Suzuki has had a difficult time in MotoGP. The team has built up a reputation for signing promising riders who never manage to make the big breakthrough into the very top flight of MotoGP. First came John Hopkins, signed after a very brief stint at WCM Yamaha, after racing Formula Xtreme and Supersport in the AMA. Hopkins has been on the verge of a major breakthrough almost all of his career, but has never quite managed to get a win. A lot of this may be put down to the lack of competitiveness of the Suzuki throughout the years, but that still leaves Hopper without a win.
Chris Vermeulen is a similar case. Signed after the Australian came up just short of the World Superbike title, despite a brilliant year on the Ten Kate Honda Fireblade, choosing to join a factory team instead of waiting for another year in World Superbikes looked like a smart move on Vermeulen's part. And unlike Hopkins, Vermeulen has managed to get a win, at Le Mans in 2007 in the pouring rain.
Despite Vermeulen's victory, the first ever for Suzuki in the four-stroke era, his results continue to be a mixed bag. Qualifying has always been a weakness for Vermeulen, as has his starts. Once underway, the Australian's lap times are often among the fastest in the field, but with a big group of riders to fight his way through, the front runners are too far gone for him to catch.
With the rumored imminent arrival of Ben Spies in the Suzuki camp, and Loris Capirossi settling in well in his new team, Vermeulen's position at Suzuki is looking less and less certain. And it's not just Suzuki: Vermeulen's options inside MotoGP are also limited. His name has been linked to Kawasaki, to take over Ant West's position there, and seats are likely to be vacant at the Alice Ducati team next year - if that team can continue to attract sponsorship.
So it's hardly a surprise that rumors are starting to fly about Vermeulen examining options outside of MotoGP. The latest rumor comes from Visordown, which is reporting that Chris Vermeulen is being tipped as the replacement for Troy Bayliss in World Superbike. With Bayliss committed to retiring at the end of this year, Xerox Ducati need an experienced replacement to campaign their 1098R in World Superbikes. A host of names have been mentioned in connection with the seat, including Max Biaggi, Troy Corser, Ruben Xaus and even Alex Barros, but almost all of them have some kind of problem associated with them.
According to Visordown, the gossips in the World Superbike paddock were all saying that Vermeulen had all of the advantages of the other big names, with none of the downsides, which include difficult personal relationships, a reputation for prolific crashing, and advanced age. The only question open is whether Vermeulen, who turns 26 prior to this weekend's race at Donington, would be willing to return to Superbikes. A return to the production-based series would likely spell an end to his MotoGP career, and preclude coming back to the series at a later date. But the prospect of riding the bike likely to clinch the series this year must be very tempting indeed. But then, that's probably how Marco Melandri felt as well.