almost everything is decided in advance. A clear direction, a clear commitment
and a clear idea put into practice are key components in an overtaking manoeuvre, a successful race
strategy and an entire MotoGP season.
Unfortunately for some, in the current economic
climate long-term forward planning just isn't possible.
This is the position in which Suzuki find
themselves now, with uncertainty surrounding their plans for 2012. The season
has just over a month to run, and the MotoGP team are waiting on word from Japan.
MotoGP's off-seasons have consistently been winters
of discontent for the past few years, as big name sponsors and factories have
deemed that the circus is not cost-effective enough for their aims. Fiat, Camel
and Konica have exited stage left as title sponsors for successful teams, and
the absence of investors has been more evident than ever this year.
The problem screams out even from the front of
the grid: the MotoGP world champion and his team cannot find a sponsor, and
there are some big spaces on Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha for all the Twitter
advertisements that he desires. That's somewhat more than 140 characters.
Rights holders Dorna have stepped in and
stumped up the cash in the past, and CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta knows what having
another full-time team in the series is worth. When the situation becomes more
worrying is when the factories start dropping out.
Kawasaki's withdrawal at the end of 2008 was
MotoGP's biggest financial wake-up call to date. One minute they were preparing
for 2009 with their best rider combination to date, the next the aspirations of
P1s were changed to acceptance of P45s. Crisis talks in Japan led to the Hayate
compromise (now there's a name for a spy thriller) and a departure from 800cc
competition before last season that left a sour taste in the mouth.
Suzuki were widely tipped to be next to go.
Their problems were of the same pedigree as those of Kawasaki: Middling team, distant factory-team
relationship and a lack of returns on their investment.
Their WRC withdrawal has served as a warning
that Suzuki are capable of the decision to pull the plug on their sporting
operations, but for the moment their MotoGP project has been saved. Extra
engines, an exception to the rookie rule and permission to run just the one
bike this year have at least guaranteed some presence for the baby blue GSV-R
in the premier class.
The Japanese Grand Prix is a convenient moment
for the various parties to discuss a future on which not even the manufacturer
has a clear idea. Will Suzuki run a 1000cc bike with the rest of the field?
Will they start with the 800cc and then make a switch? Will they be gone
The biggest concern, though, is not the
decision itself. It's the timescale given for one of the hardest working teams
in MotoGP to plan ahead. If the nod arrives from Japan too late, it may be impossible
to get a competitive package together.
First on the checklist is Alvaro Bautista, who
is out of contract at the end of the year. The rider is treading the fine line
between showing the potential of the GSV-R and putting himself further forward
in the shop window with his improved performances in 2011, attracting interest
from his old Aspar Team, Tech 3 and LCR.
I asked Team Manager, Paul Denning, this past
week if he was worried about losing Bautista, and his answer was an honest
admission: "Yes, but unfortunately we cannot move any faster than Suzuki's
internal decision making will allow us."
It would be a pity for the partnership to come
to an end, as Bautista has only now begun to find the kind of pace of which
everyone knew he was capable.
"We're focusing less on Alvaro being
consistent, as we had to when he was recovering from injury, and more on
getting better speed from him and the bike on new tyres - i.e. better
qualifying and better initial speed in the early laps of the race," said
Denning on this newfound closeness to podium speed being put down by a now-fit
Bautista. Suzuki were in a similar state at the end of 2006, and were
tremendously successful in 2007 as a result.
Suzuki are waiting on the Japanese verdict,
before the end of 2011, and then will be able to put the wheels in motion both
on-track and off. As well as trying to retain Bautista, they will be trying to
continue the relationship with title sponsor Rizla that is set to come to an
end at Valencia.
Expect a decision shortly, and hopefully then
Suzuki can replicate or better their 2007 season with a late start, a strong
adaptation to a new engine capacity and added competition at the sharp end of
For now though, Denning sums up the uncertainty
with the only concrete fact:
"A lot of people are asking about next
year. As far as I know, it'll be 2012."