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Old 09-17-2015, 10:40 PM   #1
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Suzuki MotoGP effort losing momentum?

After some surprising early success in 2015, Team Suzuki Ecstar's Aleix Espargaró has dropped off the pace somewhat recently. Team manager Davide Brivio gives his frank opinions as to why in our interview.

Suzuki’s start to the first half of the 2015 MotoGP season could almost be described as brilliant. Despite going up against the combined might of Honda and Yamaha, the new team made it to the front row of the starting grid three times—including a pole position at Catalunya. But since that time, Suzuki seems to have lost a bit of that momentum, evident in their results on the track and palpable within the team.

There are no hard feelings or strained relationships, but you can sense that the riders’ motivation has been dampened. And we all know that the rider in a team creates a kind of ripple effect: if he is flying high, the whole team is flying high; if his shoulders drop in discouragement, the whole garage loses motivation. OK, it may be an exaggeration that the rider has "dropped his shoulders in discouragement," but for those who live among the riders on the GP weekends, there is a difference between the Aleix Espargaró earlier this season and the same man during the last few GPs.

Team Suzuki Ecstar manager Davide Brivio (left) is a veteran of the Grand Prix paddock, and gives his frank views on the changing fortunes of the team, its riders (such as Aleix Espargaró, right), and the coming year with major changes in electronics and tires.

There is no one better than Davide Brivio himself to discuss this situation with. The Italian manager of Team Suzuki is sincere in this regard; he doesn’t claim that black is white or vice versa. When we spoke with him following the Barcelona and Assen races about how the Suzuki MotoGP project evidently had lost some momentum, he did not sugar-coat it.

"Yeah, maybe we got a little behind on bike development. We haven’t yet succeeded in bridging the gap with the motor with respect to the leading motorcycle category, and that is hurting us. The electronics have clearly improved since the start of the season; we took big steps forward in Barcelona, but after that GP the pace has been slower. For the last few races, we’ve been waiting for new parts to arrive. We hope that we can achieve something in Motegi or the final part of the championship. We also have to think about preparing the bike for next year."

Compared with Honda or Yamaha, the Suzuki racing department resources are far fewer. And this is not referring to economic resources, but human resources. Because of this, the last statement from Brivio regarding preparing the bike for 2016, we understood he might be referring to the Suzuki Racing Department already being focused on a new GSX-RR for the next season.

Team Suzuki Ecstar's star MotoGP rookie Maverick Viñales has scored points in all but one race this season, and it's a foregone conclusion that he will be a hot property at the end of the 2017 season when his contract expires. Suzuki hopes to help retain him with a fully competitive package by then.

"No, it's not like that," said Brivio. "We had the idea to do a different bike for 2016, but in reality it will be an evolution of 2015 model. We are working to introduce short-term developments (it's likely Suzuki's seamless transmission will show up at the next round, for example - MP), to finish the season with them and try to make major changes to the first race next year. The work we do now will serve for 2016. We need to start thinking ahead to what will be new in 2016: Michelin, the new electronics..."

The new rules coming into play, at least on paper, will help reduce the differences between the bikes. By limiting development, brands with more resources won’t be able to ‘bully’ the less powerful brands, as happens now. At least that it is what one imagines will happen...or wants to imagine for the sake of greater equality in MotoGP. But in this regard, Davide Brivio is realistic; he isn’t getting his hopes up.

"The values won’t change much because there are new electronics. The best engineers, or those with more experience, will surely be better at managing the available parameters. Because the electronics, it’s true they will be equal for everyone, but then there are also so many parameters to manage and that can be modified. The experience that the engineers have who are in charge of them will make a difference. Also, this single ECU seems to have the possibility of intervention. There is still a bit of confusion with this issue, it’s not clear. In my view, it’s likely that Yamaha, Honda or Ducati, who have a lot of experience in MotoGP, will be able to use it better in the beginning. We are trying to work quickly to understand it."

After the early success in 2015, Brivio admits that the pace of development on the Suzuki GSX-RR has slowed somewhat, and he's hoping that the next few races will bring some much-needed new parts to help with its performance, as well as the morale of the riders.

And what about the riders, Aleix Espargaró and Maverick Viñales? Espargaró began the season very motivated and excited. The fact that he was finally going to be on a factory team after many years of working towards that aim was exciting and inspired Espargaró. He knew that he was joining a young project and as a rider, would be a reference for the state of the project and that all eyes would be on him. His early season was brilliant and at Montmelo, his home GP, his taking the pole was amazing, for him and for Suzuki.

Two weeks later at Assen he was on the front row again, but from there the learning curve began to flatten out. The results, also in the qualifiers, began to become increasingly weak. The holiday following those races also didn’t help, and it appeared that Aleix was feeling a little…discouraged?

"Well, a little low on motivation after coming from the holidays ..." admits Brivio. "At Indianapolis and Brno it was not the same Aleix we knew. I think he is now recovering his form and I hope at this end of the season he will be the principle again. Aleix, when he has a lot of motivation, is able to go very fast and can do great things."

And what about Viñales? The "golden boy" of MotoGP, of whom it is said that at the end of his Suzuki contract will inevitably move to Honda or Yamaha, appears to be a top trainee. He finished his first ten GPs in the points. "Maverick is growing fast. We like to see him improve and grow like this. He is showing the talent we all know he has."

Suzuki are aware the potential the young Spanish rider has, but also know that the ability to hold onto him means offering him not only a good contract but also a winning project. Anyone who knows Viñales well is keenly aware that he is laser-focused on one goal only: to be a MotoGP world champion, so the brand of motorcycle or team matters not as long as it's winning. Yes, it’s true that everyone racing in the world championship wants to be world champion, but it would be easy to debate that no one wants it more than him.

Related stories:
The Next One? Maverick Viñales profile
MotoGP Catalunya qualifying: Espargaro on pole with new lap record

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