Kawasaki: Why Flog A Dead Horse, When You Could Revive A Live One?
The latest news/rumor on the Kawasaki front - or perhaps that should be the final nail in Kawasaki's coffin - is that Dorna is attempting to acquire the Kawasaki bikes so that Marco Melandri can race in MotoGP in the 2009 season, as reported by various press sources. Carmelo Ezpeleta is said to be willing to pay for the bikes to run out of his - or rather Dorna's - own pocket, in order to pad out the grid and give it some semblance of credibility.
If this is true - and that's a big if, as one of the sources is Alberto Vergani, Marco Melandri's manager, and Italian riders' managers are about as reliable as Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, though they tend to err slightly more often on the side of optimism - then it is both completely puzzling and remarkably short-sighted. If the Kawasaki - or "Dornasaki" as some wags are labeling it - does turn up on the grid, it will be a bike that is likely to start at the back and travel rapidly backwards. As the year progresses, the competition will receive a steady stream of upgrades, improving at each race. And each of these upgrades will leave the Comatose Kawasaki yet another step behind, heaping calumny upon humiliation over the head of the poor rider foolish enough to volunteer to ride the ailing beast.
Any attempt to resurrect Kawasaki will be doomed to failure, with no money for development. The attempt offers nothing to either the team or the rider(s) involved, and is more likely to damage Dorna than anything else, despite allowing the Spanish company to save face. This is surely a rescue better left untried.
But what is the alternative? I hear you cry. Well, believe it or not, there is one, and one that offers hope not just for the 2009 season, but for MotoGP going forward. I was fortunate enough to visit Ilmor over the past week, to speak with the people involved in their ill-fated MotoGP X3 project. What struck me there was the passion and interest which everyone still had for MotoGP, and their desire - verging almost on desparation - to get back into the series, and make a point. The people involved in the project were filled with a burning desire to prove that they can build bikes, and that the poor performance of the first iteration of the X3 was unjustly laid at their door. They believed they had learned a great deal about the bike since the project was called off at the beginning of 2007, and after consulting widely with people with lots of experience of building competitive MotoGP bikes, have done tests with a modified bike which saw it vastly improve on the time set by its previous incarnation.
But two responses I received stuck out in my mind. The first was how long it would take for Ilmor to get the bike ready to race, should the money appear to fund the project. "About 3 minutes," was Ian Watson's response, the designer responsible for the engine. The other - and even more relevant - reply came up in a discussion of money. When I told them how much Olivier Jacque said Kawasaki were spending on their MotoGP project (about 40 million Euros), jaws dropped. "We could do it for a fraction of that," they said, heads nodding in unanimous agreement.
In the light of the enthusiasm for MotoGP which seeped from every pore at Ilmor, it is frankly bizarre that Dorna would even contemplate pouring money into the corpse of Kawasaki. Carmelo Ezpeleta would undoubtedly have to spend several million euros just to keep a moribund bike on the grid. A pall of despair would hang over the entire project, and it is hard to imagine anyone - rider, team or fans - who could summon any form of enthusiasm for such a venture.
Contrast this with the passion which I saw at Ilmor, their willingness to learn and their determination to succeed, and it is immediately obvious what the better choice would be. Instead of investing in a dying cause, and trying to drag a manufacturer who has given up on MotoGP back into the series, Dorna and Carmelo Ezpeleta could bring a new manufacturer into the series, a manufacturer which is committed to staying, and has a proven track record of success. It would be a public relations triumph, bringing a new manufacturer into the series in the midst of a financial crisis, and has the potential to rekindle interest from the circles of Formula 1. With F1 growing every more expensive, the companies involved might once again start to ponder participating in racing with almost the same media exposure for less than a tenth of the cost.
Dorna has the chance to start breeding new interest, and a new stable of participants in MotoGP. The tragedy is that they would rather try and flog the dead horse that is Kawasaki.