Now as most of you are already aware, Suzuki are planning and have unofficially announced to leave the MotoGP paddock following the ongoing season. Now what this does is not only grab a generally liked marque out of the world stage once again, but also put a whole team’s worth of employees lives on the line. And, of course, it would decrease the number of bikes on the grid on every race of 2023 onwards. So who can fill that gap?
Some might say it’s not a matter of who can fill that gap, rather who wants to. Others might inquire who will take this opportunity. In the end it all comes down to “Who will be the successor, and when?”.
Now let’s look at the opportunities. Basically there are 4 possibilities now:
- A new marque will enter
- A new satellite team emerges
- Rebadging of a current competitor
- The space will remain empty
Of course we don’t hope number 4 will ensue, so let’s view the other possibilities more in-depth:
1. A new marque enters MotoGP
Arguably the most exciting prospect would be to see a completely new marque, unaffiliated with existing teams, entering the grand prix paddock high and mighty and trying to become a new world championship contender. Remembering KTM’s and Suzuki’s recent entries and the excitement we felt. And there is a few big names in the game who haven’t got a MotoGP team at the moment.
In 2021 BMW Motorcycles were 7th in the world according to revenue figures, having sold about 169.000 units. Mix that with the fact they already have entries in superbike classes around the world as well as in the Endurance World Championship for motorcycles, BMW seems like a prime contender to broaden their marketing into the world class for prototype motorcycles.
Well, unfortunately, to any lovers of the German brand, you will have to subside any hopes for now. BMW has once shown interest in the MotoGP paddock, which happened under the CRT (Claiming Rules Teams) times. To put that excursion short: The bike was not competitive immediately. And it seems like that is something BMW put great pride in, having success immediately. There is a reason after all BMW are not even in Formula 1.
To add to that, BMW are already in the MotoGP paddock, just not as competitor. That’s right. The BMW M4 safety car. That is, in the foreseeable future, all that BMW will do within grand prix motorsport. For better or for worse, we will have to deal with it.
1.2. Hero MotoCorp, Bajaj Auto, TVS Motor
“Who are those?”, many of you will be asking right now. These are non-other than the 3 largest producers of 2 wheeled combustion vehicles in India. All 3 ranked, in 2021, within the Top 5 largest motorcycles manufacturers worldwide by revenue. But let’s quickly get to the reason why those also will, most likely, not join the MotoGP grid:
They do not have suitable bikes.
Now to be fair, I haven’t checked all their offers, but all those marques specialise on mopeds for the streets of India’s cities. Look at any street in urban India. You are going to see bikes, rikshaws, small cars and a boatload of mopeds. If you do see a 1 litre engine on a motorcycle, it will be one of the established brands like Honda or Yamaha.
Ahh yes, the Kawasaki. The neon green ninja of motorcycles (sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?). The incredibly successful marque of the World Superbike paddock hasn’t featured in a MotoGP race since 2013 under the CRT rule. To be fair, despite being a vastly inferior machine to factory vehicles, Colin Edwards piloted the then FTR Moto-Kawasaki collaboration bike to 2nd place amongst CRT riders. That only translated to 14th on the entire grid, finishing behind every full-time non-CRT rider.
But they are successful now in WSBK, why not ride that wave into MotoGP? It’s not that simple.
Starting out in MotoGP is a huge financial decision, one that possibly doesn’t reap the same rewards as World Superbike. Yes, that sounds weird, the series with higher viewer ratings is supposed to give worse marketing rewards? Well, not quite. But in order to get the same kind of sales figures from MotoGP success pretty much requires the marque to field the world champion. Or at least that must be how Kawasaki feel.
But then again, you can go out, buy a Kawasaki Ninja and say “Look at me I’m Johnny Rea”! The same thing doesn’t apply to Honda, Suzuki, or Yamaha. Buy their top-of-the-line equipment and that is far gone from the bikes you see on the racetrack. At most you could say “I’m a budget Marc Marquez”, and who wants that.
For now, it might be better for Kawasaki to ride the hype train with Johnny Rea in WSBK (even though I would personally LOVE to see a Kawasaki Ninja Prototype, ridden by Johnny Rea in MotoGP).
1.4. Any other new marques?
Well, there could be Triumph. But for the moment they seem pretty happy supplying the engines for Moto2 bikes.
Harley-Davidson and Indian are only racing in the “Mission King of the Baggers” touring bike races. I doubt they would willy-nilly full-throttle pedal-to-the-metal just try out MotoGP. They would probably first start with a Moto America program.
The only real possibility one COULD see in this regard is Kalex going in with a chassis and getting engines from an existing manufacturer. But since Kalex seems happy being (almost) the monopoly on Moto2 chassis, it’s to be taken with a massive grain of salt.
2. A New Satellite Team Emerges in MotoGP
Now while a new Manufacturer might not join the paddock at this moment in time, a new satellite team seems like a much more reasonable suggestion.
Ducati already has 3 satellite teams. Please don’t let there be another one. I’m sure they wouldn’t be completely averse to the suggestion though, so let me just say this:
If Ducati gained another satellite team, they would field almost half the grid!
So get your mind out of the gutter, please.
As it stands, Aprilia would be the only marque in 2023 to field “only” one team. But with the recent successes of Aleix Espargaró, having two more bikes on the grid might be a good move, sporting wise. This could expand their possible roster, allowing for Aprilia to chose between four riders, should some performances not live up to expectations. Of course it would also give more data to the Italian marque, being able to possibly speed up development of the RS GP. This could even come in quite handy, now that Aprilia has lost their concessions.
Of course, what needs to happen for this to work is that Aprilia needs to work together with their possible satellite team somewhat like KTM is working. The other possibility is of course the Ducati approach, where you just sell your old bikes to a satellite team while fielding new machines yourself. The question here is if there is anyone that would accept such an offer to field not the most frontrunning machinery in a fast-evolving field of all-around very competitive bikes. Basically, we don’t know what kind of technical shenanigans the existing marques develop until next year. Therefore having a year old machinery is highly risky.
Basically, the chances of Aprilia fielding more than 2 machines in 2023 comes down to how deep some peoples pockets are. Would Aprilia themselves invest, or would a privateer aid with their “financial support” for this endeavour?
Now this will be a quick one. KTM’s approach to satellite machinery is well known. Getting young talent into the highest class through their availability in every class within the MotoGP paddock. Now one problem is that the privateer Tech3, which runs on the newest machinery, is not very competitive this season. Now what is the reason for Remy Gardner and Raúl Fernández struggles? Is the KTM just that hard to drive? Undoubtedly both these riders have enormous skill, they showed that in Moto2 and Moto3. Or is it just the lack of experience on that 1000ccm machinery?
Fact of the matter is that KTM seems to have flashes of brilliance from their more experienced riders. Flashes, but lacking consistency. The only constant right now seems to be Tech3 finishing at place 15 or below. And even though both riders in this private team are rookies to the class, these results make it doubtful whether KTM will be looking to open another satellite team at this moment in time.
Now Yamaha are no stranger to the idea of fielding another satellite team. After all, last year, there were discussions with Valentino Rossi to open the Team VR46 with Yamaha machinery. Though in the end, of course, it was decided that Ducati would be the bike sponsor for that endeavour.
Judging by that one could be quick to dismiss Yamaha as not being willing to field 2 more bikes. There are even more reasons against it though. As with KTM, Razlan Razali’s Yamaha-driven RNF MotoGP team is not doing too well with both their riders. Even though one of the names on the board is 3-times world championship runner-up Andrea Dovizioso, who was only able to collect all of 8 points in 6 races.
But yes, they could just sell two of their 2022 spec bikes in 2023, after all Fabio Quartararo is currently leading the world championship on a YZR-M1. This just depends, once again, on how big the pockets of people involved are.
Honda is currently in a precarious situation. They only have one rider who can be competitive, none other than 8-time Grand Prix World Champion Marc Márquez, who is currently still plagued by health issues following several injuries sustained during the last 2 seasons. Now the other riders for the Japanese marque might show flashes of brilliance at times but lack consistency.
Honda are pretty much in the same dilemma as Yamaha and KTM. They could sell their bikes but fielding another two factory machineries is something easily dismissable.
3. Rebadging of a Current Competitor
Now this is a very slim possibility, but it shouldn’t be left out of consideration. First off, what does rebadging mean: It means fielding the same bike, just under a different brand. This is a very common practice especially in the automotive industry, one example being Opel and Vauxhall. Vauxhall being the name in countries with close ties to the UK, and Opel the name for the rest of the world. This is also a practice within the MotoGP paddock. However so far only in MotoGP, and pretty much exclusive to KTM-backed factories. Husqvarna, GasGas and CFMoto being the marques in question.
The possibility is that one of those marques could field KTM machinery in MotoGP under their own logo. But apparently there is only 2 real possibilities for this to happen. That would be the aforementioned KTM-backed subsidiaries or Aprilia, which belongs to the Piaggio group.
There is a miniscule chance to see a rebadged Aprilia with a Vespa logo in MotoGP, and that just makes me happy.
4. Closing Thoughts
We don’t want to see a smaller MotoGP grid. Now that the championship is closer than pretty much ever before, more competition just fuels an already interesting championship full of unexpected twist and turns.
The most likely turn of events is sadly, though that the spot will remain empty for the 2023 season and that it will be filled in 2024 again.
The only chance to not have this happen would be pretty much if any private person with pockets as deep as a Saudi prince buys 2 Aprilias, Yamahas or Ducatis. Now as much of a nightmare experience that would be for many people involved, for us outsiders it would a sweet story to behold a complete stranger to the MotoGP paddock screw up on every twist and turn, showing just how challenging it is to field a professional motorsports team.
But until we find out just how exactly the filling to this emptiness looks, we are going to have to wait a few moons.