There will be only 23 bikes on the MotoGP grid in 2017. The FIM today officially announced that the 24th grid slot has been officially withdrawn, after manufacturers could not pledge to supply additional equipment.
There was plenty of interest in the grid slot. Five teams expressed an interest, and three teams submitted an official application for the 24th grid slot. Those teams are believed to have included Pons, LCR, and Ajo, all of whom had previously admitted publicly that they were keen to move up to MotoGP.
One of the main requirements put forward by the Selection Committee (comprising representatives of IRTA, Dorna and the FIM) was having a sound financial basis. Though Dorna will be offering €2.4 million in support for each grid slot, actually fielding a rider in MotoGP would cost at a very minimum €4 million a year, and most likely more.
It was not the financial situation of the teams that was the problem, however. In the end, the decision to withdraw the 24th grid slot came down to a lack of competitive machinery. The manufacturers were not willing to supply extra bikes to a team to fill that slot.
For Ducati, Honda and Yamaha, that is entirely understandable. Ducati have eight bikes on the grid, a veritable cornucopia of clearly competitive machinery. Yamaha are supplying four bikes, as they have done almost since the dawn of the four-stroke era. Honda are supplying five bikes, and though they could have added a sixth, the price cap to be introduced would have had an impact on that decision. Prices are capped at €2.2 million, but HRC are believed to be charging over €3.5 million for the RC213V, so a sixth Honda would have been a costly exercise for HRC.
That would leave Suzuki, KTM and Aprilia. 2017 will be KTM's first year in MotoGP, and will have their hands full developing the bike. A KTM would be a massive gamble for a satellite squad. Aprilia's RS-GP is clearly a much better package in 2016 than it was in 2015, but it is still some way off the pace. Here too, satellite squads would be wary of gambling on the bike.
Suzuki's GSX-RR is a much more attractive prospect, but Suzuki have long been wary of supplying satellite teams. When asked about it in Austin, Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio told MotoMatters.com "we have no experience with satellite teams", expressing fears they would not be able to support a satellite team properly.
This goes against an agreement made between the factories and Dorna in 2015, however. In exchange for the change in financing, the factories committed to supplying bikes to satellite teams with bikes. Though it is unknown at this time whether any satellite team actually requested a bike from Suzuki, the rumors that Johann Zarco has been signed by Suzuki for 2017 suggest that they had. What impact that will have on Zarco's future remains to be seen.
Though the 24th slot has been withdrawn for 2017, this does not mean that the grid will not expand in the future. The FIM press release states that the grid slot could be offered again in the future, when factories may be more willing to supply competitive bikes.
Below is the FIM press release making the announcement:
MotoGP class entries from 2017
On the 21st of March it was announced that applications from existing MotoGP Championship teams to provide a 24th entry in the MotoGP class from 2017 would be invited. The deadline for applications was the 29th of April, on which date the Selection Committee, comprising delegates of FIM, IRTA and Dorna would consider the applications.
Expressions of interest were received from five teams who were then provided with more comprehensive details of the requirements and the financial conditions.
Three teams subsequently submitted official applications for consideration.
The Selection Committee considered the applications and concluded that all three had merit and each, in slightly different ways, had elements that could enhance the MotoGP class.
However, alongside the application process, discussions were also conducted with the Manufacturers to establish the likely availability of competitive machinery for the extra entry. The conclusion from these discussions was that there was reluctance amongst the existing Manufacturers to commit to making additional equipment available, at least for 2017.
It has therefore reluctantly been decided to postpone a decision on the allocation of the additional entry to a later season.
FIM, IRTA and Dorna wish to thank the teams who complied with the application process and apologise that the offer has had to be withdrawn.