Rumours are circulating that Kawasaki has shut down its factory MotoGP squad with immediate effect.
The move would leave Marco Melandri and American John Hopkins without a ride for 2009 and the MotoGP world championship down to a paltry entry of just 17 bikes.
The current global economic crisis is being cited as the reason for the decision for Kawasaki to quit the premier class after a disastrous 2008 campaign.
The Japanese factory failed to build on a promising maiden 800cc campaign with the ZX-RR a perennial backmarker in 2008. Hopkins plummeted from fourth in the rankings in ’07 to only 16th in an injury-hit campaign, while Aussie Anthony West had a torrid time and he was only 18th in the final world championship standings.
Although Japanese management had grown increasingly frustrated at the huge financial outlay for little return in terms of results, there had been no suggestion of a withdrawal for 2009.
The team had already completed two pre-season tests in Valencia and Phillip Island and work was moving forward at a rapid pace on the 2009 ZX-RR in readiness for a February debut in Sepang.
No official comment has yet been made by Kawasaki on the speculation concerning its MotoGP future.
In a recent interview with MCN, team manager Michael Bartholemy confirmed budget cuts had been enforced to counter the dramatic economic slowdown.
Speaking on how the credit crunch had impacted on Kawasaki and what it would mean for 2009, Bartholemy said: “We have approached it in a different way. People might think that for us to be more competitive we need to be spending more money. But we have to spend the same money that we spent in 2008 because everybody will reduce its budget. I have not asked them for more money, but we have heard that some manufacturers are cutting their budgets by as much as 20 to 25 per cent. So if we keep the budget then that means automatically that we will be getting closer. The outcome is though we had a cut, but we have compensated for that and it will not affect the development budget, which is crucial for us to try and move forward.”
So far Bartholemy has been unavailable for comment.