Yamaha has announced that it has decided to withdraw its factory team from the World Superbike Championship at the end of 2011. The withdrawal comes as a result of a review of Yamaha Motor Europe's marketing activities throughout Europe forced by the rapidly declining motorcycle market throughout the region. The move leaves both Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri without a ride for next season, although in light of the strong performance by both riders in their debut WSBK seasons, finding a new seat should not be difficult.
The announcement came completely out of the blue, with no prior signs that Yamaha was contemplating such a move. Marco Melandri let it slip less than a week ago that he was close to extending his current contract to stay with the team in 2012, suggesting that the news is as much a surprise to the team as it is to the outside world. Yet there had been warning signs that such a move might occur: the Yamaha World Superbike team had been running without a title sponsor for 2011, and there were few indications of a new sponsor stepping in for next season. In contrast to Yamaha's MotoGP team, which is funded by Yamaha's corporate headquarters in Japan, the WSBK effort was run by Yamaha Motor Europe, Yamaha's central distributor and marketing organization inside the European continent. The European motorcycle and scooter market has been hit very hard by the global financial crisis, with sales falling dramatically throughout the region. The combination of falling sales and the lack of an external sponsor meant that there simply was not enough cash to allow the team to continue.
The end of the Yamaha-backed effort does not necessarily mean that there will be no Yamahas on the grid in 2012. When Yamaha announced they would be pulling out of World Supersport at the end of 2009, they made it clear that they were open to supplying bikes and support to a good team. That did not happen in 2010, but Yamaha have provided some backing for the current ParkinGO Yamaha World Supersport team, and have been rewarded for their pains as Chaz Davies leads the WSS championship by 42 points with 4 races left to go. The same construction could save Yamaha's involvement in World Superbikes, if Yamaha can find the right team to work with. Their involvement would, however, be scaled back severely.
Yamaha's withdrawal from World Superbikes cuts the number of manufacturers in WSBK from 7 to 6. That number could even fall to 5, as Alstare team boss Francis Batta is engaged in a tense psychological battle to persuade Suzuki to remain in the championship. Fortunately for WSBK, Ducati looks like returning to the championship with a full-factory team as part of the campaign to promote their brand new Xtreme 1199 Superbike. However, even that program could be under threat if more resources are needed to get Ducati's floundering MotoGP project back on track. These are difficult times for all of the motorcycle World Championships.
The press release announcing Yamaha's withdrawal appears below:
Yamaha Official World Superbike Team withdraws at the end of 2011 season from World Championship
Yamaha Motor Europe N.V. (YME) has decided to withdraw their official Yamaha World Superbike Team at the end of the current season from the FIM Superbike World Championship.
This announcement follows a full strategic review of the Marketing Operations within Europe including all Motorsport activities and takes into account the continuing severe and rapidly changing Powered Two Wheeler market conditions throughout the region.
Due to this decision more resource and focus will now be used for direct "Customer" activities to ultimately add more value to Yamaha ownership and increased Customer Satisfaction.
YME would like to express their sincere thanks and appreciation for the total commitment, support, and passion shown by the extremely professional and dedicated riders and team members both past and present throughout the many years of participation in the FIM Superbike World Championship. YME would also like to thank all the highly valued business partners and suppliers who have in-turn supported the team and in addition would like to thank Infront Motorsports, the FIM Superbike World Championship promoters. YME has chosen this timing of announcement to ensure that all existing obligations are correctly met, and to not limit any opportunities or future planning for all personnel involved.
Riders Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty are currently respectively 3rd and 4th in the overall 2011 FIM Superbike World Championship standings for riders with 4 rounds to go. YME and the team will continue to give its maximum efforts until the end of the existing season to try and regain the World Superbike title which Yamaha also won in 2009.
Yamaha will continue the availability of road racing kit parts, known as YEC Racing kit parts, for its R1 and R6 production models for private teams entering at all racing levels.