Suzuki’s MotoGP Departure
Neil Morrison | June 15, 2022
Suzuki’s stunning decision to leave MotoGP at the end of 2022 was greeted with shock and despair. So, what do we really know about the reasons behind the factory’s decision?
2020 Suzuki MotoGP Championship Celebration
In 2020, Suzuki was celebrating the MotoGP Championship. Two years later, Suzuki shockingly announces that it is pulling out of the championship.
On a steamy hot May Monday at Jerez, not much seemed out of place in the Suzuki camp. At a post-race IRTA test, its riders were attempting to work out exactly why their Spanish Grand Prix hadn’t quite gone to plan the previous day. A few things were to be tested. Then home for 10 days rest before it started all over again in France. Only later in the afternoon, recently appointed Team Manager Livio Suppo and Project Leader Shinichi Sahara learned of a special development from Japan.
There was little indication in what was to come. To everyone, including riders and team personnel, it was business as usual. Riders Joan Mir and Alex Rins were readying to sign a contract extension to stay put beyond this year. And the manufacturer had signed a contract extension with series organizer Dorna as recently as April of last year to stay in the series until 2026.
But the riders were called into Suppo’s office midway through the afternoon, where they were told the manufacturer intended to withdraw. Soon after, the team was gathered to learn of the bombshell news that Suzuki intended to withdraw from MotoGP at the end of this season, Rins could do little other than break down. “It was super hard,” he said. “I was fully crying because I’ve given everything to this team since 2017.”
2020 Joan Mir Suzuki MotoGP Champion
Joan Mir won the MotoGP title in ’20.
Everyone involved was blindsided by the news. Even Suppo spent part of the day discussing future plans and the rider’s market with Yamaha’s Managing Director Lin Jarvis. “My immediate reaction when they told me they were going to quit was ‘That’s a load of bollocks,’” said Jarvis. “The last person I spoke to in the paddock was Livio. We had a good 20-minute discussion in the paddock talking about the riders’ market, how to work better with past situations.”
The news was broken the evening of the Jerez test by reliable Catalan journalist Uri Puigdemont. But official confirmation didn’t arrive for a further 10 days. Only on the eve of the French GP was a short, 98-word statement released. It pointed to “the current economic situation” as well as “the need to concentrate” the factory’s “effort on the big changes that the Automotive world is facing” by way of explanation.
The team could offer no official communication in France. Suppo and Sahara were off limits for interviews and were rarely seen outside the Suzuki garage. Only the riders were available for official comment. Incredibly, no one from the team had been contacted since the Jerez test—something Rins couldn’t quite understand given his good relationship with President Toshiro Suzuki. “It’s a little strange,” said the Spaniard. “Toshihiro-San is super friendly with me. He sent me a video saying, ‘congratulations’ when my baby was born.”
Livio Suppo and Shinichi Sahara
Team Manager Livio Suppo (left) and Project Leader Shinichi Sahara were, like its riders, also surprised by Suzuki’s seemingly sudden decision to step away from MotoGP.
Mir added, “Of course it’s surprising,” on the lack of communication. “But I think it’s a difficult situation for everybody to manage. Nobody wants to speak about this. If they decided this so fast and like this, it’s for one big thing.”
Given team and riders are still expected to give everything to win the crown this year, rival team bosses were dumbfounded by the Japanese’s lack of communication. “I was very surprised they told the staff at the end of the IRTA test and there was no official recognition until 10 days later,” Yamaha’s Jarvis, who has great experience working and understanding the mechanisms of a Japanese corporation. “This is very unusual. That put the people in the team, the Japanese engineers, the European engineers, the team staff, the riders, in a very uncomfortable situation.”
Alex Rins Suzuki MotoGP
The last time Suzuki pulled out of MotoGP was in 2011, but the company said it would be back in a few years. This time, there is no timetable for a return.
A Historical Precedent
Historically, Suzuki has been a conservative company, making extreme decisions in extreme times. It quit the 500cc class in an official capacity in the mid-80s despite winning two championships at the beginning of that decade. Its withdrawal at the close of 2011 in light of the 2008 economic crash meant it watched from the sidelines for three years while rivals Honda and Yamaha continued to clean up.
Even still, it’s difficult to level with this decision. The factory’s MotoGP effort is in as good a shape as it’s been in the four-stroke era. And aside from the light blue colors, its structure is unrecognizable to what was presented in 2011. Then the factory had Alvaro Bautista as a lone rider, who achieved a best finish of fifth all year and finished 13th overall. Now, Rins and Mir should be regular victory contenders aboard one of the grid’s best bikes—a far cry from the GSV-R, used from 2007 to 2011, which bore little resemblance in either look or design to the factory’s road fleet.
Alex Rins Suzuki
Alex Rins admitted that he broke down in tears when he heard the news.
When seeking reasons, there is sadly no escaping the current bleak economic forecasts. Another recession hovers worryingly on the horizon, with the worst consequences of a two-year global pandemic and European war still to be felt. Budget is a worry for all factories at present, not least those from Japan. Air costs have nearly doubled compared to pre-pandemic times and ferrying equipment and personnel to and from the east of Asia is more exorbitant now than any time in recent history. This is a struggle to which some teams in the smaller categories can attest. At this cost, the center cannot hold.
Jarvis could empathize. “Are we in some similarly difficult situations? Yes, for sure,” he said of Yamaha’s situation. “We have the same problems with delivery of motorcycles, availability of spare parts and components. Markets have changed. But we don’t have an automotive business. We don’t make cars, we [only] make some engines. Maybe this is affected by their automotive business.”
“The need to concentrate” the factory’s “effort on the big changes that the automotive world is facing” referred to in Suzuki’s official statement relates to a significant change it is making. As recently as March, the Associated Press indicated how Suzuki Motor is investing $1.4 billion of its funds in electric vehicles at its Indian plant. This hints at the company’s future planning, as it claims to have been “forced” to “shift cost and human resources to develop new technologies.”
Suzuki Joan Mir MotoGP Race
This year, Suzuki is still considered a championship contender, but bad luck has been slowing the team down.
A source within the team confirmed no one there was on a contract beyond this year. Even Suppo, hired in March, had a one-year-plus-one deal. With riders poised to renew commitments for next year, it appears the factory was aware it had to act now, otherwise further penalties for breaking contracts would be incoming.
One could conclude there is good reason to pull out, especially as it appears Suzuki Motor is also under investigation for potentially fitting a number of its four-wheeled diesel fleet with an emission device that provided fake readings. However, reports in German paper Süddeutsche Zeitung stated this could affect 22,000 vehicles Suzuki has sold—hardly a jot on the 11 million vehicles that were recalled in Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal that cost the German firm somewhere in the region of $40 billion USD.
Also, financial results released on the eve of the French GP showed the company to be in rude health. Net sales increased by 12.3% from April 2021 to March 2022. Its operating profit decreased by 1.5%, a statement read, “owing to increase in raw material prices,” but ordinary profit was up by 5.9%. Even the net sales of its motorcycle operations increased by 14.1%, albeit with a greatly reduced operating profit.
With riders poised to renew commitments for next year, it appears the factory was aware it had to act now, otherwise further penalties for breaking contracts would be incoming.
With little in the way of official communication, one is left to speculate. The take of Paco Sanchez, Mir’s personal manager, was, “this is a big multi-national competition. There is a board and on this board are people who are not interested in racing. Outside of MotoGP…it is nothing! You are making numbers and thinking of the future and strategy and maybe there are people thinking ‘what is MotoGP? And why are we spending 50 million [a year]?’ we could invest that in electric cars or have another marketing strategy. I don’t know but for sure there are some Japanese that don’t like MotoGP. And if they are in the majority on the board…?
“People with a suit and in a chair in Japan have never come here and aren’t worried about the people that work here. It’s shit because all of these people are so professional. With a really low budget they made really successful results.”
Jarvis agrees he and other MotoGP teams are at the whim of those who sit on factory boards. “Once any large corporation in the world, when the board decides something big, there is almost no stopping it. If it comes to a major issue and there is a reason to make radical decisions, then any board can do such things,” he said.
Joan Mir podium MotoGP
No doubt, Mir will land on his feet after all of this is over, but he was looking forward to staying with Suzuki for years to come.
Is MotoGP on shaky ground?
Dorna was understandably at pains to point out the series is doing just fine despite the Suzuki news. “It’s important to say that we obviously are not happy with Suzuki leaving, but the most important thing is that the Championship is in very good health,” said Dorna CEO Carlos Ezpeleta at the French Grand Prix.
The Spaniard met with each MotoGP team in France to allay any fears or concerns. The company claims it has received “high interest” from “official factories” and “independent teams” keen to join the series in their place.
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