Once upon a time, Suzuki ruled the roost when it came to premier motorcycle racing. With several titles during the 500cc era, the Japanese manufacturer claimed several world titles long before Joan Mir and Alex Rins’ masterclass performance in 2020.
In a shocking revelation to fans last night, Suzuki announced that they would be packing up their MotoGP efforts, just seven years after ending a previous hiatus. While Suzuki is yet to issue an official press statement, multiple reports have sprung up, suggesting that the team was informed of the decision during post-race tests in Jerez, after last weekend’s Spanish GP.
Suzuki had joined KTM, Ducati, Honda, and Yamaha earlier in 2021, signing an agreement to stick with MotoGP’s 2022-2026 contract cycle, setting off alarms for team fans, who eagerly await further details.
Suzuki’s Rise to the Top
Suzuki’s first breakthrough with Grand Prix championships happened with their 1962 title – an effort largely attributed to German racer Ernst Degner. With a fascinating life-story that saw him defect from East Germany and take German engineering secrets to Suzuki’s facilities, Degner’s move to Hamamatsu, Japan resulted in a 50cc class win by 1962.
Sadly, Degner soon crashed and suffered horrific burns requiring over 50 skin grafts but made a comeback winning four more Grand Prix in ’64 and ’65.
Suzuki would go on to win 7 more titles before Barry Sheene took on the mantle in ‘76 and ‘77, winning first with five races and then with six, cementing his reputation as the last (and possibly greatest) British World Champion.
Suzuki continued to provide fantastic races year after year – following wins in the 1980s with Marco Lucchinelli and Franco Uncini. The 90s — a monumental era for racing in all forms — was topped with a championship from Kevin Schwantz.
The Texan fought valiantly for Suzuki’s single 1990s crown, beating off the likes of Mick Doohan, Wayne Rainey, Luca Caladora, Alex Barros, and more.
The decline began after Kenny Roberts Jr.’s win in 2000, after which the ‘500cc’ format was scrapped in favor of the modern MotoGP, as Valentino Rossi would begin to showcase his domination on and off track.
Suzuki, meanwhile, gave several unimpressive performances all the way until 2011, after which they took a hiatus citing budgetary constraints. Returning with Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales in the saddles, Suzuki continued to push until they won the 2020 MotoGP World Championship – securing the teams’ title for the first time after a 20-year drought.
Why Is Suzuki Quitting? How Will This Affect The Team?
As one of MotoGP’s major teams, Suzuki’s exit leaves several ripples in the premier motorsports class — least of all for the several crew members and two racers who will need to find new employment.
The reason behind this seems similar to 2011’s dropout period and it all boils down to money. While Suzuki have proved that they can win a modern championship with a reasonably restrained budget, the company itself has been bled dry since the pandemic began, struggling to update and sell their lineup of motorcycles.
Manager Livio Suppo was approached by the press in Jerez, just a few months after his appointment following Davide Brivio’s F1-bound exit. While the seemingly flustered team boss declined to comment, GPOne journalist Matteo Aglio has summarized the situation as follows:
“President Hiroshi Tsuda would have liked to continue with his commitment to racing, but the board of directors was against it, due to the difficult economic situation caused by the war in Ukraine and the recent Covid epidemic.”
While the fate of Suzuki’s crew remains uncertain, we can take a shot at predicting where riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins will go from here.
Mir’s fate is probably the most straightforward here. With Honda targeting both him and Fabio Quartararo as potential replacements for Pol Espargaro, it’s fair to expect that Mir would likely race alongside Marc Marquez in 2023. This also seems technically ideal, as the Honda RC213V rewards the hard-braking style of riding Mir has grown fond of.
On the other hand, Rins follows a smoother, more planted style of riding — an obvious fit for last year’s winners Yamaha, who have two open slots at satellite team WithU, alongside Andrea Dovizioso. There’s also some hint of full factory status too, with Franco Morbidelli’s underwhelming performance alongside reigning champ Fabio Quartararo.
A Dark Day For Suzuki and MotoGP Fans Alike
If there’s one thing that’s unanimous amongst all sides of the MotoGP fandom, it’s that Suzuki’s exit marks a dark time for the sport, especially considering that just two teams will make 60 percent of the bikes on the grid in 2023.
Several fans were shocked and taken aback by the news, flooding social media with questions and gloomy predictions for the future of the sport:
motogp is dying fact not opinion— Mamadou’s Blog (@Mo44President) May 2, 2022
What terrible news for the sport, Suzuki have been brilliant but I think everyone knew that they’re punching financially.— GP85 (@GP85_Official) May 2, 2022
A few put on their tinfoil hats, and set to theorizing possible ways that Suzuki could continue racing, tagging along with veteran rider-journalist Mat Oxley:
How about this crazy option.— David Batman (@davonator) May 3, 2022
BMW Motorrad create a joint venture with Suzuki.
Call it the BMW team, but use the current spec Suzuki bike and Suzuki crew.
And maybe in 2025+ BMW can start using BMW engine they can develop during the season via knowledge of Suzuki team/tech.
Hopefully Suzuki — who have maintained radio silence so far — might be able to reach some sort of compromise, or risk diluting the sport they were dominating just two seasons ago.
(Featured Image Credits: @suzukimotogp/Twitter)