Hiroshi Aoyama's 250 World Championship has not brought the Japanese rider much luck. Aoyama gained his promotion to the MotoGP class on the back of his 250 crown, and he started the season well, but a brutal highside at Silverstone, in which he fractured a vertebra, put a halt to his progress. And it seems like he will not get a second chance, for the Italian magazine Motosprint is reporting that the Interwetten team is to pull out of MotoGP for next season. According to Motosprint, team boss Daniel Epp acknowledged that he would not have the sponsorship to run a MotoGP team in 2011, and have been forced to withdraw to focus on their 125 and Moto2 efforts.
The withdrawal hardly comes as a surprise, as the team has struggled all year financially. Aoyama's injury did not help the team's fortunes, and the failure of Alex de Angelis to perform in MotoGP - a real surprise, given the Italian's strong rides last year with the Gresini Honda squad - pushed the team all the way to the edge. With Aoyama still not able to ride the bike completely naturally due to upper body weakness in the region of his injury, the team has reached the end of the line. Interwetten, the betting giant behind the team, has reportedly told Epp they will not fund the MotoGP effort for next year.
Much of the problem is down to the size of the budgets required to run a MotoGP team: Apart from the travel (expensive enough as it is), the salaries and the compulsory luxury hospitality suite - you have to have somewhere to entertain the guests and sponsors who are funding the team - the lease price is what makes MotoGP so expensive. Hard numbers are impossible to obtain, but it is generally agreed that a one-rider MotoGP team costs in the region of 4-5 million euros to run, the bulk of which goes towards leasing the bike. Included in the price is an electronics engineer whose job it is to watch over the bike, two racing machines, and a limited number of spares, with each crash adding to the cost in extra spares. That level of spending is very difficult to sustain, especially when the toughness of the competition means results are hard to come by, regular top 10s the best you can hope for.
Interwetten's pull out leaves Hiroshi Aoyama without a ride for 2011, but it also leaves MotoGP's organizers Dorna with another headache. After Ducati was persuaded to run to an extra bike to allow Czech rider Karel Abraham - currently riding an FTR in Moto2 - to move up to MotoGP, it looked like the grid would be back up to 18 riders for next season. Hardly a respectable number, but better than the traumatic low of 17 this season. With the Interwetten Honda team out, and no other team ready to step in and take over their place, the grid is back down to just 17 bikes, and almost automatic points for every rider who finishes.
The bad news could get worse for Dorna, though, once Suzuki makes up its mind what it is going to do. Senior management from the Hamamatsu factory was due to meet with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, but that meeting was delayed until after the race. No news has come out of the Rizla Suzuki camp since then, but team boss Paul Denning had already told the media he expected to be able to announce his plans for 2011 at Sepang. The fear is that Suzuki will drop one bike for next season, and field only Alvaro Bautista, who the team has under contract for 2011. Loris Capirossi has made no secret of his intention to switch to the Pramac Ducati squad, and despite rumors of big money offers to Toni Elias and Randy de Puniet, the possibility exists that Suzuki could run just a single bike next season, cutting the grid even further, to just 16 bikes.
The only counter to this threat is the fear of financial punishment, something that Carmelo Ezpeleta made abundantly clear to the factories on a tour of the Japanese manufacturers after Kawasaki had pulled out in January 2009. The manufacturers, assembled in the MSMA, have a contract with Dorna to supply bikes to the teams, and in return, the factories get to make the technical rules. That contract runs out at the end of 2011, making it probably cheaper for Suzuki to field a low-effort two-rider team for 2011 and then pull out for 2012, rather than withdraw early and face the financial wrath of Dorna.
Salvation for Dorna may come from the company's home, in the form of the Spanish Inmotec outfit. The tiny Spanish engineering firm has been working on its 800cc MotoGP bike for some time now, and they brought the bike to Aragon to show it off - though only stationary on a platform, not in motion on the track. According to the well-informed Spanish website Motoworld.es, Inmotec is in talks with the Moto2 BQR team about running the Inmotec V4 machine in MotoGP next season. Inmotec had planned to enter the bike themselves next season, but so far, they have found it difficult to raise the sponsorship necessary to race. Motoworld is reporting that BQR may have the sponsor, which would allow BQR to run the team, leaving Inmotec free to concentrate on developing the bike.
Just how competitive the bike will be is completely unknown, but given the difficulties even a company with the long and glorious racing history of Suzuki has in managing the electronics to keep the bike competitive, that has to be a problem for Inmotec. Added to that is the fact that the formula changes for 2012, with a return to 1000cc bikes on the cards, leaving Inmotec having done a lot of work for a single season. The current goal for the Spanish manufacturer is to be present at the post-race tests in Valencia, but having missed earlier goals - a wildcard at Barcelona, then a demonstration at Aragon - doubt remains over whether they will make that deadline.