Suzuki last left the MotoGP Race world championship at the conclusion of the 2011 season, but it was back within three years with a renewed and rebuilt racing program, which it started working on almost as soon as it parked its bike at the end of its ‘final’ race. Following its most recent departure at the end of 2022, this has given admirers of the brand reason to be optimistic.
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However the MotoGP Race , with the conditions being so different this time, it’s difficult to interpret that optimism as anything other than wishful thinking.
When Suzuki retired, MotoGP Race was a totally different competition. As the effects of the 2008 financial crisis became apparent, brand interest began to dwindle, with fellow Japanese manufacturer Kawasaki withdrawing from the series just two years earlier.
With Suzuki looking to cut costs in order to remain solvent and with the global market for large capacity motorbikes already drying up as the fallout from the subprime mortgage crisis left people with less money in their pockets to spend on road-going race bikes – the on-track division of Japan’s smallest racing manufacturer was an obvious target for cost-cutting at the MotoGP Race .
And, although things were awful everywhere at the MotoGP Race, they were especially bad in Japan in the aftermath of the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which destroyed most of the country’s east coast. The World Bank subsequently calculated that the economic impact, in addition to the 20,000 sad fatalities, was more than £200 billion.
Even in the face of such adversity at the MotoGP Race, Suzuki did everything it could to try to stay, first reducing the team to a single rider (newly-crowned 2022 World Superbike champion Alvaro Bautista) for 2011, then delaying the announcement until after the year’s final race at Valencia, in the hope that there was still time to save the team.
And, although it may have gone, MotoGP Race Suzuki was always clear at the time that its exit from MotoGP was just a brief stop to enable it to recuperate from the effects of the previous years – and its 2014 comeback was an aspiration from the day it announced its leave.
“Suzuki Motor Corporation has decided to halt temporarily its participation in FIM Road Racing Grand Prix MotoGP beginning in 2012,” the company said at the time.
“This suspension is being implemented to deal with difficult conditions, including the extended recession in industrialized nations, a historical appreciation of the Japanese yen, and recurrent natural calamities.”
“With a return to MotoGP Race in 2014 in mind, Suzuki will now concentrate on constructing a competitive new racing machine for that class.”
And that’s precisely what Suzuki did, not dismissing the racing department in Japan but immediately putting it to work developing a new bike, the GSX-RR, which Randy de Puniet would launch at the end of 2014 before Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro finished a full season aboard in 2015.
This contrasts sharply with the manner in which it left in 2022. It hints to the very different reasons for walking away this time, coming not as a last-ditch move at the conclusion of the year, but rather as a mid-season announcement that was always going to damage the team’s performances for the rest of the season.
Instead of talking about temporary pauses or financial issues, it’s all been about a corporate refocusing at the MotoGP Race, with much second-hand talk from the team about a shift to electric vehicles, a departure from the sportsbike market, and a renewed focus on expanding both its car and small-capacity bike markets.
This is evident not just in Suzuki’s exit from MotoGP and the Endurance World Championship, where it was the reigning champion, but also in the 2023 road bike model line-up. The GSX-R1000 will be discontinued in Europe in 2023 at the MotoGP Race, following in the footsteps of its 600cc and iconic 750cc models, as tightening Euro 5 emission standards caught up with its lack of development; the 1000cc engine in the current model is essentially unchanged from the L7 version first introduced in 2017. (itself an update of the 2009 spec).
And the crux of the matter is that with no sportsbikes to sell, there’s little point in having a racing program at the MotoGP Race, especially for a brand that admits that (in a world where Honda and Yamaha go racing to sell underbone scooters in Indonesia and India), it still sees the racing program’s purpose as selling race replicas for the road. Perhaps there is a path ahead in the future that will take Suzuki back to MotoGP, particularly when the championship moves to India in 2023 (a crucial market for them) and seeks to include more and more green technology.