This is not the season start that Team Suzuki Ecstar expected...nor is it for Andrea Iannone. The GSX-RR’s lack of competitiveness has led to a not-unexpected drop in motivation, and the team members feel constrained relying on only one rider to evaluate and help develop the Suzuki. Unfortunately Alex Rins’ continuing run of bad luck in the form of injuries since the beginning of the season has led the Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP team to this situation.
Montmeló was a continuation of the dynamics from the previous race at Mugello, where Iannone qualified 16th and finished tenth; at Catalunya, he qualified at the back of Q2, and finished out of the points. Hard to find motivation in a situation like this, yes, but this is a factory team, and riders are paid to ride at their maximum in order to help develop the bike. On Sunday afternoon after the race, the tension in the team box was so thick you could cut it with a knife...and the truth is, there were plenty of reasons for it.
After starting from 12th on the grid, Iannone crossed the finish line in 16th, just more than one second over his stand-in teammate Sylvain Guintoli, who was drafted in from the Bennetts Suzuki BSB effort (Rins should be back in two weeks at Assen). What in principle seems a simple continuation of the team’s struggles this season, is actually a situation that is very close to becoming the straw that broke the Suzuki engineers’ patience.
The reason? Let's talk numbers. On lap 18 of the race, Iannone laps for first time in the 1:49s; on the next one however, he slows to a 1:50.507. His pitboard tells him that a rider is gaining on him from behind, but without specifying that it was Guintoli. The Frenchman catches and passes Iannone, overtaking him on the straight on lap 20.
Being passed by Guintoli turns out to be a wake-up call for Iannone, who reacts by turning up his speed on the next three laps—laps 21,22, and 23—to record a 1:48.576, a 1:48.576 and then a 1:48.878, a pace that allows him to quickly open up a comfortable advantage over his teammate by the time the checkered flag comes out.
The outrage among the Suzuki engineers for Iannone’s demonstrated lack of effort was manifest. Going 1.5 seconds faster only when he was in the embarrassing situation of being passed by his stand-in teammate is something that seems like...laziness? Lack of commitment? Lack of professionalism? Unfortunately, the environment on the team at the moment is not one that entices everyone to act as a unit.
The continued poor results have caused the Suzuki management in Japan to replace the MotoGP project leader in an attempt to give the race effort a boost. To this end, they have reinstated one of Suzuki’s legendary engineers, Shinichi Sahara, who was responsible for the brand in the GPs until Suzuki left the championship in late 2012. It’s clear that the MotoGP project in Hamamatsu is in need of experience on a mission that has suffered a tremendous slowdown this season. During the previous years up to this point, Sahara-san has been involved in the creation of Suzuki’s latest generation GSX-R1000. Now that he is finished with that project, Suzuki management was quick to put Sahara-san back in charge of the MotoGP project in the hopes that he will be able to help solve the issues plaguing the Suzuki at the moment.