One of the longest running paddock sagas finally reached its conclusion last week as Suzuki pulled out of MotoGP, with a stated intention of a 2014 return. In the words of Bob Dylan: "It's all over now, baby blue."
Deadlines set, only to be moved back; uncertainty about the future of the factory team even at the very last race of the season. Alvaro Bautista's crash on the opening corner at Valencia might have been going out with a bang in the most literal interpretation of the phrase, but this was an exit through the back door for the Hamamatsu outfit.
In my opinion, a sabbatical is almost always the wrong option. This case is no different, although you can understand the factory's standpoint on the decision - if not their execution. Suzuki hadn't taken a podium since 2008 and they were seeing little short-term return for their yen. A few years ago, giving up would have been almost unthinkable and a loss of face for a proud Japanese manufacturer.
With money in such short supply and the motorcycle market struggling, the decision was not only a possibility but rather the most financially viable option.
If someone like the tenacious Paul Denning had a tough time trying to persuade Suzuki to continue in MotoGP with resources in place, then whoever attempts to start the 2014 project will have it doubly difficult. A company operating almost entirely separately from its MotoGP operation will have few amongst their number buying two years worth of calendars from the post office this week, marking off the days until their planned premier class comeback. Who from within is going to try and get Suzuki back racing in MotoGP?
Mechanics and engineers aren't likely to be waiting around either. Long-time Suzuki crew chief Tom O'Kane has already found himself a new team, joining Yamaha Tech 3 to oversee Andrea Dovizioso's factory team switch, and team members passing around their CVs at Valencia will no doubt be receiving calls before testing resumes.
With nobody on the inside to push for a MotoGP return, we may be in for a long wait. Suzuki have been hanging on in the world championship for years, with concessions and allowances made for them whenever they have threatened to pull the plug. When Kawasaki exited the scene in December 2008, Suzuki were left without an equal rival and were unarguably the weakest factory with a presence on the grid. Nobody wants to finish a race as the last of the official teams, and so their continuation was continually in doubt.
They were permitted the use of an extra three engines per rider when the new six-motor regulation came in during 2010. This year they ran only one rider. Earthquakes, lack of funds and a credit crunch are comparatively recent occurrences, but Suzuki have been easing their way out for a while now.
This isn't the first time that Suzuki have stepped back from world championship competition (and I thank MotoGP stat king, Dr. Martin Raines, for the specifics of the background info): They spent the 1984-1986 seasons without a factory team in order to concentrate on revamping their bike. A square-four-disc-valve machine had become outdated and, rather than develop over the course of the season, they focused their full attention on producing a competitive V-four engine (The Heron Suzuki and Gallini teams received some support from the factory in the meantime).
Upon their return in 1987, Suzuki again skipped some races - the final three of the season - for developmental purposes. They came back with Kevin Schwantz as a full-time rider in 1988 and he subsequently won the first race of the campaign at Suzuka.
Returning at a time when factories will wield less power and costs will be lower may turn out to be a masterstroke. Leaving dedicated staff uncertain as to whether Suzuki was going to be on the grid in 2012 certainly wasn't.