I awoke yesterday morning to find that the internet was awash with rumours that Suzuki will be pulling out of MotoGP at the end of the 2022 season. Some 24 hours or so later the rumours have not been confirmed by either Suzuki or DORNA, the governing body of MotoGP.
Given that the team is in the middle of one of its best racing patches for some years, the timing seems to be perplexing to say the least. And given that Suzuki has only recently renewed its contract with DORNA to ensure its continued participation in the series, it seems doubly strange.
Quite often it only takes one rumour to spark a rash of them and, while this hasn’t happened in this case, one rumour that is equally strange is that Suzuki are about to drop its range of sportsbikes altogether. The discontinuation of the 1000cc bike is not especially surprising as the model will not meet the new Euro5 emissions regulations but dropping their whole sportsbike range? That does seem a bit extreme.
However, let’s look at it in a bit more detail. Firstly, Suzuki’s on-again-off-again participation in the top motorcycle racing formulas is not new. The current iteration of MotoGP machines is, for example, Suzuki’s third tilt at the top GP formula going all the way back to the mid-1970s with Barry Sheene et al. And, in each case, their departure was equally precipitate and surprising.
Suzuki had a red-hot setup in WSBK for a few years but no longer participates. You would think that the “win on Sunday – sell on Monday” mantra would particularly apply here but, apparently, it doesn’t.
The bottom line is, of course, money. As the next-to-smallest of the Japanese factories, Suzuki’s racing budget has always been dwarfed by those of Honda and Yamaha and, latterly, Ducati. And, with global markets turning away from hard-core sportsbikes, Suzuki is in a position of racing in a formula that brings them no financial benefit. Add to this the fact that the MotoGP team has no major corporate sponsor, it’s not hard to see the bean counters back in Japan getting antsy.
Livio Suppo was brought into the team with the brief of cutting costs (I mean, how silly, how can you cut costs in a multi-million dollar enterprise?) but that was never going to work. Syd Fischer the Australian ocean sailor once said that ocean yacht racing was like standing in a cold shower tearing up $100 bills. Every time one of those million dollar race bikes skids down the track and into the kitty litter, the accountants at Hammamatsu cringe. And, even if the weekend goes by without significant crash damage, the expenses of running the team are exorbitant. Just the hospitality tent costs millions.
Of course, even the RUMOUR of a possible departure from the “circus” has brought a terse and rapid response from DORNA. A reminder to Suzuki of the terms of their contract and a warning of the possible severe consequences they may face if they choose to try and break that contract has been already delivered.
So, let’s say they DO leave, where does it leave the rest of the paddock? Surprisingly, it shouldn’t really have too much of an effect. Aprilia have been angling for a satellite team for some years now so they will take Suzuki’s grid spots. Joan Mir, who should already BE at Honda except for the fact that Honda was too slow when he became available, will take Pol Espargaro’s place at Honda. Rins will go to Yamaha and take the spot of the least well performing Yamaha pilot, the rest will be shuffled around accordingly. My guess is that Dovi will be the one to go to make room for Alex and Vinales will be shuffled either down to the satellite Aprilia team or out the door altogether to make room for Pol. What price the Asparagus brothers ending up racing in the same team?
There are certainly interesting times ahead. In this game rumours are usually based on fact but I do stress that, while the rumour appears to have lots of support, neither party has yet confirmed it, wouldn’t it be hilarious if the whole thing turned out to be a furphy?