Honda rider standings after 7 rounds, 14 races

Jonathan Rea - Castrol Honda - 8th Ruben Xaus - Castrol Honda - 16th Fabrizio Lai - Echo CRS Honda - 28th

After an indifferent 2010 World Superbike season, Honda came into 2011 with renewed confidence, outwardly expressed by the return of title sponsor Castrol, which lent an iconic moniker and look for the manufacturer.

Unfortunately, a stylish livery and fond memories do not alone translate to race results and Honda have found itself struggling against some accomplished competition this year with the increasingly dated CBR1000RR.

With the team spearheaded once more by Jonathan Rea, who after some deliberation this time last year decided to put pen to paper, the Ulsterman has fought through gritted teeth at times this season, though the rewards have been fleeting.

Injuries at the top of the season didn't aid his cause, but Rea has struggled to turn this year's bike into a consistent front runner. Indeed, save for his fine victory at Assen - a circuit familiar to Rea and the Ten Kate team -, the seven-time race winner has been unable to break into the top three.

His arm break at Misano is another setback for the youngster's confidence, but while he may be tempted to consider 2011 a write-off, it is unlikely he will give anything less than full effort when he does return.

A few eyebrows were raised by Ruben Xaus was named as Rea's team-mate, the Spaniard landing a high-profile seat despite a fairly average two seasons with BMW. Unfortunately, the former WSBK runner-up has done little to silence the cynics and has been consistently the slowest of full-time factory-nominated riders this season.

Experience has enabled him to finish most races, but in terms of raw pace, Xaus has barely cracked the top ten all season. In his defence, the Honda hasn't been kind to many in the past - Max Neukirchner, Kenan Sofuoglu, even Carlos Checa at times -, but it seems unlikely at this stage that Xaus will get another chance.

Perhaps the most obvious measure of Honda's dwindling reputation as a WSBK superpower is represented by its lack of satellite representation on the grid.

Only Echo CRS, who raced full-time in 2010, has added to the Honda ranks this season with a single outing for Fabrizio Lai at Monza. Only two years ago were there six full-time CBR1000RRs on the grid...