Marco Melandri knew when he signed the contract with Hayate that Kawasaki would only be doing limited development on the bike in 2009. Just how limited that development will be was revealed today by Matthew Birt on the Motorcycle News website. According to Birt, Kawasaki will cease development of the 2009 ZX-RR at the end of March, shortly after the IRTA test concludes at Jerez. From then on, the factory will provide a maintenance service only, with no more upgrades.
This will leave Melandri to contest the season basically on the same bike that he starts the season on. And given that at the Qatar test, the Hayate - one internet wag has taken to referring to it as the Hai-Karate bike, after a brand of cheap after shave popular in the 1970's - was three seconds off the pace, it looks like being a long and grim season for the Italian. So far, Melandri's impressions of the improvements made to the engine have been positive, but his biggest complaint was a lack of rear grip. As this problem has plagued the Kawasaki for the past two seasons, especially in 2008, the chances of Kawasaki finding a solution at Jerez look slim.
Melandri's best hope must be that the team can find a source of sponsorship, and use the funds to collaborate with a third-party company on developing the machine. Former GP factory Ilmor have expressed their interest in helping with development, and a French engineering firm has also been linked with the effort. As it stands, though, the Hai-Karate bike looks doomed to start at the rear of the field, and go backwards. It's going to be a long season for Marco Melandri.