For several years now, MotoGP grids have looked worryingly empty. The causes are well-known, and have been debated for years, but basically it boils down to the expense of fielding competitive machinery. The situation was exacerbated by the switch to 800cc: Just as all of the factories looked like getting a handle on the formula, the formula changed, requiring another vast sum of money to develop the new bikes.
Dorna have relied very heavily on Honda to help fill out the grids, while putting pressure on the other manufacturers to start pulling their weight. Kawasaki and Suzuki have been particular targets, the two teams only field two bikes since they entered the class in 2002. It seemed as if 2009 would be the year the two factories finally relented, and fielded extra machinery.
It now appears this is is not going to be the case. With the current season going well below expectations for both Kawasaki and Suzuki, both teams have decided to field only two bikes for the 2009 season, according to the Italian website MotoGrandPrix.it. Instead, both manufacturers will be focusing all their resources on improving their competitiveness.
Kawasaki, who are having very much the worst of the season, have taken an even more drastic step: The team had originally planned to field Roger Lee Hayden as a wildcard rider at the USGP at Laguna Seca, and after Hayden was injured in a nasty incident at Barber, had been considering running Chaz Davies instead. But now, all plans for wildcards have been withdrawn until further notice, the team desperate to start producing the results they looked capable of last year.
This could leave the American Ben Spies with a problem: The reigning AMA Superbike champion is heavily tipped to move to MotoGP next year, the original plan being that Spies would join fellow Texan Kevin Schwantz in a new team with factory support. But that plan started to run into problems when Jorge Martinez of the Aspar team, who Spies and Schwantz were originally intending to work with in setting up the team, started talking up the prospects of taking the Spanish 250 star Alvaro Bautista into the class instead of Spies.
There could still be hope for Spies. Chris Vermeulen is having a very mediocre season so far, and unless his results start to improve, the Australian could well find himself out of a contract at the end of the year, opening up a seat for Spies. With contract discussions likely to be at their most intense as the summer break approaches at Laguna Seca, the Texan could well secure a 2009 ride with a strong wildcard performance at the USGP.
A break with Suzuki might not mean the end of Vermeulen's MotoGP career, however. The Australian could find himself reunited with his former team mate John Hopkins over at Kawasaki, replacing the struggling Ant West.
Any discussion of rider career options at this moment is almost entirely speculation. But with the summer approaching, the silly season for the 2009 MotoGP season is starting to gain steam.