As recently as a few short months ago, the idea that reigning MotoGP world champion Joan Mir would be looking beyond Suzuki for his future seemed highly unlikely.
Confident in his abilities on the GSX-RR and riding one of the best bikes in the series, he and his team had a marriage made in heaven.
But time stands still for no man. And to some extent the landscape of MotoGP is moving on without Mir and Suzuki in 2021.
Now the pressure is starting to pile onto the reigning champion squad to find more resources – and fast – if it wants to keep its first world champion in 20 years beyond the expiration of his current contract at the end of 2022.
That’s something that was all too apparent following Sunday’s race at Aragon, when Mir was left visibly frustrated post-race that he was only able to come home in third behind Pecco Bagnaia and Marc Marquez at the track where he essentially sealed his title 12 months ago.
Yes, Mir was third at Aragon last year too – in both legs of the double-header. But those results established him in a growing championship lead, and came with Suzuki highly competitive. Team-mate Alex Rins took a first and second place on those weekends.
Mir is still winless in his title defence, and most crucially Suzuki has very rarely even looked like it might win in 2021.
“I gave everything and it was not enough for me to win,” admitted a frustrated Mir after the race, “and to be honest I am a bit disappointed.
“In the morning I got up and thought that maybe this could be the day to take victory but for whatever reason things changed a bit.
“There is so much equality between all the bikes and in the last seven to eight laps I saw that we were doing more or less the same times as the top guys in front. I would have liked to be closer to them.
“Today was simply not the day to win, or even to fight to the limit, but I gave 100%. With that effort I reached the podium.
“Racing is like that – sometimes it is enough when you give 100%, and sometimes not. I think that with getting the best out of the device I would have been better and closer.”
And in that statement lies possibly the true reason for Mir’s frustration, which recently seems centred around Suzuki’s rear ride height device, which it used for the first time at two races at the Red Bull Ring last month.
It was the last of MotoGP’s six manufacturers to bring the tool to the grid, with Suzuki’s arriving months after every other factory had already started conducting extensive development work on what has become a key component.
It’s obvious that Mir is frustrated both at the speed of work demonstrated by Suzuki and at the impact it’s having on his championship defence.
“Further analysis should be done with the rear ride-height device,” he explained after the race.
“I didn’t use it today, and we think that we were losing more than we were gaining.
“In general we feel the benefit from the device and we’re very happy to have it, but it needs to be finetuned more so that it becomes natural and like we don’t notice it on the bike.
“When you need to use it under acceleration you gain a lot, and not only in acceleration but also in top speed.
“I hope to find a solution so it becomes more natural and we can feel the benefits more. If we can improve the bike we can hopefully close the gap.”
And with that in mind, it’s hard not to read into Mir’s words from after Sunday’s Aragon Grand Prix and see frustration at the team, as he conceded that the chance to defend his title against Fabio Quartararo is slipping away from him.
“Within myself I feel calm,” said Mir.
“I know that I have not been able to do more than what I have done so far this season.
“I am convinced that our good days will still come because I am very hungry for more wins and that is fundamental and my priority.
“The goal is still to win another world title. And that starts with winning races.
“Last year I won the crown with a single race victory. I feel this year I am a better rider, with fewer mistakes, I have more experience… I am hunting victories but I am calm. It will come. We just can’t afford any mistakes .
“Cutting the points gap to Fabio is not easy. The gap is quite large at the moment and Fabio is doing very well and having quite a ‘comfortable’ world championship campaign.
“But nothing is ever straightforward, the pressure is always there, we have to try not to make things too easy for him.”
Yet the problem remains for Mir that while he is a Suzuki rider, he will most likely always remain at something of a disadvantage technologically thanks to the firm’s modest racing department.
With the smallest team size and the lowest budget of any of MotoGP’s manufacturers, Suzuki is seemingly always destined to be on the back foot when it comes to keeping up to date with the latest trends – something that the arrival of its ride height device a full 18 months after Ducati first demonstrated the principal highlights rather dramatically.
Even Aprilia, traditionally joining Suzuki at the bottom of the unofficial budget lists, has made dramatic progress in that field in recent years, as parent group Piaggio has invested more cash back into the racing programme in return for ever-improving results from the MotoGP effort.
And it’s perhaps the area within Suzuki where the absence of former team boss Davide Brivio has been most notably felt following his move to the Alpine Formula 1 time at the start of 2021.
A European influence within Suzuki’s traditionally conservative Japanese hierarchy, Italian Brivio was seemingly an instrumental figure in politicking more resources from Suzuki’s board of directors – and without him, it seems that the racing department hasn’t been significantly rewarded for its incredible 2020 title success.
That’s evidenced by the continuing absence of a Suzuki satellite team, a key development that both riders have repeatedly urged their employer to consider so it can double the amount of data collected on track every weekend.
Suzuki was believed to be close to a deal with Valentino Rossi’s VR46 squad to supply it with bikes for 2022, but that fell through at the last minute – and the prospect of two more GSX-RRs looks like an impossibility this side of 2025.
With Mir’s reputation as a forthright speaker, it’s hard to imagine that his opinion – and the reality of his future – is a view that’s not been expressed already within the team.
Whether Suzuki listens to him could be the deciding factor in where that future takes him.