability to improve engine performance throughout the year (the Factory engines are locked as far as engine development is concerned once the season starts).
In my opinion, this will lead to Honda leaving MotoGP, either this year or the next. Honda has been clear from the beginning that it races in MotoGP primarily to develop software that will eventually trickle down to its production bikes. It is now clear that Dorna’s new rules put Honda and other Factory class bikes at a serious performance disadvantage simply for insisting on the development of their own software. When all incentive for proprietary software development has left the MotoGP championship, and it has, Honda will make plans to leave. Honda has said exactly that on more than one occasion.