With the initial stages of the silly MotoGP 2023 season in full swing months before the 2022 campaign starts, there is already speculation about which factories will bid big for riders and who will end up where at the end of a year the 85% of network contracts leak.
Among the names that are most likely to be in high demand is Suzuki’s 2020 World Champion, Joan Mir.
He will be high on many teams’ shopping lists thanks to both the 24-year-old’s incredible talent and the circumstances in which his Suzuki title defense flopped.
Simply put, Suzuki lacks something important: the resources to meet both the salary offers Mir is getting from elsewhere and the resources needed to keep the GSX-RR up-to-date with its competitors .
It’s no secret that 2020 was a rather random season for Suzuki.
Bringing a superbly good motorcycle to the opening tests of the year and then being backed by the development freeze unofficially imposed on teams by COVID-19 was less of a disadvantage than is usually the case for the smallest of the Japanese MotoGP factories.
And with Me on board, Suzuki took full advantage of it.
However, 2021 showed the weaknesses of this strategy. Now the situation was working against Suzuki rather than in favor as the ongoing pandemic left key employees stranded in Europe and unable to provide guidance and feedback to the racing department in Japan. Suzuki fell by the wayside in the competition.
This was most evident in the lack of rear height adjustment until the middle of the season – something that both Mir and team-mate Alex Rins have longed for since the first race.
This lack of development was the only key factor behind Mir’s inability to successfully defend his title against Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo and Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia.
While it’s fair to say that Mir, like most of his young rivals, is much more motivated by prospects of success than a big paycheck, it’s also the reality that Honda, Yamaha, KTM, or even Aprilia (with parent company) Piaggio If you knock with cash after a spike in pandemic scooter sales), the offers you put across the table will be more than Suzuki can afford.
So which of its competing manufacturers is most likely to try to poach Suzuki’s champion?
Well, while attempted talent poaching has been something of a Ducati tradition in the past, these days seem to have passed for the first time in their modern history with a stacked talent development queue.
KTM has a pretty full field too, and Brad Binder’s four-year extension means at least one of his seats is occupied.
At Yamaha, too, Franco Morbidelli’s contract is out of sync and holds him in place, and it is difficult to leave newly crowned champion Quartararo until he tries to win a few more titles on the M1.
Aprilia has limited seats and unless the RS-GP takes another big step forward it’s difficult to see Mir move there, especially after the team has just left to steal Yamaha Maverick Vinales.
That leaves only one manufacturer – who most urgently needs sensational offspring after a period of drought.
Honda has had a tough time since Marc Marquez broke his arm in Jerez in July 2020.
As the maker of a notoriously aggressive and rider-unfriendly RC213V machine, Honda has created an even tougher time for its other three riders, with just two podiums for Alex Marquez and one for Pol Espargaro in the past two seasons.
Marc Marquez isn’t going anywhere, of course, even if he returns from an injury, handcuffed as he has perhaps the most expensive contract ever offered to a MotoGP rider, an alleged € 100m deal that will end him by the latest 2024.
But things didn’t go as well for Espargaro on the other side of the garage.
The move from KTM to Honda was much harder for him than expected, he fought from the start and didn’t finally make it onto the podium until the end of the year – and even then only if he was lucky enough to have conditions. It wasn’t on a consistent basis.
Does that mean his time is limited if his current contract ends in a year? Perhaps not immediately, as Honda is not in the same rush to sign him again as Yamaha will be to sign Quartararo for the future, for example.
But while Espargaro will give time to see if the changes to the bike this winter will bring the desired effect and allow him to ride more naturally again, it is likely that Honda will target Me if things don’t work out.
There is also a simple reason for this: the driving style of the Suzuki racing driver, which in reality suits Honda’s V4 much better than the four-cylinder in-line engine of the GSX-RR with its flowing lines and high cornering speed.
The man who probably knows him best on a motorcycle has already admitted so much when Mir’s crew boss Frankie Carchedi told The Race last season after winning the title together that his rider’s style on the motorcycle is particularly aggressive.
“There are certain aspects of telemetry that can reveal a lot the first time you ride a bike, and they did it for us,” Carchedi admitted his experience with Mir.
“It’s hard not to go into details, but it can slow you down. How he stops the bike – he doesn’t have to have everything in a row and regardless of whether it is low-grip or high-grip, it can make the difference.
“The tires are getting more grippy and a little softer from year to year, so you can only stop to a limited extent.
“But he can find the limit of what the tire can take and then basically play with the brakes until it’s slightly over the limit.
“It’s not the gentlest brake pressure, but it’s a talent – and it’s the same front and back.
“It’s incredible, and it sure is its forte. For a small child he has a big sensation with the bike. “
This is exactly what the RC213, which has been tailored to Marc Marquez’s very similar driving style since 2013, demands of a pilot.
I am certainly very aware of Mir’s potential on this front, thanks in part to the time all teams are now spending analyzing their rivals on the track.
Should Honda want a replacement for Espargaro (and possibly Marquez if injury issues persist) then a proven title winner is exactly the kind of rider to fish for.
Of course, such a move would likely have repercussions for Suzuki as well.
It would be surprising to see the team decide to replace both riders at the same time, possibly buying a lifeline for Rins on the other side of the garage – and possibly opening the door to another Moto2 talent to replace for Suzuki To recruit me.