MotoGP has a reputation for being one of the most entertaining and competitive forms of motor-racing on the planet. Since its graduation from the outdated 500cc class to firstly 800cc and then 1000cc machines, MotoGP has had its ups and downs.
With the establishment of high-calibre works machines from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati from the beginning, and a rules system that keeps the bikes fast and competitive, it came as a surprise to many when, in 2012, the sport introduced a sub-class into the mix. The ‘CRT’ class as it has come to be known, was an initiative to help encourage new teams into the sport, a decision deemed necessary after years of domination from the big three manufacturers in the championship had left smaller teams under financial pressure. CRT was originally brought in to create a more competitive lower half of the sport. The reality is that it has not changed much despite the immensely impressive performances of Aleix Espargaró in the 2013 season who consistently finished in the top 10 ahead of factory bikes.
However, with the 2014 season nearly over and the 2015 season looming, the announcement that Suzuki would be returning to the sport after a 4 year hiatus, came as a welcome change to some, but a possible setback for others. With the current MotoGP roster looking impressively balanced, the addition of what will be considered a ‘Factory’ class bike (but with all the benefits of CRT class such as more engines and a lack of a design freeze due to its direct entry into the Factory class) could upset the system. With 12 Factory bikes and 12 CRT bikes in the 2014 season, the addition of two more Factory bikes raises the question of whether or not CRT is still a viable part of the sport.
The addition of Suzuki to this mix adds an intriguing factor to the situation. The team is not one without history, contributing bikes to 6 rider’s championships including the legendary Barry Sheene’s in the ’76 and ’77, the popular Kevin Schwantz’s only championship in ’93 and the younger member of the only father-son duo to both win in motorbike racing’s Premier class in Kenny Roberts Jr. in 2000. Add into this the rain-defeating abilities of Australian Chris Vermeulen in the late 2000s; Suzuki is a name that belongs in motorbike racing.
But, in a similar way to Honda in Formula One, their performances both as a team and as a company have fluctuated wildly throughout their history. Having created one of the fastest machines on two wheels in the first few years of the millennia, their performance dropped away sharply, with the team barely competing for the lower step of the podium never mind wins towards the end of the decade. This loss of performance alongside the downturn in the global economic climate led to their ultimate withdrawal in 2011.
A renaissance of sorts is under way however. Going with their history of hiring promising and fast young riders, their acquisitions of firstly Aleix Espargaró and secondly Maverick Viñales should, and almost certainly will, strike fear into the hearts and minds of the lesser factory teams. As already stated, 25 year old Espargaró was the best performing CRT rider in both 2012 and ’13, and has been consistently performing well on a Factory bike this year while riding for Forward Yamaha with his first ever premier class career podium coming at Aragon just last month. In his own words, he arrives at Suzuki “in the prime of my career”. Twin this with the exceptionally talented Viñales, champion of Moto3 last year and currently placed 3rd in Moto2 and Suzuki have themselves a line up with an huge amount of potential. Their return will not be without problems however, the bike is brand new and is their first since the jump up to 1000cc bikes, a veritable melting pot of possible issues.
The real test is for the sport itself. There is a distinct possibility of Suzuki ruining what has become a positive status quo in the CRT/Factory split. The addition of Suzuki not only adds more pressure to the top of the order, but will limit the possibilities for the CRT bikes of finishing higher up the order and in turn gaining sponsorship due to TV exposure. Perhaps for the first half of next season Suzuki will be a name to shoot at after the recent all-encompassing domination of Yamaha and Honda, and in the best possible circumstances their re-introduction will revitalise what was becoming a thoroughly uncompetitive sport. The worry is that it will do the opposite and will continue to affirm the top teams’ right to be there, and render the CRT class close to pointless.