Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Ben's Corner #9: Will Suzuki's Iannone fight back?

MotoGP, a highly acclaimed sport event recently caught the attention of media not because of the successful start of the second half of 2017 season but due to the sudden drop in pace of one of the key factory teams, Ecstar Suzuki. The extent of the issue is so worse that all the internal scoops of the team are fulled with complaints and war of words.

Ecstar Suzuki is the factory MotoGP team of the automobile giant, Suzuki Corporation, Japan. The brand has a rich history in grand prix races as it was the first Japanese to ever clinch the MotoGP title from the European manufacturers way back in 1976. Being strongly hit by recession, the brand withdrew its team from the event in 2011 at the time when its competency with other teams was also dwindling. Despite the fall, Suzuki wasted no time and started developing a new bike from scratch.

Within three years, they successfully completed the development and made a grand comeback to the sport in 2014. Their older GSV4 race bike was replaced by a brand new inline four cylinder, 'GSX-RR.' As per expectations, the bike did race winning lap times with performance in line with other bikes from other manufacturers.

Suzuki assigned Aleix Espargaro as the main driver and rookie Maverick Vinales as the secondary contender. During the start of 2016, Maverick started performing better than Aleix and by mid-2016, he surprised the racing world by clinching the title at Silverstone track. Not only that, he also took the team to great heights throughout the season.

When everything went fine, Maverick unfortunately made a heart-breaking decision in the end of the season announcing his switch over to Yamaha. In some of his previous interactions with the engineers, he had constantly complained about the engine lacking outright power though the handling and traction was great. This is believed to be the reason for his transition.

Having experienced such tough situations in the past, the management at Suzuki made some crucial decisions and appointed Andrea Iannone as the ace driver who also came out from Ducati at around the same time. Suzuki also appointed rookie Alex Rins as the secondary driver for Andrea as Aleix Espargaro who is already the ace driver for Suzuki couldn't be downgraded as a secondary driver.

Andrea Iannone is known for extracting the maximum potential of any bike. But his stint with the GSX-RR was far from better. He crashed his bike in most of the races leading to Ecstar Suzuki losing all its crucial points. The team scored 89 constructors' points and awarded for the highest finishing rider by manufacturer in each race at the midway stage of 2016. But this year, they have just earned 35 points with Iannone taking 16th place in the riders' championship standings. The team's best race finish was seventh for Iannone in Austin. At the same time last year, they had claimed nine top-six results with Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro including the podium at Silverstone.

Very recently, the issue got blown out intensively when one of the top bosses at Suzuki and the 1993 500cc MotoGP champion Kevin Schwantz hit out at Andrea Iannone. In one of his media interactions, he said, 'I don't spend a lot of time in the garage, but the time I have spent, there seems to me that the work ethic, mentality and focus is not there.' Tagging Iannone as an Italian, he added, 'I don't understand Italian and I'm kind of glad because sitting there listening to Iannone and his crew chief, I just don't see the drive. I don't see the motivation and intensity. I see a relaxed kind of, 'I can't do anything about this' attitude. When things are bad, the good guys work harder. They don't step back and want to take it easy.'

So, now comes the question as to whose fault for the team which was progressing well to see a sudden downfall. Fans predict two important reasons for the fall in pace of Iannone. One of the regular followers of MotoGP, Rhowni, said, 'To start with, it was a wrong decision for Suzuki to choose Iannone. His pace was depreciating even when he was with Ducati. He is a do it or leave it kind of guy. If he has the mood, he will rip open the bike and surpass everyone but if he is not in a good mood he will be lethargic. The best example to back my point is the recent test session where Iannone was deliberately driving slow that when Sylvain Guintoli, the newly appointed Suzuki rider caught up with him, Iannone came to his senses and overtook.'

The recently held race at Brno also proved disastrous for Suzuki with Rins finishing in 11th place and a very unlucky Iannone in 19th due to a slide and crash that damaged his machine. He was also injured when struck both in the head and leg. In the accident he also hit Rins’ GSX-RR, which fell to the ground damaging the handlebars.

In the end, it must be noted that Iannone has responded to all allegations and requested people to wait and watch his future actions. It will be interesting how things turn out in the future.

- S Ben Raja,
Chennai, September 12, 2017.

The above review/analysis is completely the perception of S Ben Raja alone. This does not reflect the views of two or more people or a community. Queries and criticism shall be addressed to the writer only. This author is correspondent for an English daily working on auto beat stories for over a year. Reach him at benraja4@gmail.com.

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