By Andy Marking
MotoGP is at a crossroads. Suzuki has joined Kawasaki and Aprilia on the sidelines, while two of the remaining factories (Honda and Ducati) will be providing fewer bikes for 2012, when a new class of Claiming Rule Teams (CRTs) will make its debut.
So what will MotoGP look like in the not too distant future? Here are some of the possible options for 2013 and beyond...
The same number of factory and satellite bikes as in 2012
The 2012 MotoGP World Championship will contain three factory teams - Honda, Yamaha and Ducati. In addition each manufacturer will supply just two satellite bikes. The remaining places on the grid will be filled by new CRT bikes, with six of these 'privateer manufacturer' entries already confirmed and several others expected.
So how likely is it that these six factory and six satellite bikes will remain on the grid in 2013?
Dorna has said it will only financially support CRT bikes from 2013 onwards. This will put added pressure on the satellite teams - Tech 3 (Yamaha), Gresini (Honda), LCR (Honda), Pramac (Ducati) and Cardion AB (Ducati) - to look very seriously at switching to CRT.
With one season of racing under their belts, the CRT machines are also likely to be much more competitive in 2013 - and if not, Dorna might hold enough clout in the GPC to give them further performance concessions.
Likelihood of more satellite teams switching to CRT in 2013? 8 out of 10
Likelihood of one or more factory teams pulling out of MotoGP? 3 out of 10
All bikes racing under CRT rules
In 2012, the cut-price CRT bikes will race under different technical regulations to the factory-built prototypes, with concessions in terms of the fuel limit (three litres more) and number of engine changes (12 compared with six for factory/satellite bikes) to help reduce the inevitable gap between the two sets of machines.
Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has said MotoGP has to change to remain viable, telling Motosprint “It's clear by now that the way the bikes are built doesn't work anymore, it's not suited to the world's economic situation anymore.”
It's also clear that Dorna views CRT bikes - which have the opportunity to use modified superbike engines in a prototype chassis - as the long-term solution. How ironic then, that back in the early days of the 990 era, the WCM team was excluded because its bikes used production-based parts.
The use of two sets of MotoGP technical rules, allowing CRTs to race alongside the factory-built prototypes in 2012, seems to be viewed as only a short-term situation - with the premier-class to be 'unified' under one set of rules in the near future.
These rules are sure to be closer to CRT than the present prototypes, with control ECUs and rev limits being mooted as a possible replacement for the 2012 fuel and engine differences.