It is looking ever more likely that there will be 18 bikes on the MotoGP grid after all. Marco Melandri - currently in Qatar racing in the SpeedCar Series - has told the Italian media outlet SportMediaset.it that he is ready to ride the private Kawasaki after all. There is still no absolute word that the Kawasaki project has been given the go ahead, but Melandri is sounding increasingly convinced it will happen.
The project - if it does happen - will likely be financed in part by Dorna, and the Spanish organizing body has been one of the main forces trying to ensure that at least one Kawasaki makes it onto the grid, as reputedly agreed in private contracts between Dorna and the FIM. The withdrawal of the factory Kawasaki team was a huge blow for Dorna, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, the company's CEO, has seemingly spent every waking moment trying to ensure that at least one of the abandoned bikes make it on to the grid.
Melandri's decision to push ahead with the project directly contradicts his earlier statements that he would not race "just to make up the numbers". Asked directly about this by SportMediaset.it, Melandri replied "I'm not going to be able to win, but I'm sure I won't be in for a season like 2008. Because I'll be on a bike that has a character I like, even if it is not super competitive, and I will have a team that will do everything to make me comfortable on the bike, so I can do the maximum, and so I will have nothing to lose." Melandri was also clear about his aims for the year: "I just have to show that I can still want to fight, and then I can find a good situation for 2010."
Just how competitive any private Kawasaki will be is open to question. Melandri made it clear that there are still major question marks hanging over the amount of development the bike will get. When asked about the amount of development the engine and chassis would receive, he told SportMediaset "It's clear to us that Kawasaki won't be doing this [developing the bike - Ed.] We need to build a team starting virtually from zero." And Melandri was aware of the size of the task ahead, saying "We have a lot of work to do, but we have the will to do well. Obviously, the last word has not been spoken about this, because we have been pared to the bone economically. Kawasaki will be helping very little at all, less than the minimum required."
Despite Melandri's optimism, the deal is still not certain. The Italian expects to go testing at least once before the start of the season, either at Qatar or Sepang, and hopes that the deal will be officially sealed some time during the coming week, but nothing has been signed yet. "At the moment, all there is is the will to do this, and nothing more concrete," he said. The way this story has panned out over the past few months, that's all there may ever be.