The exaggerated hum in the lead-up to the official test at Jerez came from BMW Motorrad president Hendrik von Kuenheim, who told the official MotoGP website that the German brand was still exploring the possibility of a full-scale grand prix operation in the future.
Now, a lot can change in the space of a year - but the fact is that joining the premier class as a factory team comes with paradoxes: being an official team is as elitist as ever, but also holds less prestige than at any time in the past decade.
With Honda, Yamaha and Ducati the only full factory bikes on the grid this year and a plan clearly in place to reduce factory influence via the presence of CRT, why would anyone want to come in and throw big money at what organisers intend to become an anachronism on two wheels?
BMW would certainly be judged by the standards of the aforementioned factory trio; keeping up with the CRT bikes would not be viewed as a success by any means.
The BMW S1000RR has spent the past three seasons competing in World Superbike and Endurance World Championship as a factory bike, with modest success in both series. Relatively competitive from the start in WSBK, BMW decided to make a large investment in order to push for the title in EWC last year and managed a first win at Albacete. The BMW Motorrad France 99 team, run by former Kawasaki and current Marc VDS team manager Michael Bartholemy, only missed out on becoming world champions at the final race of the year.
However, the German factory aren’t quite there yet in road racing’s second biggest series and haven’t been on the top step of the World Superbike rostrum to date. This is the same competition that Aprilia came into with a completely new bike and were immediately one of the teams to beat. The same competition from which Ducati withdrew their factory support -despite their status as the top manufacturer in production bike history.
They came close to signing the reigning world champion for this season and have brought in proven race-winner Marco Melandri for 2012, but attracting top riders to a potentially average team is a little different in MotoGP. Melandri would most likely not fancy taking the project to grand prix racing for another average year, having had his fingers burnt on too many occasions.
Forgive my negativity, but another big issue is the lack of reward for big investment. “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday” is an outdated concept in prototype racing that has been replaced by “Win on Sunday, attract sponsors for next season”. Jorge Lorenzo won the WORLD TITLE in 2010 and the next season Yamaha were without a sponsor for their factory team. That was a real eye-opener for the manufacturers, as the second most marketable rider in MotoGP was unable to up profits - offset by Yamaha not having to outlay money on Rossi’s huge wages when the Italian departed for Ducati - for his team.
There will be a BMW on the grid this year, run by Suter in their CRT project. A factory effort would be a riskier venture altogether –