Uncertainty continues to cloud Kawasaki's future in MotoGP. Despite the official announcement on January 9th that Kawasaki would be withdrawing factory support from MotoGP, rumors continue to rumble on that there will be Kawasakis on the grid when the season starts, with some sort of private team structure running the bikes.
These rumors have been fueled by the private test currently underway at Eastern Creek in Australia. Test riders Olivier Jacque and Tamaki Serizawa are continuing work on the 2009 version of Kawasaki's ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP bike, lapping the track on Friday and Saturday. The official MotoGP.com website has video of the bike being tested, and is adamant that the bike will be run by a private team in the coming season.
Indeed, this is what Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is working towards. In an interview with the Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport, Ezpeleta stated that a private team structure was almost ready to go, the only problem being the question of building new engines and developing the bike. Kawasaki told Dorna that they only have enough engines for a quarter of the season, and no money to develop the bike. But the Spaniard had a solution for that to: Ezpeleta had found an engineering facility in France that is willing to take on the work from Kawasaki, build engines and continue development of the ZX-RR.
The only stumbling block is that Kawasaki have to accept these conditions and agree to turn the bikes over to the French firm. In exchange for this, and allowing the bikes to run during 2009, Ezpeleta told Gazzetta dello Sport, Dorna would be willing to allow Kawasaki to withdraw from the contract they have with the MSMA to run bikes through 2011.
The alternative is to sort the case out in the courts. Ezpeleta made it perfectly clear: "If they don't run the bikes, I'll take them to court." A court case - most likely to be held in the Spanish courts, as the country where Dorna is based - would be both expensive and raise unwelcome publicity for Kawasaki, but it is potentially even more dangerous for Dorna.
Though Dorna is a relatively wealthy organization, its financial resources - and therefore its legal recourse - is dwarfed in comparison with the multi-billion dollar giant that is Kawasaki Heavy Industries. The Japanese firm is likely to attempt to crush Dorna, and spend its way, if not to victory, then at least to a stalemate.
But even if Dorna were to win such an action, the damage could prove potentially fatal. The immediate problem would be that Kawasaki would simply refuse to participate in any Dorna-organized racing series again, seriously weakening those series. But it would also make the other manufacturers think twice about their contracts and relationship with Dorna. If the manufacturers believe that their freedom to act is too severely restrained - and therefore potentially very expensive - more of them may choose simply not to play along.
MotoGP cannot afford to lose another manufacturer. Court cases against factories that leave the series are likely to make them think long and hard about racing with an organization that saddles them with huge legal fees. Ironically, the steps with Dorna is taking to protect MotoGP in the short term may end up fatally wounding it in the long term. When contracts come up for renewal in 2011, the factories will be a good deal less willing to play along with Dorna.