Kevin Schwantz has praised the Team Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP team for its first year back in topline motorcycle competition after a four-year hiatus.
Describing 2015 “as good as could reasonably be expected,” the 1993 500cc World Champion, who raced only Suzukis in grand prix competition, said it was the marque’s gains throughout the season that caught his eye.
Schwantz told Motorsport.com: “If I was a potential sponsor, I would think the progress they made this year from the first round to the last was a great reason to get involved in that team.
“I know those Suzuki engineers in Japan are as good as any of their equivalents at the other teams. There just aren’t as many of them working on that project, so things take a little longer.
"But to be first and second on the grid in Barcelona – only the seventh round of the season – was a great achievement.”
Riders Aleix Espargaro, a five-season veteran of the series, and rookie Maverick Vinales scored three sixth places between them and went on to finish 11th and 12th in the championship respectively.
Schwantz said he understood that lack of top-end horsepower was the team’s biggest issue to overcome in the off-season ahead.
He observed: “Watching [Valentino] Rossi coming through the field at Valencia gave us a good comparison between Yamaha and Suzuki, didn’t it?
"As Rossi passed Aleix, they came off the corner side-by-side and very similar, but the second half of the straightaway that outright power number comes into play and the Yamaha was well ahead.
“So at least the team has clear pointers for the future.”
Vinales will be "class of the field one day"
Vinales, who won the 2013 Moto3 title and last year finished third in Moto2, finished only eight points shy of Espargaro in the championship, and Schwantz said the rookie impressed him more and more as the season went on.
“I think Maverick has really come to grips with riding a MotoGP bike,” he remarked. “I’ve gotta admit, when Suzuki chose him at the end of last season, I thought, “Oh boy, they’ve hired this 20-year-old who’s never raced one of these bikes before; how’s that going to work for a team just coming back in? And they’ve paired him with a guy who’s young-ish but unproven so far.’
“But now I think it’s a pretty good lineup rider-wise. You’d struggle to get any better riders while the team is still relatively young and in the end I thought both riders did a great job.
“I think Maverick is going to be class of the field one day. Whether it will be on a Suzuki, I don’t know. In fact, I think that will be one of the team’s issues in the near future – trying to hang on to him.”
Suzuki, which has won the MotoGP title just once since Schwantz’s triumph in 1993 – with Kenny Roberts Jr. in 2000 – has retained Vinales and Espargaro for 2016.
The pair finished the first post-season test in an encouraging second and fourth respectively as teams stayed on at Valencia to learn the new Michelin tyres.