Interviewed At The Sachsenring: Jeremy Burgess Speaks About Ducati, And Rossi's Return To The Yamaha

Following Valentino Rossi's shocking decision to part ways with his long-term crew chief Jeremy Burgess, there has been much speculation about Rossi's reason for the split. Mick Fialkowski spoke to the experienced Australian earlier this year at the Sachsenring, where Burgess shed some light on the last few seasons of their cooperation. Burgess told Fialkowski about their time at Ducati, the return to Yamaha, and where Rossi has struggled this season. With the benefit of hindsight, this interview makes for a highly illuminating read.

Mick Fialkowski: Jeremy, what went wrong at Ducati when you were there for two years with Valentino between 2011 and 2012?

Jeremy Burgess: I think you probably have to ask that to Ducati, because we tried very hard to get them to work in a way that we had been using for many years but unfortunately it was a mentality of Ducati which even Valentino wasn't able to change. As much as we tried and as you can see this year, the situation doesn't seem to have improved significantly at all. I think there have to be some really big changes in the way Ducati believes that they should go about their MotoGP racing.

Q: What do they need to change?

JB: The people at the circuit are very good. These projects are not lost by the people working at this level. The people in each garage here work to the level of the equipment and the funding that they have. If there is somebody in the higher position that is blocking the development or not believing what the riders are saying and believes that their design is OK, then this is when it suffers at the race track. Ducati regularly tests in Mugello, they compete in MotoGP and see the results every week. It's really in the hands of the directors of the engineering group to put the right people in place back in Ducati.

Q: After years with Honda and Yamaha, were there any significant differences between working with a Japanese and an Italian factory?

JB: Very much so. The Japanese factory listens to what we say and responds to our requests. Ducati, whether they've listened, they've heard, for sure, but they didn't respond. They believed for some reason that what they've had was good enough and that in some miraculous way everything would be OK next week. And then it wasn't and of course you start to lose the bond between the engineers and the rider to work together to improve the machine. Fundamentally Ducati needs to regroup, go back, try and build again and perhaps hire the very best rider, change their structure and their strategy somewhat.

Q: What were your first thoughts when Vale told you that you're going back to Yamaha for 2013?

JB: I for one was really happy. I never wanted to leave Yamaha. We were winning races here. We had a year in 2010 with his broken leg at Mugello but that was the first really bad injury that Valentino had suffered. Jorge was getting stronger. We had the same bikes, we were the world champions in 2009 and 2010. We were winning races in 2010 even with the injury to his shoulder which he suffered earlier in the season. We missed some races with his leg injury of course. He had surgery on the shoulder at the end of the season but of course by that time he had made a decision to go to Ducati. Ducati wanted me and the team to go with him, so we did.

Q: How difficult was it to leave Yamaha back in 2010?

JB: From the point of a new challenge with Ducati I thought it would be interesting. You always learn something new by going somewhere else. It was an experience to work with Ducati. I learned a lot. In many cases I've learned what not to do. The Ducati people at the circuit are absolutely fantastic. But from the point of view of leaving Yamaha, there was no reason to leave Yamaha in my opinion. Valentino perhaps felt that Jorge was getting stronger and it was perhaps an opportunity to establish himself as the number one rider in Ducati. Unfortunately the results didn't come.

Having said that I can go back even further. There was no need to leave Honda in one sense but I'm very glad we did in 2003. We had won the last three world titles, we had a very good bike, team and a very good rider, but as Valentino said, there's more than that. He wanted another challenge and that challenge was to come to Yamaha which hadn't won another title since 1992. We were able to deliver that championship for Yamaha in 2004 and 2005, which was fantastic. Perhaps there was some sort of belief that we would be able to do that again in Ducati, but the challenge was just beyond us.

Q: Half way into the your first season back with Yamaha, what are the major differences between the M1 from 2010 and this year's bike?

JB: They're still very similar. The actual layout of the bike and the appearance, if you looked, like I've always said to the people at Ducati; the handlebars, the grips, brakes, levers, these are parts that once you have them right, you never have to change them, because the human body doesn't change. The vision of the bike is the same. The aerodynamic package is the same. The engine is of course the 1000cc. We're a little bit longer in the wheelbase because of the extra power but conversely when we went to the 800s in 2007, we went shorter with the wheelbase. Essentially the bike is the same with the normal developments you'd expect with pushing the boundaries each year. Of course we had to come back to a 1000cc with a fixed diameter of the bore, which is 81mm, whereas before that was open, and we have 5 engines. There are challenges for the engineering group but the general layout of the bike, with the suspension, brakes and chassis is just trial and error and experiment, but the general appearance is more or less the same.

Q: You've had some turn-in problems earlier in the season and Valentino said the tyres are a bit different now to what they were in the past with a softer construction front. What was wrong and how did you managed to fix it?

JB: They changed the tyres three or four races into last year and this was something that wasn't a very clever thing to do. I remember Casey and the Hondas complaining a lot about that. I was very much of the opinion that they [Stoner and Honda] were right that this softer construction tyre wouldn't suit Valentino's riding style, but on the Ducati it wasn't as obvious as it is when you come back on a good bike where you want to improve your lap time by putting more pressure on the front tyre. It was always my feeling that this tyre wouldn't suit Valentino at all and this has been proved to be correct. We've had to go about a lengthy testing procedure after Barcelona and in Aragon, to arrive at a front suspension setting that minimizes the wheel rate loading on the front tyre.

Q: So what have you actually changed?

JB: If I'd told you, other people would probably find out, so we'd let the other engineers do exactly what we've done and if their riders don't have the problem, there's no need for them to do it, because with different positions of the front wheel, different amounts of weight and different amount of transfer load are placed on the tyre, depending on how you like to ride the bike and what sort of riding style do you have, the problem might not has been as great for those guys. And if you're half a second a lap slower, maybe it wouldn't be a problem either, but for Valentino it was and my job is to make the bike suitable for Valentino. That was one of the challenges that we've had when we came back. The bike had of course been developed in a general way for Jorge and he's been very strong as a rider for the last few years, so as much as we've tried to ride his style of bike, we found out that more and more we needed something a little bit different, so it took us some time together with Yamaha to do this, but Yamaha would do this, unlike Ducati who didn't seemed to wanted to do enough.

Q: The turn-in problems Valentino had earlier this year, was that something similar to the Ducati's understeer from last two years? If so, would that change you've made recently, worked with the Ducati too?

JB: The problem is perhaps similar in general terms but it's not similar at all. The Ducati wouldn't turn. The problem we had with Valentino this year was that when we went to the qualification, the extra pressure he'd put on the bike to load the front to maximize the performance of the bike, compressed the tyre too much and then the bike wouldn't stop. This is different again. It was a braking issue and a tyre load. The Ducati on the other hand doesn't have enough pressure on the front tyre and it was a turning thing. It was an understeer problem constantly with the Ducati and also an engine that was way too powerful for the chassis that they had.

Q: Anything in particular still holding you up with the Yamaha?

JB: At this moment we're still experimenting with the linkage systems with the bike but we're closer than we have been. Unfortunately Sachsenring and Laguna Seca make it very difficult to really test anything because they're quite unique. It's better to just get on with the job and get through it. That's what we've done here, we've worked with the hardware that we've had from Assen and we've got a lot of work to do as well with engine mapping for the race. To use all of our practice time to try and develop something is probably not the wisest thing on these two circuits. It's better to take what you know. When we get to Indianapolis, which is perhaps more normal and Brno for sure, we're in a position to move forward again, I hope.

Q: How is Valentino after these two difficult years? Has he changed in any way?

JB: Hopefully he won't think about moving again! I think he was disappointed of course that the things at Ducati didn't work. He always believed that he was a better rider than the results were showing. As he said to me on one occasion; “I might not be at the level of Jorge and Casey as I was then, but I'm not seventh or eight” - and I think that has been proved by coming back to Yamaha. We might not be at Jorge's level, but we're capable or racing with Dani and others, and if Jorge isn't at the race for one reason or another, or isn't at full strength, we also have some advantages over him.

Q: As a rider, has Valentino learned anything new with Ducati?

JB: I think that for the art of motorcycle racing there was absolutely nothing to be learned from Ducati, but from the point of view of a human being, I think the lesson is to learn very carefully before you jump ship.

Q: Your relationship over the last few years, has it changed, evolved?

JB: Not at all. We're here for the same reasons and perhaps we haven't won as much in the last three and a half years. We came back here, we need to make some changes, we had a victory already and believe we can improve on this. As long as we can race at the front, for the podium, I think we can tell by how many people are out there waving flags for Valentino, that he's an important part of this.

Q: What are the differences between Valentino and Jorge in terms of their riding styles?

JB: Valentino's riding style is the riding style of a very experienced rider, who's been around and won Grand Prix races for a long time. Perhaps he's a little bit more conservative and by being more conservative he's a little less at risk. He's still very good over a race distance, he's consistent, as long as he doesn't get tangled up with Bautista or people like that. We're talking about a guy who has won nine titles, so anybody who has won nine titles in any sport is not going to be young. You have age, experience, you have Jorge who has won two titles in 250s and two in MotoGP, he's still only 26 years old and probably at the peak of his experience, fitness and desire and still very strong. Valentino is keen and enjoys the racing very much but there are differences at all levels. If we can give Valentino a bike that he's very comfortable with, he can race very well.

Q: If you overlay data of a lap of Vale and Jorge with similar lap times, where's the difference as far as how they brake, which lines they take and so on?

JB: Valentino's change of direction might be slightly slower than Jorge's but would be more safe. If the lap times are the same, pretty much most of the data is so close to identical, you can't see any difference but if Jorge is faster, normally there's a little bit more risk. But it's not a risk for Jorge. We have to give Valentino a setting that he's comfortable to push at that level with and that's what we try to do all the time.

Q: Risk?

JB: Risk is not really the way to explain it. His level of comfort is perhaps a little bit closer to what Valentino would put at risk, but that's what you get when you go fast and sometimes you crash more. The idea is not to crash. Taking nothing away from Jorge, he's the World Champion and he's won most of the races this year so he has done an excellent job. The issues here and in Assen are more or less uncharacteristic and it was just unfortunate.

Q: Valentino is now saying he's confident he can fight for the wins for the rest of the season. How do you see it and what are your expectations?

JB: I'd like to think that we can win more races and from my experience you need to win basically six races to win the title. We've won one of seven so we've got a lot of work to do. If we can win some more in the future, then we've got a chance to look at that situation. As we're standing here this afternoon, the championship is in a very interesting position, because if Jorge and Dani don't ride in Germany tomorrow and both miss Laguna Seca for example, you could see that four or even five riders are very close in the championship, which would create a very interesting nine or ten races.

Q: Your thoughts on Jorge racing at Assen with a collarbone broken two days earlier?

JB: The right decision in the end, you'd think. I have absolute faith in these guys and their ability. They are not going to put themselves at risk or their competitors. This is not a club game, it's the top level. If anything, Assen was a race of many parts; Valentino winning, Espargaro beating the factory Ducatis, the disaster of the Ducatis, Jorge's brilliant ride and then Dani who didn't capitalize on the situation where he should have taken the maximum points away from Jorge and for some reason which we have never found out, he was unable to do that. From Jorge's point of view it was clearly a great decision to ride there. Before it happened everybody would have had question marks perhaps but after the results we saw a race of many stories.

Q: What if Valentino says “I'm going to Suzuki in 2015”?

JB: I think we could talk hypotheticals forever but I'm very happy at Yamaha. If someone like Valentino were to make a decision like that, and I don't think for one moment it would happen, I think it's a 1000% unlikely, because Yamaha has been so good to him to come back here. His future after his retirement is very locked into the promotion and ambassadorial type role with Yamaha, so to go to Suzuki is probably the silliest thing I've heard for some time. I'm ready for retirement so if he were to make a sort of decision of that sort, whether that's there or somewhere else, I'm quite comfortable to go home and do other things.

Q: … and if he were to stay with Yamaha beyond 2014?

JB: I would be happy to stay. It doesn't change anything. If he's happy to keep going, and he'd only be happy if he's getting the results which he considers worthwhile, if he's not getting those results, he'd probably do something else.

Mick Fialkowski is a Polish MotoGP journalist and TV commentator working for Polsat Sport TV, MotoRmania and UK's Motorcycle Racer Magazine

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..addressing many of the topical issues fans speculate about.

From Ducati's intransigence, Yamaha's willingness.
Casey's comments on the new tyre being introduced. Vindication..
Onto The M1, the settings. A little dig at the data guys? The differences to Jorge.
Rossi himself getting older, risk taking and racing..

Burgess always comes over as straight talking and affable..he's going to be missed.

I wish him a happy retirement, and hope it's not too long before thoughts of a mighty, definitive, warts and all tome are manifested into hardback reality..just in time for next Christmas would be good?

... reminder about the reality of the Ducati years. They really tried naysayers & haters, it's just Ducati didn't respond.

No doubt that Rossi & his crew really tried, yet they have to eat humble pie, Burgess especially after his comments along the lines of "we'll have the Ducati sorted in 10 seconds..."

Shame that Ducati decided to work that way, but it just goes to show what a phenomenal riders Stoner is to be able to make the Ducati work and ride it the way he did.

"The Ducati on the other hand doesn't have enough pressure on the front tyre and it was a turning thing. It was an understeer problem constantly with the Ducati and also an engine that was way too powerful for the chassis that they had."

Which is not a new problem. Far from it from memory.

Casey was held in high regard by his Ducati teammates about his ability to load the front under braking in a way that warmed the tyre sufficiently and allowed him to throw it in, hit the gas and hold it through the corner with the rear.

When Rossi first went to Ducati and was asked about Casey's ability (and Rossi's initial lack of results), JB is correct - because risk was mentioned by Rossi himself. He basically passed it off as a younger rider taking on more risk, and him now as an older 'statesman' not being 'as' prepared too, and that Ducati would have to make the changes.

I can hear echos of that conclusion that was drawn up by David (among others) that Stoner, for all the good he did there, was the worst thing that happened to Ducati. Especially for these longer-term results (or lack thereof).

Here Vale, look at the data. Look at the trophies. This bike can win etc etc.

The ego of an Italian factory vs the ego of an Italian champion. Ducati won that battle, but neither of them won the war. Not yet anyway.

I've always thought Stoner left Ducati because he got tired of taking all the obvious risks to make the bike go fast. It was easy then to blame Stoner for supposed lack of development skills. But, it's obvious now it's the lack of development from Ducati.

The eloquent words of a man not expecting to be 'blinsided' in 117 days...

That man deserved a MUCH better send off than he got. The champions he has worked with and helped to win WORLD titles speaks volumes on him being a King Level player in those championships. The pure class the man has shown without being fake or sugarcoating.

Jeremy Burgess deserves to be put in at least one Sports Hall of Fame. No one stays around this long at that level if there is no talent to go with the intelligence and drive. Wish him all the best.

Thats the tale of the tape re Burgess/Rossi and Yamaha. Ducati were a Bridge too Far. No 80 second fix then. Nevertheless a nice read. As this was a Sachsenring interview one may have thought he'd have mentioned Marquez.
Agree Peca. Neither was Casey one to mince his words. Jeremy gets accolades for his brutal honesty and Stoner gets dubbed a whinger for doing the same.
I'm afraid the blogs are much the worse for wear since Stoner's departure. Most and their dog like Marc. Problem is that there exists no current rivalry on any forum re any rider to stir the pot. General concensus is that George is the King, Dani the bridesmaid and Marc is,well,brilliant. Vale is a 9 time world champion that cannot or will not push the limit of his obviously superior kit. Pardon me. Jerry mentions Bautista and Rossi in the same breath. Hell!

If JB has that attitude toward VR, I'm not surprised he was sacked. Even though I don't think VR's change will work out, he had to try it since it seems JB had given up on VR...

Yes, JB has mentioned the bleeding obvious a time or two. I'd argue that doing so is does not constitute 'giving up' on the Great Yellow One. JB doesn't strike me as the type to hang around an kill time, just for the hell of it. If JB had truly given up, he'd have been the one to initiate the split, and would have retired long ago.

with most comments: I thought JB played his cards very close to his chest, revealing very little that we didn't already know or surmise. Nothing against him, it's the smart thing to do.

I'd love to hear the other side of the story from Preziosi. Looking at the various iterations of D16 to emerge from the garage it's very obvious drastic changes HAVE been made, so I'd love to be a fly on the wall at the discussions over what was asked for and what was delivered. Personally I'm sad they've resorted to the aluminium frame, trying to out do Honda/Yamaha at their own game can only end in frustration.

I really don't understand all the angst around the Rossi/burgess separation. It's obvious to any MotoGP fan that now Rossi is riding Jorge's bike and not the other way around that he needs to find 0.5s of confidence/setup from somewhere. Burgess hasn't been able to find it for him. If he is to take that 0.5s step then something HAS to change. None of us know how it played out in private so to hear all the judgements is just ludicrous.

around the difference between JL and VR regarding the time differences and the influence of the front tyre. The latter is not likely to change unless there is a call from all the riders but I don't see that happening. Chances of making a magic change to the Yam in 2014 that hasn't been tried already? Wouldn't put any money on it.

Not to diss VR but I wonder if he shouldn't have changed his "life coach" rather than his crew chief. Looks more and more like a very desperate move or a deliberate and public smack from VR to JB. Sad.

Psychology plays a huge part and if Rossi thought JB was somehow blocking things then he was right to do something. JB's comments were not what should be said, and if he said more in private then perhaps he was courting disaster. Rossi's unlikely to go backwards; if it doesn't improve, he hasn't actually lost anything in performance terms; and if it works: well that's good.
Concerning Ducati - its all relative. The Japanese firms would have done what Ducati did in 2 years in the first 3 months; and then thrown some real effort and resources at it. It is clear from the various comments made (I don't know what the truth is) that they seemed not to do a number of major changes that JB/VR asked for. The Japanese would have. It's as simple as that. Gigi will, hopefully, be the first to start from scratch with no emotion to hold on to any detail. He has said the desmo gear makes sense; so it will not be change for changes sake.
I don't believe anyone could put that bike on pole or the podium on a dry track. Stoner left because he knew that with the coming rules and tyres he was on a battle against insurmountable odds. Rossi left because he knew the Japanese were moving on and Ducati wasn't even listening.
Dovi proved that - he may not be outright fastest but he's a class act.
Preziosi's recipe has been shown to be good but not great. But this is a best-in-the-world game; good isn't close to good enough. Different doesn't even get you a brownie point. It's results that count and you have to be brutally honest - if it doesn't work: can it.
That's what Rossi has done and I respect him for that. I just hope he's right and his riding can change too. Otherwise, his helmet will have a (dead) parrot on it, not a tortoise.

strictly correct "Rossi's unlikely to go backwards; if it doesn't improve, he hasn't actually lost anything in performance terms; and if it works: well that's good."

Rossi himself said his results have to improve. Given he is Rossi and he is on the same bike as JL, he decided that it must be his crew chief holding him back. So if the results don't improve then where does the finger get pointed?

Funny that JB said the thing to learn from going to Ducati was to think it through very very carefully before doing it again. Seems that is true for any of the big changes within VR's power.

For any elite competitor it must be incredigly hard to accept your own decline but I wonder if he thought through the statement it makes by getting rid of the most successful crew chief in modern history and what happens if it doesn't work?

Maybe it's how the individual views desperation versus determination.

I think Vale said the rider is more important than the bike.
So if Casey is taking more risk with the bike to get the front tyre loaded, if Jorge is taking more risk with the bike, if Marc is taking more risk with the bike, if Dani is taking more risk with the bike!

Yes, the answer has got to be "The Crew Chief is the weakest link..... Goodbye!"

"I think Vale said the rider is more important than the bike."

Perhaps, and JB said it was 80% rider, 20% bike....

That was 11 years ago for gawd's sake!

...rather than 80/20 these days. You need a great bike, a great rider, and great electronics: lose any one of these and you are gonna be on your a$$.

Gone are the days when a great rider can make up for any short comings in the other two.

didn't Casey make up for the limitations of the bike only a couple of seasons ago?

For Valentino, risk is a 4-letter word. JB highlighted the very reason that Rossi 1/ Could not make the Ducati work 2/ is not competitive against the Spanish top 3. Dani's lean angle is unsurpassed in MotoGP, though he is also a little risk-averse. Jorge changes quicker, picks it up quicker, fires it out quicker. For MM93, Risk is his fuel. Casey balanced risk and pure talent. Rossi is looking for a way to be more competitive ? Firing one of your greatest allies for your whole career isn't going to do it. Vale, you just need to find your balls again, i think you left them on that corner in Mugello.

I am/was a bit of a fan of them both (Rossi/Biaggi). I enjoyed their rivalry.
Rossi, as of late, has confirmed a bit of what Biaggi, Sete, and Casey was claiming against him. Rossi is a bit of an ass.

Rossi seeks every advantage, denies his own flaws and will throw anyone under the bus for his benefit.

I used to believe that he was a class act. Now.....Not so much.

He threw a paddock legend under the bus. He did it in the most unprofessional way. If you paid attention to the initial conference he sought to throw blame at Yamaha. "Yamaha asked me about this early in the season.."

I don't like Javis but he was shrewd enough to see that Rossi was shifting focus away from his actions and onto the Team.

I am glad that the press conference happened as well as this interview.

Rossi you are a multi-world champion. I respect that.

The man that you have revealed yourself to be...Not so much

I really hope he writes a technical book, based on his extensive experience.
Something about the changes at the top level of racing, from 500 two strokes till today, with all the secrets and inside info,.... I would LOVE that book.

I would love to read such a book as well. Not that I am especially mechanically inclined, or that the information would be particularly relevant to anyone these days - but something tells me that he would have quite a few stories to tell!

Rossi is desperate, he tries the last move.
I don't see any disrespect in that, Jerry Burgess neither by the way.
The guy can't change himself and maybe, maybe, he can see in the eyes of his beloved crew chief that he doesn't believe in him anymore (for right reasons).

I will miss the old guy, franc, honnest, interesting, so humble for a guy with such a success history ... and so respectful for Rossi.

I think it will be hard to create a "buzz", a "clash", or any of these awful words between them. They clearly love each other.

History has been made, nobody can erase that. These two guys have dominated motorcycle during a decade ... 500cc, 1000cc, 800cc, arise of electronics, different tyres. Respect, respect !

By the way, I think Rossi won't manage to come back, even if I hope so ... 2 people ... I mean 3 .... in front are way beyond now. And I'm glad to see that.
That's life !

I just hope he won't insist too much, if 2014 is the same than 2013, please go, we will always respect you for that... and a BIG thank you for what you've done. You gave me (and you still, with your crazy refusal to abdicate), and Im really not alone, the passion for this sport ... I mean for this life, because motorcycle is more than a sport.