Since Forward Racing boss Giovanni Cuzari was arrested on charges of corruption, money laundering and tax evasion earlier this year, the team's places in MotoGP have been in jeopardy. Yamaha immediately stopped its support for the team, meaning that Forward did not have bikes for the 2016 MotoGP season. After his release from arrest, and, according to his lawyer, the dropping of the charges of corruption, Cuzari was confident he would be allowed back on to the MotoGP grid, and was in talks with both Aprilia and Ducati for the supply of bikes. His fate, Cuzari told us at Misano, was in the hands of Carmelo Ezpeleta.
The head of Dorna appears to have decided that Forward Racing's future does not lie in the premier class, at least for the foreseeable future. Today, Forward Racing announced they will not be racing in MotoGP, but will be turning their focus towards the World Superbike championship. Forward will be working with MV Agusta to assist with their World Superbike and World Supersport efforts from 2016. Cuzari has been appointed Team Principal for the team, and given responsibility for MV Agusta's racing department.
This is not Forward Racing taking over the running of the MV Agusta team, however, according to dedicated WSBK journalist Marien Cahuzak. MV Agusta have brought in the technical expertise of Forward - in the shape of mechanics and engineers - to help with the factory's own racing efforts. The MV Agusta team will remain a factory effort, but will be staffed by members of Forward Racing.
The press release issued by Forward Racing contained a few intriguing details. Marco Melandri has been engaged as a test rider for MV Agusta, to help develop the F4 RC. There is no mention of whether Melandri will be racing for MV Agusta next season. It is known that Melandri was looking for a ride in World Superbikes, after leaving Aprilia's MotoGP project and finding himself unwanted by any of the existing teams. His stated aim has always been to continue racing. Whether this deal will allow him to is unclear.
The other detail in the press release is the mention of a return to MotoGP. The Forward release makes specific mention of the rule changes in 2017. Those rule changes are chiefly to the way the teams are financed, making it cheaper for teams to compete. There are no new technical regulations expected in 2017, the biggest changes coming in 2016, with the introduction of spec electronics and the switch to Michelin tires. Whether a manufacturer of the scale of MV Agusta (sales projections are for 12,000 bikes in 2015) can compete with the likes of Honda and Yamaha, or even Ducati, which sold 45,000 bikes last year, is an open question. Costs have come down in MotoGP in recent years, but overall factory MotoGP budgets are still in the range of several tens of millions of euros, excluding rider salaries. With total sales projections of €120 million, it seems improbable that MV Agusta could afford something like a third of that to put into MotoGP. By comparison, Ducati, the smallest of the manufacturers involved in MotoGP, had a turnover of over €600 million in 2013. What's more, Ducati is believed to receive something north of €20 million in sponsorship from Phillip Morris, to help cover their costs. That kind of partnership is unlikely to happen for MV Agusta.
Forward Racing may have lost their grid slots in MotoGP, but their Moto2 team will continue in 2016. The press release from Forward Racing appears below.
Forward Racing in support of MV Agusta in WSBK and in WSS in 2016
The Swiss team, competing in Moto2 since 2009, in MotoGP since 2012 and Open World Champion in 2014, will provide to the racing department of the legendary Schiranna factory the experience gained in the top division to continue to succeed in WSS, grow in WSBK and in the future reach together the premier class of motorcycle racing. Both teams, in light of the regulations changes in 2017, aim to work to reach the pinnacle of motorcycle racing, where the Italian brand has built his legend by winning 75 world championships (38 riders and 37 manufacturers).
Forward Racing chairman, Giovanni Cuzari, will assume from next season the role of Team Principal of both teams competing respectively in WSBK and WSS Championship and will then have the full responsibility of the MV Agusta Racing Department.
In the coming weeks an exceptional test rider, one of the most beloved Italian racers, will start working on the project: Marco Melandri. The rider from Ravenna, former 250cc world champion, will join the development team of the 2016 F4 RC.
"I'm really pleased to announce that an agreement has been found with MV Agusta: for a long time we have been aiming to cooperate with an important manufacturer and we have finally succeeded. Working with one of the most iconic brand of Italian motorcycling is a great honor and a privilege for me. MV Agusta represents the best the Made in Italy can offer and this collaboration will surely be a great growth opportunity for all in order to reach the top of WSBK and to aim for MotoGP. I am also proud of sealing this agreement with Giovanni Castiglioni, longtime friend of mine as was his father Claudio.
Giovanni, who together with his family brought back the name of this historical reality from Varese, has put his trust on me and on the experience of our group and I am convinced we can achieve the goals we set ourselves".