Sources in the mainstream sports media in Italy are reporting that the on-again-off-again saga that is Kawasaki is sort of on again. According to both Tuttosport and Sportmediaset, Marco Melandri will be riding a privately run Kawasaki, in a team led by Michael Bartholemy. The deal is said to have been put together by Dorna, in the person of CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, who has been in constant negotiation with Kawasaki since the news broke.
Details of the deal are somewhere between sketchy and nonexistent, but the deal seems to be that Kawasaki will make all of the 2009-spec bikes available to Michael Bartholemy, and the Belgian team manager will field a single rider in the person of Marco Melandri. Shortly after the news broke that Kawasaki would be withdrawing from MotoGP, the factory said that it had enough bikes and parts to last approximately a quarter of a season, and so presumably, this would be enough to run a single rider for at least half a season, perhaps a little longer if the practice restrictions are pushed through as expected.
Finance for the project will most likely come from Dorna - presumably in fear of breaching their own contract with the FIM to field at least 18 riders for a world championship - possibly with some seed money from Kawasaki, to buy out their remaining contract, which committed them to race in MotoGP until 2011. Melandri would presumably be riding the 2009-spec bikes tested by Olivier Jacque in Australia during January, despite reports of poor reliability. And maintenance and - speculatively - engine development could be done by the French company Solution F, as reported by GPOne.com in January.
There is still reason to doubt the story, however. Firstly, the source is the overly excitable Italian sports press, which operates in a cutthroat environment where scoops are more important than careful and thorough reporting. Secondly, Melandri's decision would seem to contradict his earlier statements that he was not interested in racing just to "make up the numbers." By all accounts, and all logic, that's exactly what he would be doing if he rode the Kawasaki MotoGP bike.
What's more, there's good reason to doubt the wisdom of the decision to keep Kawasaki in at any cost. As we have pointed out before, trying to keep the corpse of a dead manufacturer in MotoGP would be a much worse idea than helping to find money to bring back a company like Ilmor. The Kawasaki is only destined to get worse over the season. With new money, at least Ilmor would actually develop the bike.