If Marc Marquez's latest arm operation prevents him from taking part in the Sepang and Qatar tests, pre-season development of Honda's 2021 MotoGP machine will pass on to riders without a premier-class win.

A reshuffle to accommodate the arrival of Pol Espargaro at Repsol Honda will see this year's rookie Alex Marquez switch to LCR alongside Takaaki Nakagami, at the expense of Cal Crutchlow.

Nakagami finished as the top Honda rider this season and, if the #93 sits out testing, could play a key role for HRC in terms of pre-season development given his three years of experience with an RCV.

"I saw the news about Marc and I'm really sorry for him. I mean, I thought he would be ready for the 2021 season from the beginning. But looks difficult," Nakagami said.

"Still I have no information about the machine for the Sepang test. But anyway Pol is coming to Repsol and he has a lot of experience from KTM. He knows very well how to ride a MotoGP bike and I think he is able to adapt, switch to Honda's bike quite easily.

"But [at LCR] we are a satellite team so I don't know about parts. Of course we will have some new parts but I don’t know if it will be from the first day or last day. We need to discuss with HRC."

While special MotoGP cost-cutting rules in response to the Covid pandemic mean engine design cannot be changed for Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki and Ducati until the end of 2021, all other areas of the bike can be updated.

But before Nakagami can offer feedback for 2021, he needs to get up to speed with the standard 2020 bike, having spent last season on the 2019 version.

"First thing I need to understand is the potential of the '20 bike, because the engine character and braking is quite different. So we will start as standard and then develop the bike," said Nakagami, whose only laps on this year's machine came during September's Misano test.

"We will need to improve in many areas, but I think maybe keep focus on a little bit easier handling from corner to corner, because even the '19 was a bit tough physically. But the other parts, braking and [corner] exit, the Honda is really strong."

Nakagami netted promotion to the latest-spec RCV on the back of his best season in the premier-class, claiming a pole position and front-row starts on his way to tenth overall, but seeing several podium chances slip through his fingers.

Correcting that statistic will be his main target at round one of '21, laying the foundation for what he hopes will be a title challenge.

"It was a good season for me, of course I missed a first podium but we got pole position and front-row starts. A big step from last season. I'm happy," he said.

"Next season will be really important for my career and I would like to fight for the championship of course. Really necessary for Honda, also myself.

"I will try to improve, be consistent and fight for the championship and hopefully we can get very soon a first podium or even victory.

"So first target, in the first race in Qatar maybe, is to fight for the victory, be on the podium. This is the target to start the 2021 season."

'Marc [one] of my teachers. Whenever I see his data, it's really interesting'

A key factor in Nakagami's step forward was identifying how he could ride the RCV more like Marc Marquez.

It was made possible by overlaying his data with that of Marquez at the same circuit in 2019. The new back-to-back races also provided a further chance to try new ideas.

"Back-to-back races meant after a few days we were able to jump on the bike again at the same track and understand how to improve. It was really positive for me," Nakagami explained.

"After the first Jerez race we realised that I have to change the riding style. I tried to see Marc's data more deeply and pick up the most different points and it was on the braking.

"So I was trying to adapt a little bit to let's say Marc's style and it was working well. After Jerez 2 I felt that okay this is the style to ride the Honda."

Nakagami took a career-best fourth place at the second Jerez race and felt confident he had made a major breakthrough, but it wasn't that easy...

"Different tracks and corners were another story. At some we were able to feel the correct way, but others we really struggled to understand and do in Marc's style.

"But always at every track in my mind I tried to think about Marc's style. It was interesting. You could see the result; we went faster and faster."

Nakagami knows that the move to the newest bike for 2021 means data comparisons will also change.

"This season there was a lot of data from last season I could use. But for next season on the latest bike, for everyone it's the same.

"Anyway, I will keep in mind Marc's style and try to see Marc's data.

"For me, he's [one] of my teachers, it's really positive. Whenever I see his data it's really interesting."

It wasn't just data that helped Nakagami this year, the top Honda form also prompted increased HRC support.

"From Jerez 2 definitely I got a little bit more attention or support from the HRC side. It was the first time because we are not a factory team, we are a satellite team and also I used the previous bike so always the factory Repsol team and Cal [got the most attention].

"But it all depends on the results. This season I was able to fight for good results and after that HRC supported me more and we were able to try new parts during the season. So very important.

"Hopefully next season will be the same. Being competitive is the key point."

 

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