Marco Melandri admits that Kawasaki's factory withdraw from MotoGP participation means his hopes of rebounding from an 'awful' 2008 campaign have been somewhat hit - but he nonetheless thinks he will race in MotoGP this season, without the support of the Kawasaki factory, and is ready to demonstrate his undimmed desire as he bids to resurrect his faltering career in 2010.
Following three top five championship finishes from his first five seasons at bike racing's highest level – with five victories, 14 further podiums and three fastest laps to boot – a switch from Honda to the Ducati Marlboro Team at the end of 2007 alongside then defending title-winner Casey Stoner ultimately proved to be disastrous.
With a scant three top ten finishes from 18 outings – and none of them higher than fifth position as he concluded proceedings placed behind both of the semi-works Ducati entries of Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli – Melandri's reputation nose-dived fast, as Stoner conversely ended the campaign 15 spots above him in the riders' standings and having triumphed on no fewer than six occasions along the way.
A move to Kawasaki in 2009 was supposed to provide a springboard for the man from Ravenna to bounce back again, but then came the shock announcement at the beginning of the year that the Japanese company was withdrawing from the championship with immediate effect, three years before its MotoGP contract expires.
That has left Melandri on the face of things without a ride for the upcoming campaign, and it is understood that the 26-year-old set himself a deadline of the end of this month before deciding whether or not to take a year out of competition. Series organiser Dorna is currently trying to broker a compromise whereby Kawasaki hands over the Ninja ZX-RRs to a non-official, privateer outfit in exchange for an early termination of its prior agreement that avoids the threat of legal action.
Though there are also concerns over the reliability of the new bike, as well as suggestions that Kawasaki only has enough engines built for the first quarter of the season, Melandri says that it 'looks like' he will be on the starting grid come the opening meeting in Qatar in early April - and hopes to enjoy a better year than the last.
“For me, 2008 was an awful season,” the 2002 250cc World Champion confessed, speaking to our journalists. “Nothing went right. For 2009 I took a big risk with Kawasaki, and it's been such a bad winter for me. Right now it's such a hard time for the whole world, so I just have to take things day-by-day.
“For the future everything can change so much; many things can happen that nobody expects, and maybe new things will appear too when the economy picks up again. I don't think that will be very soon, though, so now we can't think about the future too much...
“It looks like we'll be able to race in 2009 though [as a privateer team]. For sure it won't be the original plan, with the factory not working with us anymore and no development of the bike, so I'm not starting out aiming for the podium. I just have to do my best, be in the middle of the field and show everyone how much I want to be there to try and get a good bike for 2010. It's tough, but I have to fight with what I have.”Interview conducted by Alix Capper-MurdochTO LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW IN FULL: CLICK HERE