Let's not beat around the bush; MotoGP has been putting on a brave face this summer in spite of the lack of bikes of the grid. From fans to paddock people, and those distant observers outside the sport, it's not gone unnoticed anywhere that there have been so few for so long this season.
Money, or the lack of it, is the bottom line. One hardly needs to be a rocket scientist to work that one out, but doing my notes for this weekend's Brno MotoGP makes slightly sad reading for another reason. That is Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa have won every race this season, less for the opener in Qatar - which was taken by Valentino Rossi.
Eight races won by just two people doesn't exactly suspend us near the edge of our seats does it?
You can just hear the Spanish editors back in Madrid each Sunday morning: "Right, we've got the stock shot of Lorenzo on the podium, what other news is there from the track?"
No one else has got even close to a win, and that's a hell of a shame as we had some cracking times at the beginning of the MotoGP era, which was, granted, a while ago (2002). But they were good nonetheless.
Alex Barros won first time out on a Honda V5 (Motegi 2002) while Sete Gibernau beat Valentino Rossi in some classic battles. It set the period up to be remembered as the 'Group B Rally Car era' of bike racing.
Kenny Roberts discovered that it was, with hindsight, mad to build your own engine and try and compete against the Japanese. The Roberts-built V5 was a disaster and had less power than a stock GSX-R 1000. It once broke the crankshaft before it left the garage at Le Mans... But at least Kenny has one complete crank as his toilet roll-holder back at his ranch in America. Just to remind him.
Then the Austrian KTM squad came into MotoGP with Team Roberts but the project was full of arguments between the two sides. Having a strong-minded and forthright American paired to an equally wilful and forthright Stefan Pierer was never going to work. It transpired the KTM trucks turned up and took the engines from the back of the Roberts garage at Brno 2005 and drove straight out of the paddock.
Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa © LAT
Dorna didn't give the impression that they were going to rush out from their offices and lie across its path in an attempt to keep an existing customer, rather than go out and find a new one.
Sadly, to this day there hasn't been a new manufacturer enter MotoGP, even as an engine supplier, since then. And that's a major worry. Not only that, and I hate writing this, but team Roberts has gone just as has Sito Pons' team; both were winners. Astute businessmen that they are, they concluded enough was enough and that they couldn't make ends meet.
Now I know that there is LCR, Tech 3, Pramac, Aspar etc, but they have not got a chance of winning a race, and that may well be down to the 800cc formula.
Proof of that is that nearly all 800cc races (we're in a fourth year of them - 63 races in total so far) have been won by the fab four of Rossi, Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa. Only rain or tyre influenced races enabled Vermeulen, Dovizioso and Capirossi to win and, even then they were on works bikes, so the customer bikes haven't got a look in.
Is it wrong that Aspar should be paying that kind of money and still be finishing that far down the grid because a) it's a second string Ducati, or b) they have a team who have a very long way to go to learn the bike and it's foibles? I mean just where is Karel Abraham going to finish next year?
The last customer win was the spectacular Toni Elias at Estoril in October 2006, but as Jerry Burgess says of the 990cc bikes, "You had to get the engine, the chassis, the rider the tyres right. But if you had one of them slightly off centre, then you could still win. That is not the case with the 800cc bikes. They've got to be spot on."
Now, the chats in press offices, bars of hotels and hire cars around the world all conclude that there isn't one particular reason for this drop off in numbers of bikes in MotoGP, but more a combination of various large things that add up to a very big problem. Reccession; 800cc bikes not having their wings clipped technically to keep costs down; the bottom totally and utterly falling out of the sports bike market the world over; and that there is really too much sport on too many TV channels.
So what can be done about it? "If I knew the answer to that question, I'd be a millionaire" springs to mind, but how about if less corporations were involved and the 'garagistes' were given another crack of the whip. Sure, Team Rainey and Team Roberts had the blessing of Yamaha, but they won races with racers at the helm.
It's not always a given that racers turn into good team managers as managing other people and balancing books is a far cry from racing, winning, partying, crashing hire cars, glamourous girls and new Porsches. But Rainey, and in particular Roberts, were good at the games that needed to be played with the FIM, Dorna and sponsors.
Kevin Schwantz © LAT
'Red Bull Honda Team Schwantz' has a great ring to it doesn't it? And where is Honda USA spending its cash at the moment if not in the US SBK championship? Answer; they are spending it with Roger Hayden's Moto2 entry at Indy, surely a great test before having a works Honda in MotoGP.
Hell, Kevin can open doors like no other. He could attract sponsorship and the all important works machinery while motivating riders massively.
So, to try and stop the thin grids for 2011, over to you MSMA and FIM to let these 1000cc bikes in next year with modified parts on them that were similar to the TT F1 rules that were at their zenith in the mid to late 80s. (It enabled modified production engines to go racing and still have enough mods on that would keep the manufacturers busy in their R & D departments.)
Does anyone really care about the deep technical intricacies of the engine that powers the bike? Do we really need carbon discs? Purists would say yes we do, but if you stop the average F1 viewer in the street and ask them what engine powers the Red Bull Formula 1 world championship-leading car, they would have to think about it for a while. Doesn't roll off the tongue does it?
Wouldn't it be worth it to try and fill up the grid and give some depth back to the field?
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