The euphoria over finishing on the podium in both races of Sunday’s World Superbike races at Silverstone didn’t last long for Eugene Laverty and Marco Melandri. Less than a day after spraying champagne for the second time, they were stunned to find out that their Yamaha World Superbike team would disband at the end of the current season.
“Today’s news of Yamaha pulling out of WSB came as a shock to me as well,” Laverty tweeted on his Twitter feed. “Really disappointing for the entire team- a great bunch of guys.” Melandri’s tweets in English and Italian were more concise. “long day, feel tired and sad, need a big sleep. Tomorrow is another day.. Lunga giornata e faticosa. Dormita e Domani sarà un altro giorno.”The riders only found out at Monday, while other key team members were told on Sunday night at Silverstone. Althea Racing Ducati’s Carlos Checa swept the double-header, with Laverty second and Melandri third in both races. Melandri currently sits third in the championship with Laverty fourth.Yamaha’s return on investment and lack of outside sponsorship appear to be the key issues, compounded by the continuing slump in motorcycle sales. When Yamaha won the WSB title in 2009 they were sponsored by Sterilgarda Alimenti, the Italian food giant. The team went sponsorless in 2010 and again this year. World Superbike isn’t Yamaha’s only unsponsored team. Yamaha’s MotoGP team is the only one in the World Championship without backing. Despite Jorge Lorenzo winning the 2010 MotoGP World Championship, and Valentino Rossi winning the crown the two years before that, Yamaha wasn’t able to secure an outside sponsor for 2011, despite intense negotiations with a number of companies. Fiat, the Italian auto maker, didn’t renew their sponsorship once Rossi left for Ducati.At the Estoril round of the MotoGP World Championship in April, Livio Suppo, who’s in charge of sponsorship for Honda Racing Corporation (HRC), spoke of the difficulty of finding sponsorship.
“Step by step things are moving, but let’s say that something that we need to seriously consider is a lack of interest in sponsorship,” Suppo said. “Not to find excuses, because I’m the first one to criticize myself if I’m not able to do something, but the fact that Yamaha has won three years in a row the championship and is without a title sponsor, means something. I think if you win three titles in a row in Formula One, you find one.”The fact that they’re pulling out as a factory entity doesn’t mean that Yamaha won’t be involved in World Superbike. Honda hasn’t had an official team for some years, but is involved with the Castrol Honda Ten Kate team. Ducati Corse withdrew their factory team for 2011, but the Italian factory continues to be involved with the privateer teams and is expected to be back next year with their new Superbike. Suzuki’s team has been run by Francis Batta’s Alstare team for more than a decade, though Batta’s status going forward isn’t certain. The team took the extraordinary step of releasing a statement at Silverstone re-affirming their loyality.The statement pointed out that Batta had been with Suzuki for the past 13 years, has a “tremendous relationship” with the team, and has been a “loyal supporter of Suzuki and it is for this reason that he would like to continue with them alone in the future. If Suzuki decide not to take part in the World Superbike Championship next year, Francis will also stop rather than continue with another manufacturer.”