It has been expected and even predicted for the past few months now, but it appears that the final confirmation is imminent. On Monday morning, web weekly GPWeek.com reported that Suzuki will not be racing in MotoGP in 2012. According to GPWeek's Michael Scott, Rizla Suzuki team members were informed by email last Friday that Suzuki would not be racing in 2012, but that work would continue on the 1000cc prototype with the hope of returning to the series in 2014.
Suzuki's withdrawal caps a 41-year career in MotoGP, starting with privateer entries back in 1971, which took the production T500 two-stroke twin and put it into a special chassis produced by Seeley - an eerie reminder of the CRT machines due to take the stage in MotoGP in 2012 - and running through world championships for Barry Sheene, Marco Lucchinelli, Franco Uncini, Kevin Schwantz and Kenny Roberts Junior. Suzuki's fortunes started to decline with the switch to the four-stroke MotoGP machines, the factory losing serious interest in the series over the past couple of years. Suzuki cut back to just a single machine for the 2011 season, ridden by Alvaro Bautista, and now they will be pulling out altogether.
An explanation for the withdrawal is yet to be given, but the problems appear to be at the senior management level. Though support for racing is still strong in both the marketing and Suzuki's - very small indeed - racing department, certain key figures on the Suzuki board are believed to be against the factory going racing. Recent reports in the German magazine Speedweek suggested that the opposition to racing came from the desire to buy back the 19.9% stake that Suzuki sold to Volkswagen back in 2009. A dispute has flared up over technology sharing between the two companies, and Suzuki is trying to extract itself from the deal. That would require a large amount of money to achieve - VW paid 1.7 billion euros for the stake in Suzuki two years' ago - and so cutting investment in racing is one area where savings could be made. Suzuki's support of the Alstare team in World Superbikes has also been under pressure for some time.
Suzuki's withdrawal from MotoGP illustrates perfectly why Dorna and IRTA have elected to pursue the CRT project. When the series switched to four-stroke engines in 2002, the manufacturers - assembled in the MSMA - were given control of the technical regulations, on the understanding that they would provide a plentiful supply of machines to fill the grid with. The spiralling cost of racing four-stroke engines, made exponentially worse by smaller capacities and limiting fuel to just 21 liters, saw manufacturers pull out, Aprilia leaving after just three years of four-stroke racing, Kawasaki holding on until 2008, and only fielding a single bike in 2009 after pressure from Dorna to fulfil their contract. Suzuki's withdrawal leaves just three of the original manufacturers in the series, with Honda, Yamaha and Ducati fielding factory prototypes in 2012. Without CRT, there would be just 12 bikes on the grid for 2012, the teams simply no longer able to afford the exorbitant lease prices charged by the factories for their machines, anywhere between 2.5 million and 4.5 million euros a year.
Though GPWeek's report states that Suzuki could return in 2014, by then the rules are likely to have moved on. Factory sources would neither confirm nor deny that the new contract had been signed between the MSMA and Dorna, giving the factories sole authority over the technical rules, with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta giving every appearance of wanting to keep the technical rules under his own control, to allow private teams to compete at a drastically reduced cost and still be capable of scoring points. With a spec ECU and rev limits likely for 2013 onwards, Suzuki will have to watch the technical rules closely as they develop their new machine. But given Suzuki's waning interest in all forms of international road racing in recent years, it could be a very long time before we see another Suzuki on the grid in the premier class, unless entered as a CRT machine by a private team. Just as the first one was back in 1971.