Masao Furusawa Interview: On Visiting Italy, Filippo Preziosi's Samurai Spirit, And Valentino Rossi At Yamaha

Editor's note: The news that the former head of Yamaha's MotoGP program Masao Furusawa had visited Italy to talk to Ducati Corse boss Filippo Preziosi spread like wildfire through the racing world. After initial sightings in Italy of Furusawa, rumors quickly began to spread that the legendary Japanese engineer had been contacted by Ducati to help them fix their troubled Desmosedici, in a bid to keep Valentino Rossi at the factory. The rumors turned out to be true, and so veteran Japanese journalist Akira Nishimura visited Furusawa at his Kyoto home to ask him about the visit. Furusawa explained how he visited Italy at Filippo Preziosi's request, talked of his motorcycle design philosophy, and explains why he decided to turn down Ducati's request for help. Furusawa goes on to talk about visiting Valentino Rossi in Tavullia to discuss his future, and gives his vision of Rossi's chances at Yamaha. 

The interview gives a fascinating insight into a key point in motorcycle racing history. It highlights the lengths to which Ducati is willing to go to change their fortunes, and it also highlights interesting aspects of Japanese culture, and the effect they can have on the direction of racing and the individuals involved. 

Akira Nishimura: First of all, how long did you go to Italy for?

Masao Furusawa: Almost one week. I returned to Japan on (July) 25th. When I arrived in Italy on the evening of the 19th, I received an e-mail from Yamaha Motor Racing - they seemed to find an article on newspaper about my trip - asking me the purpose, so I replied them that 'I will go sightseeing tomorrow, then see Filippo Preziosi the following day'. Valentino also called me on my cellphone and said he needed to talk, so, I visited his home in Tavullia. I met with Filippo twice and with Vale once during the trip.

Q: Let me clarify. Exactly, on which day did you meet with each of them?

MF: I left Japan on 19th in the morning and arrived Italy in the evening on the same day. Next day I went to sightseeing, so…it was on the 21st that I met Filippo. The second meeting was on the 23rd. We talked for 3 or 4 hours for each day. And I visited Valentino on the 24th then left Italy on the 25th.

Q: Was the trip by invitation from Preziosi?

MF: Something like that. We have exchanged e-mail every now and then. In his company, the situation seems to be complicated because Audi joined the management while Valentino looked very reluctant to remain in their team. Filippo wanted to speak with me and said he would come to Japan, however, I thought it requires him a lot of effort to come down here between races. So, I replied to him that I would go there.

Q: How long have they be asking you for help?

MF: Since the middle of the season last year. At first it was just a kind of joke, but this time it looked very serious, with them saying that 'if possible, we would like you to help Ducati.'

Q: Did you meet with Filippo Preziosi at their office?

MF: No. We met in his home because the rumor has already spread and we wanted to avoid public attention. In his home, I gave him a talk about very fundamental things, such as how the motorcycle should be designed. He looked very impressed and wanted me to lecture his colleagues about it. Two days later, Filippo took his chassis engineer with him and we spoke with once again in his home.

Q: It sounds like you had already reached an agreement before the trip to discuss technical solutions for their bikes.

MF: The reason I moved to Kyoto after the retirement is to spend a quiet life, however, some of my old friends asked me to join their business and gradually I started to imagine that it could be interesting to launch a small consulting company for myself in a few years. Expected customers will be production vehicles and airplane industries. When Filippo contacted me, I joked to him that he could be my first client. Then he showed great interest in it, so I told him if you pay my expenses I will go there. For sure, I didn't hesitate because I can go sightseeing in Italy free of charge!

Q: Does that mean you are already involved in the development and modification of their Desmosedici?

MF: No. I cannot disclose the information related to the Yamaha, and we didn’t discuss anything in the details. I have just explained them about my approach and the way of thinking, especially what I had done in 2004. For example, ‘centroid triangle’ - which is a triangle made from front and rear contact point with the ground and the center of the gravity of the bike - shouldn’t be shaped like this or that (gestures with his fingers to show the vertex goes too far to the front or rear side). Or, when they refer to the suspension, they always measure and express with the ‘stiffness’. But, my approach is different. I would take a look at a ’frequency’ of suspensions and try to make the front and rear frequencies as close to the same as possible. It makes the weight-transfer of the bike smoother. Although they are just generalities, I could manage with our bikes in those scientific approaches. What I explained to Filippo was those kinds of ideas of mine and the way of thinking.

And I asked him why he had called me. If I joined them and got good results, it would prove his previous developments had been wrong. Or, if I joined them and couldn’t do any good, it would also prove his decision was wrong. I asked him ‘Either way, it will be inevitable that you have to take responsibility. How come you have to take such a big risk?’ Filippo immediately answered with composure. ‘It doesn’t matter if I lose my position. I don’t care at all. All that I care is one thing; to make our bike better.’ When I heard his remarks I thought in my mind ‘Filippo, you have a real Samurai spirit…’

Q: Anyway, it is very odd - especially in Japanese society - that someone should help and give some ideas to his rival companies.

MF: Basically, I am a retired and independent person. So, there is no obstacle to help them. However, as you point out, I understand that in Japanese society it would be inappropriate to help your competitors. On the other hand, I would have liked to lend a hand to Filippo as a friend because he is an excellent engineer. Furthermore, if Valentino returns to Yamaha next year, I thought that helping him the rest of the season wouldn’t be a bad thing. Filippo showed me various proposals to help them. I told him to answer within a week and left Italy. As soon as returned to Japan, I went to Iwata headquarters and explained to them about the proposals from Filippo.

Q: How was their reaction?

MF: It was a typical Japanese one. They said ‘We cannot prevent you from doing what you will, but we expect you will do the right thing.’ It does not make sense to create friction between them, so I said ‘’OK, let’s forget it.’

Q: So, you won’t help them after the summer break?

MF: No. In conclusion, I will not help Ducati.

Q: You also visited Tavullia on 24th. What did you speak with Valentino?

MF: When I went to Italy, Valentino had already made up his mind 99% to leave the team. But magazines and newspapers were saying that I would join Ducati. He said to me that if it is true and this missing-in-crossing happens, it would be embarrassing.

Q: After all, he wanted to know your real intentions of the trip?

MF: I think so. During my stay in Italy, he called to my cell phone every day. We decided it would be better to see face-to-face, then he invited me to his home in Tavullia. After explaining my purpose of the trip, I told him that when I return to Japan I would ask Yamaha headquarters immediately if I could help Ducati then I would let him know the conclusion. The next day of the meeting in Iwata, I sent him an e-mail to tell him I cannot help them.

Q: Did you think to persuade him to go back to Yamaha during your visit?

MF: No. I didn’t have to.

Q: Now he comes back to Yamaha next year. Is there any possibility that you help him as a consulting company?

MF: It is very unlikely. Because I believe the Yamaha has enough potential to win for next two years. After that - I mean, in 2015 or later - , I may possibly be able to do some consulting, however, Valentino will already have retired from MotoGP by then. This consulting company will be specialized in vehicle dynamics and creating solutions for noise and vibration, that is to say, it is an activity for both pleasure and profit to fulfill my retirement life. That is the reason why I don’t want to get involved in the MotoGP paddock. And as I told you, I have moved to Kyoto to enjoy my retirement life. I hope I won’t be back there!

Q: From your point of view, how competitive will he be next year?

MF: Well…there will be various opinions, but personally I believe he still has very high potential. However, Jorge became more consistent and faster than ever. It is not easy to beat him even for Valentino. Should be a good fight between them. Let’s see.

Q: There used to be quite a lot of tension in the Yamaha garage from 2008 to 2010 because of the rivalry between Jorge and Valentino. How will it be next year?

MF: I presume the tension between them will rise again. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valentino thinks to beat Jorge before his retirement. He is such a determined rider. I feel sorry for the boys in their garage because they have stomach ache once again!

Apart from that, I think YZR-M1 could be more stable. This competitive bike had been developed with the help of Valentino by taking a lot of time. With his coming back to Yamaha, a course of its development will be even clearer.

This interview also appeared in Spanish in the print edition of the magazine Solo Moto.

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Surely Ducati won't stop at that to get help. Aren't there non japanese good/valuable engineers at Yamaha?

"This competitive bike had been developed with the help of Valentino by taking a lot of time. With his coming back to Yamaha, a course of its development will be even clearer."

Obviously he is a very humble man who doesn't like to overstate his own role in Yamaha's achievements, but still I don't imagine there is anyone better placed than Furusawa to comment on this.....

The bike VR jumped onto was not developed overnight or in response to his input, it was already developed by Furusawa and basically a competitive package. VR and his team would have had some input to assist the fine-tuning of it, but all of the heavy lifting had already been done.

Hopefully that puts the development banter on here to bed. At every available opportunity, Furusawasan has said how instrumental Valentino was into the development of the M1, from 2004 until today.

Probably has something to do with him getting his job back as well.

Already numerous comments suggesting this proves Rossi had zilch to do with the M1... Shame people can't read properly.

Awesome piece of information for a racing fan. Furusawa-san is such a strong character. Valentino's conflict is priceless.

Great interview and a fantastic insight into the "inner workings" of the world of MotoGP!
Thanks for publishing this David and many thanks to Akira for asking questions that many of us wanted the answers to!

Fantastic insight into the respectful & gentlemanly relationship between these two talented designers. If only the relationships between riders operated at this level.

Did you see that movie?

Eddie Lawson says at "That's your job and that's what you do and you have to win...or you're out of your mind if you got just wanted to kill everybody."

That's how racers *should* be, not this wishy-washy PR crap.

I'll hazard a guess that you are American. Please note the whole "Sportsman-as-granite-faced-killing-machine" schtick is not universally admired. Hence the unabated popularity of Rossi, Schwantz, Sheene, Simoncelli, Agostini & the general ambivalence to the likes of Spies & Stoner fading away from the game.

Some may it stimulating to squint manfully across the table at mens men like Lawson, Roberts & Spies. Personally I would much prefer to break bread with interesting folk like Furusawa & Preziosi. The key here is the thinking of key players in one of the biggest stories of the year... wishy-washy PR crap? Or insightful journalism?

It is not an "American" thing. The admiration is for an athlete or racer in this case that has mind blowing determination, will, and guts to go for it. The racers you frown upon believed in themselves, even if nobody else did, had the necessary "ego" to go with their determination and the skill to back it up. Some marvel at fearless men, applaud their efforts and look up to them because they do things they cannot themselves do. This fearless attitude to go for it has been going on since the history of man began. Novels, poems, and stories have been written about these types over the ages.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends......

Can't see the wood for the trees? All the riders, including the CRT guys, have got to where they are by exhibiting mind blowing determination, will, and guts to go for it. That is a given.

"Some marvel at fearless men, applaud their efforts and look up to them because they do things they cannot themselves do. This fearless attitude to go for it has been going on since the history of man began. Novels, poems, and stories have been written about these types over the ages."

Why the need to describe sport with such militaristic hyperbole? The heart of this matter is that these people can do the things we aspire to but cannot do. What riders like Spies, Stoner, Lawson, Doohan, Roberts 1 & 2 seem to not understand is that we are interested in what they are doing not because they are fighting to save a way of life, or to escape social or political persecution (which is why the militaristic hyperbole is so inappropriate) but because sport is entertainment.

Simply riding around in circles fast with an almost autistic detachment is not enough. Why is Rossi so popular? Sure he can ride. Yes he is (or was) a winner. But its more than that. Rossi can communicate the joy of racing, the emotions of winning & loosing so that the plebs like you & me who have no hope of experiencing it directly can get a taste of what it feels like. Rossi is not unique in that respect. His hero was Schwantz, a rider who rode with passion. Its not hard to see why Simoncelli, Rossi & Schwantz became such good friends. Others who rode with their hearts on their sleeves? Bayliss, Gardner, Sarron. Cadalora turned riding into an aesthetic practice. Gibernau was a bull fighter, Pedrosa? turn out the lights on the way out son. The rider I would most like to share a few hours with? Nobby Ueda. Want to feel the full force of racing passion? Ignore Spies and the like... read Dr Costas' book

"Why the need to describe sport with such militaristic hyperbole?"

Amen. That's definitely an American trait, I should know, I am one.

There's many military buzz-words infused in football (long bomb, blitz, etc.), it's just an American thing to relate everything to killing something, so no surprise that racing motorcycles racing is compared to d-day.

After all, we are the country with the world's biggest, baddest, most expensive job program and industry hand-out... sorry, I mean military... in recorded history.

Wasted their money on, an avoidable and questionable "military complex" to quote Eisenhower, the question remains what did the Europeans do with their money, too much 'broken bread' could be the answer.

Spies is as laid back as they get, in fact he's to laid back for Jarvis, and Stoner gets on just fine with almost everyone except Dorna and Rossi, and has always had better relations with his team mate Rossi has had with any.

DFH, you missed the point entirely. And where are the international rules of how you can describe something posted on an open forum, that is informal? You seem to think we need to live by what YOU think of what is permissible. You say people shouldn't use terms such as that, then you go on to say XYZ is an American trait, then throw out insults.

Men who are excellent at what they do, whether that be riding a motorcycle, running a marathon, swimming, kicking a ball or any general stick and ball sport, makes no difference. It's not an American thing. Doohan, Senna, Jackie Stewart, Joey Dunlop, John McGuiness, Kenny Roberts, all motorsports legends right? People around the world respect and admire them because of what they did and how they did it, self belief, balls, and talent. This knows no borders as these men (only mentioned for relevance) are from different continents with fans from every continent.

And you don't understand that "If only the relationships between riders operated at this level" will never happen because designers aren't circling the track at 200 MPH on 250HP missiles. Riding one and being good at it taps into adrenalin, and testosterone, even riding one like some of us do on the track or in the twisties does the same thing. Riders have a certain mentality and certain few are really going to get along with one another. Once the competition increases so does the tension.

And tell Michael Scott, the journalist for, to quit using military terms as well. He described Rossi as a "ruthless killer and people needed to be reminded of that". He's British so that doesn't wash with your argument. I can find you authors from most languages and continents who describe things in such a manner.

"Sportsman-as-granite-faced-killing-machine" schtick. I can tell you every racer exhibits this behavior at one time or another. Some more or less than the others, but definitely all. If that is something you don't like much then there are sports such as ping-pong but I'm sure you'll find it there as well. It comes from competing. Engineers are not the athletes on the field in sportsmen competition. They can smoke cigarettes while they do their job.

Condescending posts because someone doesn't share your opinion is funny to read. It means you actually think your intellect is higher.

'I'll hazard a guess that you are American."

"Can't see the wood for the trees?"

"Ignore Spies and the like... read Dr Costas' book"

Open your mind.

Michael Tee describing the content provided by the owner of this site as " ... this wishy-washy PR crap" as a direct response to my post congratulating our host for publishing that article is much more condescending & inflammatory than anything I wrote. Did that not bother you?

I find it odd that you assume that riders automatically cannot get on because they are competing on track. One of the things I miss most having "retired" from competitive riding is the comradarie I found with my fellow competitors. If your experience of the sport is that it can only be performed in an atmosphere of primal aggression then I truly pity you. For me the technical aspect of the sport is more compelling than the athletic. Thats why I keep watching & buying tickets to races. If all that mattered to me was the athletic then I would be busy writing on a forum for the Olympic games. Or may be ping-pong, a sport with no technical or team aspect at all.

The irony is that for all your disdain of the efforts of the designers to provide the sporting spectacle you enjoy is that one of the stated reasons Stoner is turning his back on the sport is the continuing trend for the rules to dumb down the engineering competition between factories in the name of cost saving.

There would be no Furusawa & Preziosi without the riders whose "schtick" you find so unpleasant. BTW, the "schtick" knows no national borders.

Are you really categorizing Spies as a "granite-faced-killing-machine?" The guy is almost ridiculously laid back. He wouldn't be out of place kicking back and catching some waves. He seems seriously mellow to me and I haven't noticed any animosity between him and other riders. Also, aside from his occasional swipe at Rossi, Stoner seems to get on really well and share a lot of mutual respect with the other top riders.

Because if you are, you are projecting. That guy is as humble as they come. And your analysis fails not only on that basis, but what about the likes of "King" Kenny Roberts? That guy was as "militaristic" as they come and yet his legend in GP is known by all fans of the sport.

In any event, great interview.

David and Akira,

Grazie for a brilliant view behind the scenes. Furuwsawa-san is, and has always been, a complete class act. Valentino will be where he belongs..., and will remind us of his important legacy in 2013. Ducati appears to be ready to do the heavy lifting required to develop a competitive package.

Thanks again.

Very interesting article from a sociological perspective as well.

My respect for Preziosi has risen immensly by his humility & willingness to sacrifice his pride, job & more importantly his reputation to make the bike competitive..Props.

On the other hand Yamaha demonstrates hypocracy of calling themselves "honorable sportsman", yet (no doubt) exerting influence on an "independant" Furusawa to not accept Ducati's offer.

Sadly the management of Yamaha are mired in the Samuri warrior, take no prisoners Sun Tzu mentality & don't understand there is greater honor in defeating a more formidable opponent.

Being a Westerner, I come from & have only been exposed to a very different value system of sportsmanship & fairness.

Whatever Japanesse culture may dictate as proper behavior in such matters, this action by Western standards seems egregious. Like it or not, MotoGP is a European sport & the Japanesse use it to sell products in Western markets & this doesn't comport with the Western values of sportsmanship.

Americans in particular find it anathema to "hit a man when he is down" & Ducati surely meets that standard. We would see great honor in helping a sporting adversary attaining his best performance to level the playing field for a fair fight.

Is that foolish to the Japanesse?

I suppose the point is is that it is considered dishonorable to switch sides, even if you are retired, and use the knowledge and skill you gained from working for company A for a long time to help their competitor company B. Even for someone who has grown up in a western culture this shouldn't be a difficult concept to grasp. It's just we are too used to having money as the main objective, if it pays enough we'll do it, screw the last company they were shits anyway sort of thing.

Maybe it is like, the whole is bigger than the individual, where-as we are very individualistic in the west.

The whole, it's a European sport thing is a bit much. There's more than one way to skin a cat.

It makes perfect sense for a man who has achieved a great deal with an employer to ask if they had an issue with him going to their direct competitor.
Considering that Yamaha is still racing the M1 he designed, and that the only real advantage it has is handling--not power or durability, then why would they want to give that away?
And as an american, I've not ever seen businesses help a struggling competitor unless they were afraid of a monopoly suit. Harley has supplied police bikes at below cost many times in it's career, the most notorious was when they took new York city's Indian 4's and scrapped them after selling new Harley's at cost.

It is possible Nishimura san wasn't paid a lot of money for the interview (most journalists aren't highly paid, right?), so THANKYOU.

It simply gets the imagination racing. How awesome to think of Furusawa travelling to Italy on Ducati's dollar and spending a few days there sightseeing. Oh yeah, and squeezing in some engineering chats over coffee at Preziozi's home in between his daily calls with Rossi.

Can you imagine doing the tourist thing in Florence photographing the Duomo or being on the Ponte Vecchio and the quiet Japanese tourist next to you is Furusawa on such an expedition. Absolutely priceless.

I understand his loyalty to Yamaha, but it would have been fascinating to see the result of a Ducati developed with his input.

When Ioda gone to Kawasaki from Yamaha (where he was basically the deputy of Furosawa), there were a lot of hard feelings between the companies. That's not really happened before. Main Yamaha execs refused to speak about it for years. So I guess that was on his mind too.

I am impressed with Filippo after reading that. I never thought he had the tools needed to succeed. He apparently has come to the same conclusion. That recognition is the first step to a turnaround for Ducati MotoGP. There are lots of ways to acquire the right tools and he is apparently going to acquire them one way or the other. He doesn't need to invent the science. He needs to find and lead those who can.

"Although they are just generalities, I could manage with our bikes in those scientific approaches. What I explained to Filippo was those kinds of ideas of mine and the way of thinking"

As an engineer and a MotoGP fan, I wish I could been in the room for this one. Two seasoned engineers, explaining to each other how they find balance among all the factors that have to be addressed in designing a racebike, and defining/summarizing parts of that problem from different technical perspectives, such as stiffness versus frequency. Brilliant stuff.

Thank you Akira and David.

I had the very same reaction when reading this interview. How great would have been to be there or at least to have a video of that meeting. The frequency stuff was brilliant indeed!

I have a feeling that Preziosi probably sat there with his mouth wide open most of the time, wondering how come he didn't know all this stuff!

Nishimura got the scoop of the year in my book! Fascinating interview. I really enjoyed the frankness of Furusawa's responses. Thanks to Mottomatters for bringing this brilliant interview to your readers.

amazingly interesting insights, much more subtle and artful way of thinking compared to ducati's engineers.

What could have been with Furasawa/Preziosi/Rossi/Burgess team at Ducati...

It's also amazing that Rossi would have rethought his decision to stay at Ducati just for the opportunity to work with Furasawa again. It just goes to show the respect/reverence for Furasawa-san.

Rossi and JB must surely have understood and known Furosawa's theory on Freq, balance, etc, so I would assume that they would have spoken to Prez about them as well. If he had to hear it from the horses mouth to believe and decide to act on it, then Ducati has wasted the past two years with Rossi and JB in my opinion!

Not sure that there was too much honour involved when Suzuki stole all of MZ two stroke ideas via Degner defecting

It's very sad that people like Masao Furusawa, leave MotoGP. We have to understand is decisions, but their great minds should be related to what we love, Bikes. All the interviews with Masao reveal that he is a simple man with a great mind, and we must love people like that.
I'm thinking in Casey Stoner too, it's a shame that he will leave this sport, but if it's what we wants, who am I to say otherwise.
I take my hat to people like Masao or Casey, and hope they will reconsider one day. They have abilities that very few have, and it's sad that these abilities are not being used.
Thanks to Akira Nishimura also, for the great questions.

Thanks David and Akira, great article.. Rossi and Furasawa joined forces with the intention to turn Yamaha into the new Honda (dominant brand)and did it. A whole lot different to just happening to be the best in a one off scenario. Incredible feat and never tire of the insights...thanks again.

I do not understand all these positive comments...
If furusawa met preziosi in secret in his private home, Was there a pact to keep everything secret? If yes, why does he now reveal every little detail of the encounter? And how would such a betrayal compare to the samurai Ethos he mentions?
I just find it all very confusing...