MotoGP: For Suzuki, the practice is over

“Our target for this season is to be close to the top riders, try to get onto the podium if the opportunity appears” – Davide Brivio, Suzuki Ecstar team manager

motogp suzuki 2016 practice is over vinales
Although the new 2016 version of Suzuki's GSX-RR MotoGP bike has shown much-improved power, the reliability is still suspect after an engine failure on Day 2 forced the engineers to cut power for the rest of the Sepang test.Photo courtesy of

2015 season marked Suzuki’s return to MotoGP after a four-years hiatus. This meant that besides the target of being competitive, there were many things to be set up as an organization; to develop a way of working inside the team, and between team and the racing department in Japan, and find out where the bike would be compared to the others. “Something you find out only in real racing”, notes Davide Brivio, the team manager who is leading Suzuki’s second year in its MotoGP return.

Highly experienced—he ran the former Yamaha WSBK team with Noriyuki Haga and later Yamaha’s MotoGP effort during Valentino Rossi’s sensational switch in 2004—Brivio accepted Suzuki’s offer to join them when the Hamamatsu-based company decided to return to GPs. The Italian was commissioned to set up the team structure, which meant hire the technicians, mechanics, drivers, hospitality personnel and organize the team base in Europe.

motogp suzuki 2016 practice is over brivio
Veteran team manager Davide Brivio has decades of experience, having run Yamaha's World Superbike efforts back in the '90s with Nori Haga, and then Yamaha's MotoGP team during Valentino Rossi's sensational switch in 2004.Photo courtesy of

All this happened in 2013 at the same time Suzuki created a test team to develop its new MotoGP bike. The original schedule would be that Suzuki would return to competition in 2014, but the comeback was delayed to 2015. Brivio explains why that change in plans happened.

“There were different reasons to postpone our comeback, but the main one was that we weren’t ready with our own software”, reveals Brivio. “We are the company with the least experience in this field. Don’t forget that until 2011, Suzuki was using a Mitsubishi ECU and also the software was Mitsubishi. So we didn’t have engineers inside the company writing software. We basically started to get organized and to write and develop software inside the company only when the Magnetti Marelli ECU became mandatory. So we spent all of 2014 developing our software to be ready in 2015. But, of course, in two years you don’t recover the 10 or 15 years of experience that the other competitors have; we are learning.” In fact, the new resources that have arrived in Suzuki’s Racing Department in Japan are mostly in this area.

An extremely agile and precise chassis coupled with a weak and somewhat unreliable engine were the basic characteristics of the previous Suzuki GSX-RR. Another one was a loss of rear grip as the race wore on, which forced Aleix Espargaró and especially the less-experienced Maverick Viñales to suffer a lot. Although Brivio mentions a third problem that they had to tackle as well.

motogp suzuki 2016 practice is over brivio
While Suzuki has made major progress with the GSX-RR, Brivio knows there is still a lot of work to be done. “We have to try not to lose what good aspects we had," said the veteran team manager. "As you know, in racing when you improve something that didn’t work properly, you often cause problems with something that workedPhoto courtesy of

“We have to try not to lose what good aspects we had. As you know, in racing when you improve something that didn’t work properly, you often cause problems with something that worked…and this is what we try to avoid. So together with the development of the engine itself, we are also trying to develop the full package focusing in this area. This chassis should help with this particular point: exiting the corner and having better traction…it’s always the same story: try to find the right balance”.

The new Michelin rear tires and their amazing grip when the rider opens the throttle exiting the corners certainly are helping Espargaró and Viñales, although the latter complained harshly after the first preseason test about the behavior of the rear. "It's time for somebody to do something. We have the same problems as last year. The rear is sliding and spinning a lot; somebody has to make radical decisions", griped Viñales.

Espargaró was more vocal regarding the reliability of the new engines. Although the 2016 version is much stronger and faster than the previous GSX-RR engine—with both riders no longer complaining about a lack of power—Espargaró’s engine failure on the second day forced the engineers to cut power for the rest of the test, putting the riders right back to where they started. After the first 2016 preseason test in Malaysia, Davide Brivio could not hide his worries with what had happened. The power was there, but if the material didn’t last a full race distance, there was no real progress.

As seen with Ducati, to return into the top level of MotoGP is everything but easy. The Italians didn’t leave MotoGP like Suzuki did, but having lost the direction for a couple of seasons has forced them to play catch up…and so far they haven’t. Being the bridge between the racing reality and the management in Japan—who probably only see the race result the day after the race—is another task Brivio has. It’s easy to imagine: one side asks for more resources (read: money), and the other one questions it by looking at the results. This is another one of those classics situations between race team and corporate management.

motogp suzuki 2016 practice is over brivio vinales
Maverick Viñales (right) has been tabbed by many as a future star in MotoGP, and it's likely he will be sought after by many teams when his current contract with Suzuki ends at the end of this year. Brivio is well aware of this, and hopes that the 2016 GSX-RR's performance will help Suzuki's cause when contract negotiations begin.Photo courtesy of

But Brivio approaches it positively. Knowing full well his role in this relationship, he does not complain at all. “I have the feeling that inside the company, from the president to the top management, everyone is following the MotoGP project. It is something important in the company, they know what is going on, they are aware and they are very much behind us. So this is very nice, and I think what we have to do is motivate and excite our management as much as possible. We are trying to transfer to them some of our strong racing and competitive spirit. I mean, this is a sport and you have to be aggressive from a sport point of view. You have to be aggressive when choosing the riders, you have to be aggressive in the development, you have to be aggressive making new technologies to try to beat your competitors. So yeah, we push to try to transfer this mentality to the people in Japan.”

Brivio’s position and experience allows him to understand the difficulties and the timing of returning to the pinnacle of racing after having been away for four years, but the rider’s patience is much shorter. “This is good!” said Brivio convincingly. “I have to say that in this sense Aleix and Maverick are perfect riders for a project like ours. Because we wanted and want riders who were very motivated, who very much want to improve. I wanted two riders for whom to be in Suzuki was an achievement, not of the type, ‘there is nothing else available for me, I will go to Suzuki.’”

“Aleix had never been on a factory team and we gave him an opportunity. Maverick wanted to go to MotoGP and start to learn as early as possible. We gave him an opportunity to enter a factory team. So, for both to be in a team like ours was a target. This is what makes the difference in motivation. We are still keeping this style and this is also what we are transferring to the engineers in Japan. I want them to know which type of riders we have; they are fighters, they want to win, they want results. This also helps to motivate the engineers in Japan”.

motogp suzuki 2016 practice is over espargaro
Aleix Espargaró has proven to be a consistent top rider and has helped get the new GSX-RR dialed in quickly. An engine failure on Day 2 of the Sepang test initially angered the Spaniard, but some time with the '15-spec engine made him realize how much more of an improvement the '16 powerplant was.Photo courtesy of

But the veteran Suzuki team manager is aware that having his riders upset during the year when all the contracts of the top riders will be up for grabs is dangerous. Especially in the case of Viñales, tabbed by everybody as one of the future stars of MotoGP. Brivio knows how important it is to continue the development of the bike with the two riders who have had a hand in its progress. “Our target is to continue with the same package; we are happy. I think stability is important, so I would be very happy to continue with the same package, with these same riders and the same group of people working all together. We should use the experience we are making to continue to grow together, this I think is very important”.

It’s likely more than words are needed to convince riders who may have already received offers from other teams. “What we can do…no, let’s say it different, what we are doing is very simple: we are trying to prepare the best possible package for the beginning of the season, the first 3 or 4 races, so we can achieve good results. That’s the only way to convince them to stay. I think the riders that are thinking of changing their situation will probably wait 3 or 4 races to check the level of the bikes, the level of competitiveness. After Jerez things will be clearer and the serious negotiation probably will start there. So this means it’s very important to start well to keep our riders.”