Davide Brivio Interview, Part 1: On Replacing Rossi, Choosing Viñales, And Managing Talent

Contract season is upon us in MotoGP. Everyone bar Cal Crutchlow and Xavier Simeon is out of contract at the end of 2018, and only Maverick Viñales has signed a new deal to remain where he is. The coming Silly Season could either be hyperactive and extended, or given the early Viñales signing, it could be all over in a few weeks.

One of the key players in the coming rider reshuffle is Valentino Rossi. At the moment, all signs are pointing to Rossi signing on for at least another year with Yamaha, and probably two. But if he doesn't – and there will come a time in the future when even Valentino Rossi has had enough and decides to retire – then Yamaha face some difficult choices. Who to choose to take the place of the Italian legend?

Through the first half of last year, I spoke to three factory bosses about how they would go about the task. Taking the need to replace Rossi as the starting point, the conversation expanded to the wider underlying question of identifying talented riders before they make it to the premier class, and how you approach building a team of two riders with different needs and abilities.

The two other interviews – with Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti and Livio Suppo of Honda – were published last year, but still well worth reading. The final episode, with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio, the man who persuaded Rossi to go to Yamaha in the first place, is the most expansive of the series. In a lengthy and fascinating conversation, Brivio talked about Rossi's place in the Yamaha team, Suzuki's choice to sign Maverick Viñales, their decision not to sign Johann Zarco, how to build a successful team, and what he learned working with some of the greatest riders in the world.

The first part of our conversation appears below. We started off discussing how Brivio viewed Valentino Rossi, and the task of replacing him.

Q: One day Valentino will retire and Yamaha will have to replace Valentino Rossi. What is the best way to replace Valentino?

Davide Brivio: In terms of from a sporting point of view, I think that they already started with Maverick [Viñales] after Valentino. From a fan point of view, charisma, marketing, image, whatever, Valentino is Valentino. It’s very difficult to get something like this. It’s impossible in a way. Of course, Valentino has a lot of fans because he’s probably humble, funny, nice – but I think we don’t have to forget that he has a lot of fans because he won a lot.

Of course, to be nice and to be funny, it helps, but you have to be a winner. You have to be a great sportsman. Then you also have fans because you are nice and you’re funny.

Q: That also works the other way around. You could also be bad and nasty, but if you’re winning then you’ll still have fans...

DB: Yeah, more or less. What Valentino did without any doubt is that it brought to MotoGP people that they didn’t know what the motorcycle racing was and people like the man. Maybe also you go around the world and sometimes they ask me, what’s your job? Maybe in some countries where motorcycle racing is not popular, I tell them I work in MotoGP, and I see that they are still doubtful. They still don’t understand. And I say, “You know Valentino Rossi?” “Ah, yeah! Okay.” So I say, I work there.

So, he arrived to all the people around the world whether they like or not motorcycles. It could be another one, but very, very difficult. They are a unique kind of sportsman. Probably like Michael Jordan, I don't know. Of course, Formula 1 had many but everybody still remembers Ayrton Senna. He lost his life around 20 years ago. So, there are some icons who are difficult to replace. You can come close, probably Valentino is like this. As I love motorcycles, of course I am a fan. I am a fan of MotoGP. I hope that there will be somebody else, but probably you can come close. First of all, we have to wait for another 20 years to see if somebody wins for so long a time. Probably I won’t see it.

Q: In sporting terms, Yamaha took Maverick, and Maverick is obviously the future. You know how good Maverick is. If it was you, who would you put with Maverick? Do you put a young rider? Do you start looking now in Moto2, maybe Moto3 even, thinking “This is a talent I can use?” Or do you look for another rider?

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Brivio is not explaining why they let Aleix Espargaró go.  I was disappointed in Suzuki when that happened, as he had done a really good job developing the bike for them, and was pretty quick too. I have yet to hear a reason why he was replaced.  Any insights? maybe he talks about it in the second part of the interview?

I have always enjoyed Brivio. Plain spoken, kind, real. He smiles. I can hear his voice here as I read, especially his warm playful cadence.

This is part one, but the answer re A.Espargaro really is "then we decided to restart a new project." They chose Iannone over him as a potential race winner. Then they went for a new kid for the second. The only thing that you are missing is the shrug, but it is there if you read closely. It is unfortunate. Unless you are Vinales. Or Aprilia.

Re Rossi returning to Yamaha from Ducati as an odd disturbing force - at last a smoking gun re the ghosts and goblins that beleaguered Ben Spies at Factory Yamaha! "At the time, it was Ben Spies coming from Superbike. Lorenzo and Ben Spies, probably perfect. But then again, Valentino wants to come back. What do you do?" I knew it was you all along Davide, and actually said so long ago. The guy we would never suspect. Kidding, it was Ben's own crew chief actually.

Brivio talks of the accomplishment of securing A.Espargaro and Vinales. And he should! But Davide, wouldn't it be better to set up a damn satellite team instead of cheer your achievement in spite of one? Yes Rins looks good, and yes you (oops) had an option on Zarco, but GET 4 BIKES ON THE GRID A YEAR AGO ALREADY. And, well, how about finally actually getting a primary sponsor? I know Motul is in that splat of red there, but isn't Ecstar oiling your bike? You have WCM-like sponsorship for a factory outfit. Grab up either LCR and their menagerie of sponsors, or our non-alcoholic beer friends in your blue and laugh all the way to the bank and back of the front pack. Sheesh!

Fun to hear his unabashed interest in KTM. His neighbor's wife DOES have an awfully large number of young men come knocking, doesn't she? And his fond memories of his previous partner Yamaha (sigh). But, he is a relaxed personable fellow. So perhaps being happy with a sweet simple lass that cooks well is enough for him. Wait, wasn't their whole team out with "stomach flu, not food borne illness from the lunch" for a weekend last yr? The old Mitsubishi electronics must co trol their ovens and food warmers too eh? Well, she certainly paints a nice livery anyway. Or did for a frightfully short few yrs when it said Rizla perhaps? The white-aqua-purple early MotoGP years should have stayed in Hayate testing black as an improvement.

Somehow a manufacturer that seems good to me solely for having a 750 displacement in a 600 chassis at a time of dwindling middleweight and overpowered F1 tech litre bike offerings is just what Suzuki can be now. Not quite there. I really want them to succeed! But do THEY?

And Ben's manager/mom? Seriously? I'm not on the inside like some of you, and would really like to know why it went so badly that season for Ben Spies and the Factory Yamaha. One of the great mysteries in MotoGP. And why Lin Jarvis behaved the way he did and what he really said.

I'm a Ben Spies fan, and am mystified. Hey he duked it out with Mat Mladin and came out on top. How can you not like the guy?

The lid is on pretty tight. Plus it's old news. I suppose it will all come out 20 years down the road, but I probably won't be around for that!

I was SUPER excited when Ben went to Factory Yamaha too! Definitely supporting him. Enjoyed "normal guy" chat w he and Schwantz, he was a breath of fresh elbows.

In looking into it myself from the outside all that sticks out is that they brought what worked in Superbike to MotoGP and imposed it. When his crew chief thought the Tech 3 data engineer and electronics folks were in disagreement with what Ben wanted done right away in particular, he ended up in conflict with them. Then went around/above them to Yamaha.

Then when he and Ben headed to race w Factory Yamaha they insisted on bringing their OWN electronics geek from AMA Superbikes, whataver anyone else thought/wanted be damned. This looks to be the only issue I see. Having his Mom as his manager is both a bit sweet and weird, but hey. It adds to an "out-of-synch" texture. I don't think the whole shebang was a smooth fit for Yamaha. How he got out on the track with a broken swingarm or sub frame is something we may have to guess at. Melevolence is never as common as incompetence. But something odd/bad was in the air in there.

I remain more impressed with his performance at Tech3 than most. What Ben Spies did in his rookie WSBK year remains and speaks clearly for itself. Incredible.

Maybe it's just my tin hat, but I too smell a rat when it comes to the fact that Yam would have had plenty of notice that Rossi wanted back in.  It was weird that Spies' performance toward the end of 2011 was really strong, and I was expecting him to take it to then next level the following year.  What a litany of disasters that turned out to be.

I just can't understand the mechanical failures.  I was aware of his crew chief and how he seemed a bit of a square peg, but that is great insight into some more of what was going on behnid the scenes.  But surely Yamaha - after the first blunder with the broken seat unit - surely they would have instated some factory oversight (even if by stealth) to make sure they did not lose further face with mechanical failures due to shoddy preperation?

Either way, it was a sad waste of a talented guy, we never really got to see what he could do.  In the normal run of things in former times, Rossi would have been long retired and we'd have had another 2-3 fresh guys through the factory team in the mean time.  But with safer tracks, big-dollar medical support, and improvements to riding gear, we are seeing unprecedented career length these days.  Rossi is of course exceptional, but even look at Pedrosa, 12 years on the factory Honda, Marquez is already going to start year 6, Lorenzo over a decade in the top class, etc etc.  The available career length has surely more than doubled (even on average) since the 80's??

If I am not mistaken, it was said that Yamaha wanted to continue with Spies for 2013, Rossi was supposedly their second option. Now I heard that back in 2013 so I cannot comment on the trustworthiness of the source because I do not remember it, but I think it might have actually come from an interview Ben did with someone.

He repeatedly cited "the way that things were" and how someone in the upper managment who he will not name has basically told him to do his job or not bother coming to the track.

I used to be a fan of Ben back in the day, but I have to admit even at the best of times he seemed to be missing a certain edge that the aliens had. He was the best of the rest, little doubt to that however.

His 2012 season was a miserable one, everything that could happen happened, but he also had his hand in his own misfortune a couple of times, one of those incidents was an excursion to the gravel trap at I think Barcelona or Jerez. I think he crashed quite a few times on his own that season, both in free practices, QPs and races, but once again, it was a long time ago so my memory could be deceiving me.

"they have Tech 3 now is working like a junior team" But VR 46 is more important than Herve. So H.P. may not be able to rely on Yamaha for bikes in the future.

Tell me if I am wrong but I think business is built on relationships. If we burn those bridges it is hard to go back.

Unless you are VR46 & can stroll back into the factory box. Hi Jorge. it didn't work out for me at Ducati, give the desmosedici a try yourself.

Davide talks more about Yamaha than his own team, Suzuki. 

Where's the interview with Lin Jarvis?

I haven't done an interview with Jarvis yet. I wanted to do interviews with other managers first, to be able to show Jarvis that what I am interested in is the process of choosing a successor, rather than trying to extract a list of names. I will try and get an interview with Jarvis later this year.

And Brivio talks a lot more about Suzuki in Part 2 of this interview, which I strongly recommend you read.