Suzuki's return to MotoGP takes another step closer to being realized this week. Frenchman Randy de Puniet is flying to Japan today to test Suzuki's inline four MotoGP machine at Motegi, as part of the testing program to develop the bike ready for its return in 2014.
In an interview with the official MotoGP.com website, De Puniet said he would be departing on Monday. "We leave tomorrow to go to Japan to test at Motegi with Suzuki," he told MotoGP.com. "It will be a good experience for me, and I hope to do a great job." After testing at Motegi, De Puniet will fly back to Europe to take part in the next round of MotoGP with the Power Electronics Aspar team at Mugello, where he will ride the team's Aprilia ART machine.
Though De Puniet has been engaged to test Suzuki's new MotoGP machine, it is still unclear whether he is in the frame for a permanent ride on the bike when the factory returns full time in 2014. De Puniet seemed like an obvious choice when the Aspar team were favorite to run the Suzuki factory entry, but now that Davide Brivio has been given the task of organizing Suzuki's entry, De Puniet is no longer the favorite for the seat. According to GPOne.com, Brivio has relinquished his duties with Valentino Rossi's VR46 merchandising operation to focus full time on the Suzuki team.
The name most frequently being linked with the ride at Suzuki is that of Cal Crutchlow. The Englishman has been extremely impressive so far this season, and scoring a podium at Le Mans merely strengthened his claim to a factory seat. Crutchlow has made no secret of his desire to race in a factory team, and with the Honda and Yamaha seats already tied up, that leaves only Nicky Hayden's seat at Ducati (the American is on a one-year deal with the Bologna factory) and the two new seats at Suzuki. Signing for Suzuki would be a huge risk, given that nobody is certain how competitive the bike is. That will only become clear once the bike makes its public debut at the Barcelona test in June.
So far, Crutchlow has been non-committal on speculation he may sign for Suzuki, joking he may switch sports and go cycling instead. That is a realistic option: Crutchlow lives on the Isle of Man and is a regular training partner of Mark Cavendish, the 2012 cycling World Champion and winner of multipe Tour de France stages. He is regarded as being talented enough to make the change, should he decide to consider it seriously.
If Crutchlow does take one Suzuki seat, the question will be who would take the other. Where Crutchlow would take the role as lead rider in the team, Suzuki may want to look at a younger rider for the future of the brand. GPOne.com speculates that with Brivio in charge, he may prefer to recruit a young Italian. The only young Italians with MotoGP experience are Andrea Iannone and Danilo Petrucci, while there are no up-and-coming Italians in Moto2 at the moment. The next young rider on his way up would be Romano Fenati, but Fenati is in just his second season of Moto3, and the step from Moto3 to MotoGP is too large to contemplate at the moment.
For details on Suzuki's MotoGP machine, see Kevin Cameron's analysis on the Cycle World Magazine website.