The Incredible Shrinking Grid: Aoyama's Team Out Of MotoGP In 2011

Hiroshi Aoyama's 250 World Championship has not brought the Japanese rider much luck. Aoyama gained his promotion to the MotoGP class on the back of his 250 crown, and he started the season well, but a brutal highside at Silverstone, in which he fractured a vertebra, put a halt to his progress. And it seems like he will not get a second chance, for the Italian magazine Motosprint is reporting that the Interwetten team is to pull out of MotoGP for next season. According to Motosprint, team boss Daniel Epp acknowledged that he would not have the sponsorship to run a MotoGP team in 2011, and have been forced to withdraw to focus on their 125 and Moto2 efforts.

The withdrawal hardly comes as a surprise, as the team has struggled all year financially. Aoyama's injury did not help the team's fortunes, and the failure of Alex de Angelis to perform in MotoGP - a real surprise, given the Italian's strong rides last year with the Gresini Honda squad - pushed the team all the way to the edge. With Aoyama still not able to ride the bike completely naturally due to upper body weakness in the region of his injury, the team has reached the end of the line. Interwetten, the betting giant behind the team, has reportedly told Epp they will not fund the MotoGP effort for next year.

Much of the problem is down to the size of the budgets required to run a MotoGP team: Apart from the travel (expensive enough as it is), the salaries and the compulsory luxury hospitality suite - you have to have somewhere to entertain the guests and sponsors who are funding the team - the lease price is what makes MotoGP so expensive. Hard numbers are impossible to obtain, but it is generally agreed that a one-rider MotoGP team costs in the region of 4-5 million euros to run, the bulk of which goes towards leasing the bike. Included in the price is an electronics engineer whose job it is to watch over the bike, two racing machines, and a limited number of spares, with each crash adding to the cost in extra spares. That level of spending is very difficult to sustain, especially when the toughness of the competition means results are hard to come by, regular top 10s the best you can hope for.

Interwetten's pull out leaves Hiroshi Aoyama without a ride for 2011, but it also leaves MotoGP's organizers Dorna with another headache. After Ducati was persuaded to run to an extra bike to allow Czech rider Karel Abraham - currently riding an FTR in Moto2 - to move up to MotoGP, it looked like the grid would be back up to 18 riders for next season. Hardly a respectable number, but better than the traumatic low of 17 this season. With the Interwetten Honda team out, and no other team ready to step in and take over their place, the grid is back down to just 17 bikes, and almost automatic points for every rider who finishes.

The bad news could get worse for Dorna, though, once Suzuki makes up its mind what it is going to do. Senior management from the Hamamatsu factory was due to meet with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta prior to the Japanese Grand Prix, but that meeting was delayed until after the race. No news has come out of the Rizla Suzuki camp since then, but team boss Paul Denning had already told the media he expected to be able to announce his plans for 2011 at Sepang. The fear is that Suzuki will drop one bike for next season, and field only Alvaro Bautista, who the team has under contract for 2011. Loris Capirossi has made no secret of his intention to switch to the Pramac Ducati squad, and despite rumors of big money offers to Toni Elias and Randy de Puniet, the possibility exists that Suzuki could run just a single bike next season, cutting the grid even further, to just 16 bikes.

The only counter to this threat is the fear of financial punishment, something that Carmelo Ezpeleta made abundantly clear to the factories on a tour of the Japanese manufacturers after Kawasaki had pulled out in January 2009. The manufacturers, assembled in the MSMA, have a contract with Dorna to supply bikes to the teams, and in return, the factories get to make the technical rules. That contract runs out at the end of 2011, making it probably cheaper for Suzuki to field a low-effort two-rider team for 2011 and then pull out for 2012, rather than withdraw early and face the financial wrath of Dorna.

Salvation for Dorna may come from the company's home, in the form of the Spanish Inmotec outfit. The tiny Spanish engineering firm has been working on its 800cc MotoGP bike for some time now, and they brought the bike to Aragon to show it off - though only stationary on a platform, not in motion on the track. According to the well-informed Spanish website, Inmotec is in talks with the Moto2 BQR team about running the Inmotec V4 machine in MotoGP next season. Inmotec had planned to enter the bike themselves next season, but so far, they have found it difficult to raise the sponsorship necessary to race. Motoworld is reporting that BQR may have the sponsor, which would allow BQR to run the team, leaving Inmotec free to concentrate on developing the bike.

Just how competitive the bike will be is completely unknown, but given the difficulties even a company with the long and glorious racing history of Suzuki has in managing the electronics to keep the bike competitive, that has to be a problem for Inmotec. Added to that is the fact that the formula changes for 2012, with a return to 1000cc bikes on the cards, leaving Inmotec having done a lot of work for a single season. The current goal for the Spanish manufacturer is to be present at the post-race tests in Valencia, but having missed earlier goals - a wildcard at Barcelona, then a demonstration at Aragon - doubt remains over whether they will make that deadline.

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Wait a minute. Honda is looking at fielding THREE factory bikes (two sponsored by Repsol, and one, Red Bull has been mentioned) with Pedrosa; Stoner; and Dovi. Yamaha will have Lorenzo and Spies on two factory machines. And Ducati (a PEANUT in financial comparison to the big Japanese companies) will have two with Rossi and Hayden. What is wrong with Suzuki? Why can't they make a competitive bike given all their resources? If they do go with only one bike in 2011 and pull out in 2012 ... I hope it is reflected in the bike sales that ensue. Maybe that will have them coming back and being competitive vs. cutting and running for good.

Sixteen bikes, if that's how it plays out, will be a sad scene for the premier class. Fortunately, Moto2 and the 125's (soon to be Moto3?) are still a huge draw with exciting racing. Might be enough to sustain things until MotoGP gets better in 2012 and beyond (I hope!)

WRT to the above post ... it is nice to see those concerned about the employment of those who keep the heros in the shade! LOL

roll_m8, I'm not sure if you heard but the deal for Honda to run a 3rd bike under Redbull has fallen through which is why Honda is looking to run Dovi under the Gresini Team. And I had the same question myself about Suzuki. I asked the same questioned to the editor at Sportrider Magazine. I myself am a fan of Suzuki sportbikes(I own a gixxer) and I asked why Suzuki makes such good sportbikes, that have won countless national and international championships, but their Motogp team stinks. The editor at Sportrider replied saying

" Compared to companies such as Honda and Yamaha, Suzuki is a very small company, with a fraction of the resources. Yes, Ducati is a small company as well, but the difference there is that the Italian company is built around racing, so much of its resources are easily dedicated towards that purpose (it also helps that much of the Italian culture revolves around motor racing, so there's no shortage of brilliant young engineers coming out of school yearning to work at the Italian OEMs). Suzuki, by contrast, has a diverse portfolio that includes automobiles (they manufacture the best selling automobile in Japan and India, which is a huge growing market). Those resources spent a lot of time developing the GSX-R lineup into the powerhouse that it still is now, and they haven't had a lot of time to devote to the MotoGP effort.

Suzuki Motor Corp Japan is also notoriously conservative when it comes to spending outside its means, which why the company is still relatively healthy financially, while others are in the red more than they're willing to admit. Ironically, the company still loves Grand Prix racing, as Kevin Schwantz and then Kenny Roberts Jr. gave them a taste of championship victory in '93 and '00. That's why they're still pouring millions into the MotoGP effort to keep it afloat; remember that a few years ago, they didn't even have any outside sponsorship, and the Rizla money is a far cry from the Marlboro dollars propping up Ducati's effort or the Fiat money with Yamaha. But the global economic meltdown surely forced them to halt expensive R&D for the MotoGP effort-- right when they were gearing up, as WSBK's decision to let 1200cc V-twins didn't sit well with them, so they were getting ready to put a lot of effort into the MotoGP machine.

Another obstacle in my opinion is the company's decision to stay with Mitsubishi electronics, which are a step behind the Marelli units that everyone else uses. When Mitsubishi makes a step forward, the competition has already made two. And these days, electronics are something you cannot be a step behind on.

The new six-engine-per-season rule has also hurt them, as I'm sure they had to detune them a bit to make them last. Remember that at the end of last season, Capirossi exceeded the then-five-engine limit for the last seven races, penalizing him for the next race at Sepang. The lack of R&D resource monster rears its ugly head once again...

So, incredibly long story short, Suzuki is really going to have to pour some serious money and resources into the project in order for it to regain competitiveness. And it's going to take the economy to rebound before that happens. Let's just hope that the company doesn't tire of making up the numbers before then."

Also, when the economy downturns, like it has, the accountants look at cutting costs, and racing is a huge, massive, unnecessary cost. Remember, to most companies racing is a luxury. It isn't a necessity. Except for companies like Ducati and Ferrari, who's business is racing. When the economic crisis hit, Honda pulled out of F1 and AMA Superbike. Kawasaki pulled out of AMA Superbike and MotoGP and even Yamaha pulled their full factory presence from AMA Superbike.

I too am disappointed for Aoyama. Hope he finds a ride in Moto2. Anyway I hope that helps.

Hello GSXR07. Thanks for the apt, well-worded/thought out response. Over the years I've had many Suzukis as well and I'm a fan of all the two wheeled manufacturers. But I do think Suzuki has the means and can find the resources to put together a competitive team ... even in this economy. It would be a small fraction of their operating budget compared to Ducati.

Even though Ducati has racing in it's blood. The motorcycle divisions of Honda/Yamaha/Suzuki also claim to in their sport bike advertising ... because it helps sell bikes. I'm just not sure why Suzuki isn't making it the priority that other manufacturers are at this point. It is small change for them in the whole scheme of their corporate size.

I don't agree that racing is an "unnecessary cost". Unless you only mean from those counting the initial beans. Because down the road I fully believe that Suzuki's sales will go down if it pulls out of MotoGP. Just as I believe Yamaha, Honda and Ducati'l are selling better than they would if not for their involvement.

The six engine per season has only hurt Suzuki so far ... why is that? Honda seems to be on top in this regard. Suzuki is big enough to engineer engines that should run with Honda et al.

In any event, I truly hope there is a change of heart at Suzuki. It would be the best for MotoGP if they step up to the plate and add this small component to the list of their priorities.

Like the editor at Sportrider said " Suzuki Motor Corp Japan is also notoriously conservative when it comes to spending outside its means, which why the company is still relatively healthy financially, while others are in the red more than they're willing to admit." That is the reason why they aren't spending a fortune compared to Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. And you may not agree with the fact that racing is an "unnecessary cost" but for the most part, its true. If the economy continued to get worse(thankfully its not) I'm sure more of the manufacturers would pull out of racing and they would still survive. Their products may not be as good as they were when the had the added benfit of racing to test their products, but they'd still survive. I don't think Suzuki pulling out of MotoGP will hurt it's sells because I doubt people buy GSXR's because of the GSV-R. I know I didn't, the GSV-R sucks:) Anyway thats another story entirely. The six engine rule has hurt Suzuki because Suzuki is so tight-fisted with their money, they were unwilling to throw as much money at making a longer lasting, reliable engine as Honda and Yamaha. And yes Suzuki is big enough to engineer better engines. The problem is, they won't. I'm sure they have started to see that in order to get better results they have to put a lot more money into their MotoGP effort. Thats something their not willing to do at this point. Which is why now, they are only going to run one rider next year and after that may pull out entirely.
The economic crisis screwed a lot of things up. Maybe if it hadn't happened Suzuki would have been more willing to put more money into their MotoGP effort.

It is a shame when talented young riders can't get or keep a spot on the grid and we have grid fillers like Edwards and Capirossi who have more than had their turn taking up valuable spots on bikes.

I would certainly prefer to watch these young pretenders who still have potential to succeed then old guys who never have and never will.

M.A. ... I agree with your post. Although I'm a fan of Edwards and Capirossi ... they will never run at the front. Not sure if that is machinery or drive ... but with such a small grid that separates so quickly generally resulting in less-than-exciting racing ... I would love to see the likes of Elias back and see what Simone, Iannone, Luthi, Corsi could do in MotoGP ... to name a few.

But alas, the seats aren't there for many promising riders ... especially with a shrinking grid in 2011. That is unfortunate for the fans and the riders.

Thankfully, we had Rossi providing exciting racing against his teammate last weekend. I enjoyed reading all the well-thought-out related posts from different perspectives.

I'd love to see Aprilia on the MotoGP grid asap - they're needed in more classes than just 125. Surely there's something they can come up with? Could we see the first 'prototype' losely based on the WSB racer that would get around CRT rules and homologation issues? Chuck in a new electronics package, gear driven cams and other stuff not on the road derived bike perhaps? The new Cube (perhaps they could call it the Quattro)... but hopefully one that doesn't want to spit out riders or catch fire.
Agreed on the Interwetten grid girls... shame. Daniel Epp's Caffe Latte team always had a few lovely ladies too..

Talk about crap luck. I like Aoyama a lot. He totally doesn't deserve this.

I'm to the point where I hope MotoGP collapses so that Dorna and the FIM learn never to involve production companies. Racing companies only. No production company sponsorship of anykind. The only thing the manufacturers can do is lend their name to the team like Renault F1. That's it.

It shocks me that the MSMA can write a rulebook that no one can afford, and then they can just watch the sport crumble around them as the board of directors pulls the plug. Shows how impotent the MSMA really are and it makes you question their judgment. They said that fuel restrictions at 800cc would keep the motherships happy. What happened?

When the economy nose dives, they cut back on marketing, not R&D so I guess that shows you what MotoGP really is to these people. If MotoGP is marketing, the MSMA should be severely punished for thinking that 21L 800cc bikes pass for sports entertainment. These people are lost, incompetent, little children who just want to make sure that their little frat doesn't get broken up.

Sorry to hear about Aoyama. Hard to believe a 250 champ will be without a ride.

.... if it was King Kenny or Toby Moody in the film "Faster part 2" that said somthing like...

Suzuki just got it wrong, they make some of the best 4 stroke machines, but they got it so wrong in MotoGP.

Yes I know they were taking about the goold old 990's but still, the 800 has not excactly set the world on fire.

I read ( Im sure on this site ) that Leon Haslam in both WSB races at Silverstone set faster lap times then AB#19..... on what is really a proddie bike.

The GSV-R cost sqillions of €'s and is a total flop
Yes, the Gixer under LH#91 is not cheap, but its a small % of what the GSV-R cost to develop & built.

I like Paul Denning, he seems like a good guy & yes the bikes / championships are now very different, but Gary taylor was winning world titles in the then MotoGrand Prix's.

Im sure 2012 will be a better chapter in Suzukis racing book.

I hope Aoyama finds a high end team in Moto2 as his body size is suited that class well. Im sure been the last stroker champ will help that, but the real shame is yet another team going / getting smaller.

Good luck to him.