Jorge Lorenzo's huge engine blow-up during qualifying at the Sachsenring showed the extent to which manufacturers are finding the limits with engine life, but Yamaha's problems are nothing compared to Suzuki's. The Rizla Suzuki riders are heading rapidly towards the end of their allocation of six engines to last the season, with Alvaro Bautista already having taken his 5th engine so far, while Loris Capirossi is nearing that moment very quickly. After just 8 of the 18 races, it is clear that there is no way that Suzuki is going to make it through to the end of the season without taking a penalty.
According to Motorcycle News' Matt Birt, the pressure on Suzuki is about to be eased. MCN is reporting that the manufacturers have agreed to give Suzuki an extra three engines per rider, to ensure they make it to the end of the year without incurring a penalty. To take such a penalty once - starting from pit lane 10 seconds after the rest of the field have started - might have been overlooked, but Suzuki was on schedule to have one of their riders starting from pit lane almost every race from Indianapolis onwards. With an allocation of nine engines instead of six, MotoGP's smallest and least well-funded factory has a chance to make it to Valencia without being forced to use engines outside of the imposed limits.
That Suzuki should be allowed to disregard the engine is remarkable to say the least. According to MCN, the move came as part of an unwritten understanding among the manufacturers agreed at the start of the season that Suzuki would be given special dispensation to run more motors if they got into trouble during the season. But the special allowance for Suzuki raises a number of troubling questions about the rule and about the series.
The special dispensation for Suzuki is clearly an attempt to keep Suzuki on board in MotoGP. At Barcelona, Suzuki team boss Paul Denning had talked about the need to do extra testing, but extra testing would also have incurred a penalty. Suzuki's presence in MotoGP has long been tenuous, the Hamamatsu firm investing just enough to participate, but never enough to be truly competitive in the four-stroke era. If Suzuki had not been allowed extra engines, it is conceivable that the company would have given consideration to pulling out of MotoGP altogether.
Should they decide to do so, such a move is likely to come at the end of 2011, after the agreement between the MSMA and Dorna runs out. They could conceivably decide to pull out at the end of this season, but after Kawasaki withdrew from MotoGP at the end of 2008, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta flew to Japan and had a number of meetings with the boards of the Japanese manufacturers, in which he set out in detail just what the agreement between the MSMA and Dorna meant, and what consequences breaking the agreement might have. Suzuki would be little better off if they did withdraw, and consequently are likely to stay through 2011.
But the decision to allow Suzuki more engines is unlikely to go down well with the rest of the paddock. Suzuki have faced sustained criticisms from other manufacturers, team managers and riders for only fielding two bikes throughout the four-stroke era, while other manufacturers are running four or more. Suzuki's current predicament is at least in part due to their decision to run just two bikes, as the complaints from the team about the lack of testing can testify. If Suzuki had been running four bikes instead of two for the last couple of years, the amount of data the engineers have to work with would have been much greater, making it easier to find solutions to the GSV-R's reliability problems.
Riders for the satellite teams are likely to be the worst affected though. Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider Colin Edwards has been particularly vocal about the consequences the engine rule is having for the satellite Yamaha, and the knowledge that Bautista and Capirossi are getting extra engines is unlikely to improve his mood. The engine rules are already unpopular among the riders, and the arbitrary application of the rules is likely only to increase their dissatisfaction. It is already extremely difficult to explain the current set of rules to a casual fan, but if Suzuki get extra engines, it will become nigh on impossible.