Suzuki said goodbye to the MotoGP class at the end of the 2022 season with a win for Alex Rins in Valencia. What does the manufacturer’s withdrawal mean for the future of the premier class?
In a year in which Honda failed to win, Yamaha relied on the superhuman riding of Fabio Quartararo, KTM struggled to establish itself, and as Aprilia’s star rose only to fall again, Suzuki closed out the season on a high.
Two wins in the last three races show that the bike and the team were in excellent shape. Beautiful to look at in contrast to the competition’s bikes, which were decked out with numerous aerodynamic pieces, the admirably finely balanced and strong GSX-RR even managed to beat the dominant Ducatis.
All the more shocking that this was the swan song. The last cards in hand. At least Suzuki stopped while they were ahead.
Suzuki shocked the GP world when Hamamatsu’s top management decided in early May that the MotoGP game was no longer worth anything to those in charge. Like other motorsports activities. Citing tough economic times and a need to focus on alternative energy and their electric car startups, they pulled the plug.
To the shock and dismay of not only his entire factory racing department (World Endurance Championship, Off-Road and MotoGP), his amazed drivers and his Grand Prix team, but also racing in general.
What could have happened to a company whose original DNA was based on the racing success of its adventurous two-strokes of the 1960s, using advanced technology acquired (somewhat insidiously) from East German MZ pioneer Walter Kaaden?
It’s up to management, far removed from racing development, where engineering, bordering on genius, can help build better bikes, but has little direct bearing on the bottom line. And there was also talk of disagreements in that management – apparently the decision was highly contested before becoming a fait accompli.
It is not the first time that Suzuki has summarily withdrawn, apart from the massive withdrawal of Japanese factories in the late 1960s.
Suzuki took this step again in the 1980s after the Square Four RG500 achieved great success with Barry Sheene and many other half-litre racers. Unfortunately for Randy Mamola, twice second and once third in the championship with Suzuki at this point.
After a 180-degree factory change, the Japanese brought in a new 500cc V4 machine in 1987, the bike that would eventually lead Kevin Schwantz to the World Championship in 1993 and Kenny Roberts Junior in 2000.
The second surprise withdrawal took place in 2011. Dorna was furious, but Suzuki managed to minimize the breach of contract by promising that the break would only be temporary. And indeed they returned in 2015. Despite having a relatively small racing department and a tight budget compared to Honda and Yamaha, the new inline-four GSX-RR turned out to be a solid racing machine, even winning the world championship in 2020 with Joan Mir.
A bike that cyclists loved. Phillip Island and Valencia winner Alex Rins spoke about how he broke down in tears before and after the last race. Danilo Petrucci, Joan Mir’s reserve rider at the Thai GP, has also underlined how much he would like to take the bike home.
So why did Suzuki put an end to the adventure, leaving staff and fans alike dismayed? And maybe some clients too? As the old saying goes, what you make on Sunday is sold on Monday.
Suzuki’s last champion Joan Mir was amused to wonder what management might have been thinking when they saw the recent victory in Valencia. I don’t know if they will regret it. Maybe they want to invest in other things. But the image that we are giving here in MotoGP, with a fantastic bike, a brilliant team… No advertising campaign can better reflect what we have shown here.”
What role did communication play?
An answer may be found in a surprise action at the end of the season that demonstrates a strange split in management.
After the Malaysian GP, with only one race remaining, the racing team commissioned a test run with new parts. Rins was amazed. Why spend money to test things that will never be used?
A former Suzuki insider explained: “The engineers had a budget, so they spent it. Management probably wouldn’t even notice.”
No details have been released about the financial cost of the exit, but after a new Dorna contract was signed in November 2021 through the end of 2026, the penalty was likely to have been significant. Suzuki obviously still thinks it’s worth retiring.
But if Suzuki can so easily turn its back on MotoGP, what about other long-standing competitors? Honda endured an embarrassing period of poor results and retired in 1967. A year later, Yamaha followed suit. Kawasaki set a precedent back in 2009 and disappeared without looking back.
With the imminent takeover by the European manufacturers, who will be next to leave MotoGP?
Suzuki world champions:
Joan Mir (MotoGP: 2020)
Kenny Roberts Jr. (500cc: 2000)
Kevin Schwantz (500cc: 1993)
Franco Uncini (500cc: 1982)
Marco Lucchinelli (500cc: 1981)
Barry Sheene (500cc: 1976, 1977)
Dieter Braun (125cc: 1970)
Hans-Georg Anscheidt (50cc: 1966, 1967, 1968)
Hugh Anderson (125cc: 1963, 1965; 50cc: 1963, 1964)
Ernst Degner (50cc: 1962).