As far as Suzuki is concerned, the 2009 World Superbike season never happened.

From Max Neukirchner's injury, to the bike's tricky set-up window, to legal proceedings off the track with an unruly sponsor, Francia Batta's team took, well, a battering in 2009 - a steep downfall from the double podium it achieved in the very first race of the season.

A fresh start awaits Suzuki in 2010 though and the Alstare team has good reason to be optimistic about its chances.

While 'prot?g?' Neukirchner's defection to Honda hasn't been ideal for Suzuki, winning the race to sign Leon Haslam could prove a significant coup for the beleaguered manufacturer.

Haslam's reputation as a 'nearly-man' may have left some to question his decision to graduate to the world championship with a privateer team in 2009, but four podiums and a sixth position in the final standings went a long way to silencing his critics.

Now with the chance to flourish in the surroundings of a manufacturer-backed team, Haslam has sprinted out of the blocks in testing and looks genuinely at one with the GSX-R1000, a bike that has been described as very quick, but a handful at times.

Should Haslam tame the beast, then he is almost certain to be challenging for race wins in 2010. Whether he can launch a title challenge depends on how quickly he gets that first triumph, but when you consider Haslam wouldn't have assumed team leader status had he joined any other factory-backed operative, he stands a good chance of getting Suzuki to work around him.

It may not be the 'dream team' they originally envisaged for 2010, but in Sylvain Guintoli, Suzuki has precisely the right rider to replace Neukirchner.

Still learning the art of Superbike racing following an interrupted first season at British national level, former MotoGP rider Guintoli has learnt fast and is proving to be an adept racer on production machinery.

While the call to world championship level has come earlier than expected - particularly in light of the injury that ruled him out of much of 2009 -, Guintoli has been a confident top ten contender during testing, the Frenchman being aided by his familiarity with the bike.

He is likely to get better too - of all the factory riders on the grid in 2010, he is the least experienced on a Superbike, yet is already out pacing a large majority of his rivals.

On paper, in terms of race wins and experience at least, Suzuki has the weakest factory rider line-up on the grid - and yet it is possibly the most interesting...

Is a title challenge in the offing though? They are outsiders at best, but Suzuki is no stranger to winning and Haslam in particular has shown himself to be comfortable on the international stage.

Most certainly the dark horses of the 2010 season.

Suzuki AlstareLeon HaslamSylvain Guintoli