Honda’s decision to bring 36-year-old Ryuichi Kiyonari back into the WorldSBK series at a time when they desperately need results is as surprising as it is puzzling – especially given the depth of talent that was also available at the time.
Kiyonari was a fantastic British Superbike rider, of that there is no doubt. Three-times a champion with Honda but his star is fading. Last season, Kiyo was ninth in the Japanese Superbike series with Moriwaki and, compared to BSB, it’s not all that competitive. Pensioner Kats Nakasuga won it this year for Yamaha, his eighth title in 11 years.
As with all Japanese manufacturers, loyalty is rewarded but this could be a step too far even for Honda. The list of riders that they could have had to partner Leon Camier is huge and top of it, arguably, is Eugene Laverty.
The Irishman was ditched by SMR late on at the behest of new masters BMW and only had Honda as a back-up plan as the rest of the decent seats were taken. He had as competition fellow ex-GP riders Marco Melandri and Loris Baz, plus the massively under-rated Xavi Fores and Jordi Torres. Lorenzo Savadori, who has shown flashes of brilliance, is also looking for work.
As situations go, this is Laverty’s worst nightmare. He now has to look at the remaining lesser teams – which includes Triple M Honda – to remain in the championship or move back down to WorldSSP, a series where he was runner-up twice at the end of the last decade.
Laverty may also be looking at British Superbikes, and joining Scott Redding as another MotoGP exile in domestic action. But he could be in competition with Baz and Fores for a seat there. Philip Neill has two spaces in his BMW operation which he could fill quite cheaply with former world championship skin.
The demise of MV Agusta and Althea’s partnership with Morwaki means two more teams have exited the series. Laverty may hope that a rumoured tie-up with Ten Kate and Suzuki may bring him something, or that Aprilia can find someone with more money than sense to run their bikes – but they are two very long shots.
It is a crying shame when some of the most talented riders in the world are left on the hard shoulder as paying riders slip comfortably into a position where they might score a point or two at each round.