Marco Melandri will
race a Kawasaki in MotoGP this season after a deal was struck between the manufacturer and Dorna to enter a one-rider team.
Despite signing Melandri on a multi-year deal to partner John Hopkins in 2009, and development of the new ZX-RR well advanced, Kawasaki Heavy Industries announced on January 9 that it had 'decided to suspend its MotoGP racing activities from 2009 season onward and reallocate management resources more efficiently' in response to the global financial crises.
But Dorna, facing a slim 17 rider grid, was unwilling to allow Kawasaki to simply walk away from the remaining three years of its MotoGP contract, instead offering to release the company from the 2010 and 2011 seasons providing its machines were still on the grid in 2009 - and warning that they would 'take Kawasaki to court' if they were absent.
Dorna and Kawasaki have since been working on a solution that would satisfy both parties - and it is thought the decision to put one bike on the grid is an attempt by Kawasaki to minimise costs, whilst avoiding the possible financial penalty for breaking their MotoGP contract.
While full details of the new project are yet to be confirmed, it is understood that Kawasaki will supply the one-rider team with the necessary machines, parts and technical support
However, it isn't so clear how involved Kawasaki will be in the day-to-day running of the team, or indeed who will even head the squad - former boss Michael Bartholemy was known to be trying to run the ZX-RRs as a privateer team, but has been silent since the official withdraw.
The future of John Hopkins is an even bigger question mark. Was Hopkins offered the chance to ride alongside Melandri and turned it down, or did the new agreement effectively force the #21 off the premier-class grid?
A short statement from Kawasaki said:
“Kawasaki announces that after constructive talks between Kawasaki, Dorna and other involved parties, a new one-rider Team will participate in the 2009 MotoGP Championship season.
“This decision was made after negotiations that followed Kawasaki's January 2009 announcement to suspend its factory supported MotoGP activities due to the economic crisis. Rider for the new MotoGP team will be the Italian Marco Melandri.
“The team will be equipped with Kawasaki motorcycles and supporting materials.