Max Biaggi's first season as a Honda RCV rider came to a disappointing end as the double 2003 race winner limped home in fourth place at Valencia - after suffering from a lack of engine braking.

With the introduction of four-strokes, most riders and teams initially struggled to control the braking effect caused by the engine when the throttle is closed, but Biaggi's problem was the opposite - the engine wasn't slowing the rear wheel enough, forcing him to use the front brake more and eventually destroy his Michelin as a result.

"I wanted to close the season on the podium, but it was impossible," sighed Max. "I got to the finish with the front tyre nearly destroyed - there was nothing wrong with the tyre - but without engine braking I had to use the front brake much more. I hope that this problem, which we have been experiencing since I had the new bike configuration, is solved in time for next season."

The Roman has even more reason than usual to want next year's RC211V to be to his liking, since with Valentino Rossi leaving Honda - and expected to sign for Biaggi's former employer's Yamaha - the four-times 250cc world champion will probably never have a better chance to claim his first premier-class crown.

This year, Biaggi found himself on one of three customer spec RCVs, along with class rookies Makoto Tamada and Ryuichi Kiyonari. These were effectively 2002 machines which were upgraded in a pre-arranged pattern throughout the season, in other words Biaggi's numerous pole positions, podiums and double race wins counted for nothing in terms of getting new parts.

However, the main problem seemed to stem from the lack of time they had to understand these parts, rather than any general performance disadvantage: The Pons team would typically be handed Biaggi's alloted developments (updated chassis, engine, slipper clutch etc) on a Friday, then have to race with them on Sunday.

Despite this slight handicap, and slipping from second in the 2002 championship standings to third this year, Biaggi declared his decision to return to Honda was the right one - and now just wants equal Honda equipment for all in 2004... well to start with anyway.

"I have been happy with Honda and knew this year would be hard," he said. "I am ready for next season, where I hope all Honda riders will start in the same conditions."

Team owner Sito Pons swapped Loris Capirossi and Alex Barros for Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa at the beginning of this year, and while full HRC rider Ukawa was never able to repeat his 2002 performances with the Repsol team, Pons was delighted with Biaggi's achievements.

"We have won two races, scored nine podium finishes and Max has been decisive in helping Camel Pramac Pons to the runner-up spot in the world championship for teams," enthused Sito. "My hope is that we improve on these results next year and that we win the world championship together."

Ukawa has announced he will reluctantly be retiring from MotoGP to become a HRC test rider in 2004 - he could well be replaced in the Pons team by the Honda and Pramac backed Makoto Tamada.

However, the exact details of the deal, including the complex issue of grid places (Camel Pramac Pons and Pramac Honda are two different, independent, teams) and tyre choice (Pons run Michelin, Pramac Bridgestone) remains unresolved.

Meanwhile, Honda have stated that they will scrap the customer and factory spec system in 2004, and that all six RCVs will start near identical - although the factory Repsol team is still expected to receive new parts first as the season goes on.

This is something the likes of Telefonica and Camel Pons are keen to change - they'd like the new parts to go to whoever's leading Honda's challenge, regardless of team.



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