Top 15 Stories of 2013, Number 8: Suzuki Postpones MotoGP Return Until 2015
by staff
Friday, January 03, 2014
For the brand's fans, a return by Suzuki to MotoGP can't happen fast enough. The reality is that it will have to wait until 2015.
image by DFA

Editor's Note: This is a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2013, as determined by the Soup staff.

The question for Suzuki by spring 2013 was when, not if.

Suzuki was developing a MotoGP prototype in 2012 with which it would return to the premier class for the first time since withdrawing after the 2011 season, citing the worldwide economic meltdown. Kawasaki and Suzuki ultimately left the series with Kawasaki vowing never to return after being threatened with a lawsuit by Dorna. Suzuki though was ready for a comeback.

Suzuki tested its bike in its native Japan many times in 2012, leading to widespread speculation the manufacturer would return with a works team as early as 2014.

Then Suzuki MotoGP test team manager Davide Brivio dropped a bomb in June 2013: Suzuki would return to the premier class - in 2015.

The announcement caused many MotoGP observers and fans to scratch their heads. Suzuki made no secret it was interested in a comeback, with some media even inhaling the Suzuki corporate PR and incorrectly listing the company's withdrawal after the 2011 season as a "suspension of activity" instead of an exit.

Plus Suzuki had made good progress with the development of its successor to the GSX-R, now an in-line four after a decade of V4 power. The bike looked good, and test rider Randy de Puniet was just .772 of a second behind the Yamaha M1 of Jorge Lorenzo during Suzuki's first test with future MotoGP rivals in June at Barcelona on the same day Brivio announced the delayed return.

So what was behind the holdup?

Brivio said Suzuki wanted more time to develop its machine to compete with the technological and performance might of Japanese rivals Honda and Yamaha. In particular, Suzuki wanted to spend more time tweaking its bike to work with the Dorna-spec Magneti Marelli electronic control unit after spending plenty of time and money in 2012 and early 2013 developing a Mitsubishi black box and software.

But there probably were two unspoken reasons behind the decision to wait until 2015.

One, the worldwide economy is still healing. Suzuki took a beating in the Great Global Recession of 2009, and executives at the board level waited until this year - more than a year after development started on the bike - to finally approve the effort to return to MotoGP. It's presumed those suits would like to see more black numbers in the corporate ledger before committing to a money-inhaling MotoGP program.

Two, 2014 is an off-sequence year for elite riders' contracts. Current factory riders Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez and Andrea Dovizioso all are in the final year of their contracts in the upcoming season and wouldn't have been available for Suzuki to tempt.

All five riders will be on the open market for 2015 this spring and summer. It's very unlikely Suzuki's immature technical package and tight purse strings will lure Lorenzo or Marquez away from Yamaha or Honda, respectively. And Rossi has said he wants to stay at Yamaha if he continues his career past 2014. Rossi also remains haunted from two fruitless years of development in 2011-12 at Ducati, so it's very unlikely even a contract matching the GDP of a Third World nation could attract him to Suzuki.

But Pedrosa could be in play if HRC finally decides he's not going to win a world title after nine seasons with Repsol Honda. Dovizioso might be scarred from his technological nightmare at Ducati like Rossi, but Suzuki could be the next-best and most lucrative stop for him if he chooses to leave Borgo Panigale.

And then there is the very credible story that Suzuki's postponement came at the hands of Dorna. In fact the postponement news came directly after a meeting with Dorna's Carmelo Ezpeleta.


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