To paraphrase a great Irish wit, to lose one manufacturer may be regarded as a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness. After the dramatic withdrawal of Kawasaki from MotoGP, rumors persist that Suzuki is to follow. MotoGPMatters.com has now been passed on this rumor from three independent sources, two of which are inside the Japanese motorcycle industry, and it is starting to look less and less far-fetched.
The problem is, all that we have heard so far are the five chilling words "Suzuki is out of MotoGP," without any further details being provided. As a result, it is hard to say just how much credence we should attach to this story, but there are good reasons to consider it within the realms of the possible.
Firstly, there has still been no confirmation of Rizla extending their contract with the MotoGP team. The Dutch manufacturer of cigarette papers has already announced that it won't be sponsoring the BSB Suzuki team, which is also managed by Paul Denning, the manager of the MotoGP team. Even if Rizla are still interested, the amount involved is - in MotoGP terms - negligible. Indeed, the Rizla deal angered many inside the MotoGP paddock, as the sum involved - low seven figures, to include sponsoring the BSB team - is only about 5% of what would be needed to run the entire program for a year. A title sponsor, so the argument ran, should cover a big chunk of the teams fees, as Repsol does for Honda, Marlboro does for Ducati and Fiat does for Yamaha.
What's more, the Suzuki corporation is in serious financial problems. The company was forced to buy back its own stock from General Motors, as the US giant battled to stave off bankruptcy. At the time, Suzuki CEO Osamu Suzuki said the buyback would have no impact on current projects, but US$230 million is a lot of money to spend for little return in times of financial crisis. The company has already announced its decision to pull of of the World Rally Championship for next season, citing the contraction of automotive sales.
Murmurs of a Suzuki withdrawal have surfaced several times over the past few weeks, and each time, they have been met by denial. Loris Capirossi's manager Carlo Pernat told Gazzetto dello Sport that it was "150% certain" that Capirossi would be racing with Suzuki in 2009, pointing to the fact that Capirex has a contract with Suzuki - just as John Hopkins and Marco Melandri did with Kawasaki.
And Suzuki's MotoGP team manager Paul Denning told Motorcycle News in December that he believed the team's future was secure in MotoGP, though the precise phrase he used was "At this time we have got no indication that there is any change to our programme for next year."
But the rumors of a Suzuki pullout remain just that, rumors. They could be the consequence of miscommunication or mixups, with the names of Kawasaki and Suzuki being accidentally interchanged in gossip during a business lunch. But the rumors are unpleasantly persistent.
UPDATE FROM SUZUKI
When the Suzuki press office returned our calls, they told us that as far as they were concerned, they were expecting to go racing in 2009 as planned, with Loris Capirossi and Chris Vermeulen. Asked about progress on the Rizla sponsorship deal, they also said that there was no news yet, but they were still in discussions with Rizla.