The dwindling of the MotoGP grid has accelerated to a full-scale hemorrhage. Earlier in the week, it emerged that Hiroshi Aoyama's Interwetten Honda team is on the verge of pulling out for 2011, and yesterday, news leaked from Suzuki suggests that the factory Suzuki team will cut its involvement to just a single bike for next season. With two bikes gone from the already sparse MotoGP grid, only the addition of Karel Abraham and the Cardion AB team have saved MotoGP's modesty, bringing the probable line up for next year to 16.
Today, things got even worse for MotoGP, however, with news emerging from the Pramac Ducati camp that the team is to halve their rider lineup next year, down from the two-man effort of Mika Kallio and Aleix Espargaro to just a single rider, either Loris Capirossi or Aleix Espargaro. Capirossi - whose seat left vacant at Suzuki will not be filled, it seems - and his manager Carlo Pernat are insistent that they have a contract with Pramac for next season, and there is no doubt that team manager - and CEO of the Pramac concern - Paolo Campinoti is very keen to have Capirossi in the satellite Ducati squad. Aleix Espargaro, however, still has a contract with Pramac to ride for next year, though the Spanish rookie seems content to accept that he will be out of MotoGP next season, and is already talking to both Aspar and Pons in Moto2 for 2011.
With Pramac down to one bike, the MotoGP field could be cut to just 15 bikes for next season, an all-time low. Such a disastrously small field will doubtless bring calls for the CRT rules to be introduced a year ahead of schedule, allowing private teams to enter 1000cc production-based engines in prototype chassis for the 2011 season. But such calls face two significant obstacles: The first is the MSMA, who represent the factories and as such, make the technical regulations for the series. Although having agreed to the new rules for 2012 (albeit grudgingly) MSMA are seriously worried about the three extra liters of fuel the CRT teams are to have. The factories believe that with their own 1000cc machines, they should be able to hold off the CRT teams, though the extra fuel still concerns them; if the factories are to face 1000cc machines with 24 liters of fuel with their current generation of 800cc bikes and 21 liters of fuel, the risk of being beaten is likely to be too large for the MSMA to agree with.
Perhaps a bigger problem is that even if the MSMA agree to allow the CRT teams in a year early, that probably still won't increase the numbers on the grid for 2011. The lead time for developing a race-ready bike is much longer than the 7 months before the 2011 season gets underway, and it's unlikely that anyone will have a bike ready in time. Suter has already shown off their CRT bike, based on a BMW S1000RR engine and a chassis derived from the current Suter MMX Moto2 bike. But that machine is still very much in the early stages of development, and is unlikely to be competitive by April. Kalex is also said to be building a CRT bike, but that bike is much further from completion than the Suter, while FTR are also looking into building a MotoGP bike, their main concern being making it a viable commercial enterprise.
Dorna's last-gasp scenario could be to fund the running of one or two teams themselves. The Spanish company who hold the commercial rights to MotoGP already subsidize the satellite teams to a large extent, as well as investing a lot of time in persuading sponsors to fund teams as well as the series. With a profit of 5 million euros for 2009, Dorna could fund at least one team out of their own pockets for 2011, which should be enough to tide the series over until 2012, when more entries are expected to fill the grid again. Given Dorna's reputation for keeping their corporate wallet tightly sealed, that would be a very desperate gambit indeed.