The Kawasaski saga rumbles on, and it seems to be drawing closer to a conclusion. And sadly for MotoGP and Kawasaki fans, it's looking more and more like the conclusion will be both literal and figurative.
Today, Michael Bartholemy is in Japan for talks with Kawasaki bosses about the level of support they can provide should the Belgian decide to try and run the Kawasaki ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP machines inside a private team structure. Previously, Kawasaki told Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta that they only had enough parts to see out 25% of the season, and would not be able to handle engine development or maintenance. But Bartholemy has stated that he has found a French company which could handle at least some of that work, though no specific companies have been mentioned. If he can persuade Kawasaki to hand over the entire MotoGP operation to this French company, then there is a possibility that the team could be saved.
But it is also clear that this is the final hope for seeing Kawasakis - or whatever they might end up being called - on the grid. Originally, Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, was linked with taking over the Kawasaki bikes. This would have been a viable option, as Martinez has proven time and time again that he is capable of raising sponsorship to cover the costs. His price, however, is that he runs a Spanish rider, as his sponsorship is almost invariably aimed at the Spanish domestic market.
Now though Carmelo Ezpeleta has confirmed to Motorcycle News what had been circulating for a while: the fact that Aspar was not interested in a deal with Kawasaki under the terms that Kawasaki was offering. The Spaniard had previously stated that he was only interested in a three-year deal which included guarantees that the bike would continue to be developed. But Ezpeleta today confirmed to MCN that that deal was off the table, and that Martinez was not interested in the deal as it stands.
Marco Melandri told the press earlier this week that he expected to hear the final outcome of the talks by January 31st. The chances of Melandri spending a year on the sidelines, watching a 17-bike grid are increasing almost daily.