It is not often that journalists get to speak to team managers at length, but test days provide the perfect opportunity to do just that. So it was that a small group of journalists attending the tests sat down with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio to discuss progress so far.
There was a lot to talk about. There have been rumors that Andrea Iannone is not fitting in well with the ECSTAR Suzuki team, and is currently engaged in talks with Aprilia about moving there for the 2018 season. Some of Iannone's issues are down to his problem adapting to the bike, and trying to fix his feeling with the front end.
Brivio spoke to us about Iannone's situation, and the development of the GSX-RR. He also talked about the benefits of a satellite team, what Suzuki is doing to improve the spec electronics package, the test program at Barcelona, and the return of Alex Rins for the test. It was a long discussion, but there was plenty to go over.
Question: How did you hear these rumors about Andrea talking with Aprilia and some people say that there is no very good climate in the garage? How is your reaction on this?
Davide Brivio: I heard through journalists and I read on a website. Of course, I heard this, but the situation is very simple and very clear. We have two years’ agreement with Andrea Iannone and I don’t think the atmosphere is strange at all. Of course, we are having a difficult moment, a difficult time because we don’t get results. We just keep working and try to follow Andrea, he has some, let’s say, requests. He has some problem riding this bike, which is not only Andrea, also Sylvain Guintoli in these races. He felt some problems, which is we should improve the rear grip. This looks like the same for everybody probably. It’s quite a common problem.
Then this year we have some issue on the front feeling entering into the corner. We are working on that. Here we brought a new evolution chassis. Try to work on the rear grip. We are testing different geometry and solution and idea. Many small parts, but also trying to change the balance of the bike and the weight on the bike. So, we’re going through different ideas and different testing. That’s why we decided to stay another day here. We will see. What we are doing is try to work as much as we can and try to fix the issue, try to improve the situation. That’s all. So, we’re just working on that.
About this rumor, I don’t know. Journalists are always looking for scoop and for news. Maybe somebody might think that being a difficult moment, maybe something strange can happen. It’s not the case. We have a contract and we are thinking on how to fix the problem. It’s simple like that.
Q: Are you surprised it’s taken this long to make progress with Andrea’s issues?
DB: Yeah, of course. To be very honest, we didn’t expect to take a long time. Also because we started very well. I will say, after Valencia and the Valencia testing, with Andrea he was really happy about the bike, fantastic. At the time he pointed out that the electronic was an area which we needed to improve – and still we need to improve. We are working also on that. Then for the rest, he was quite happy.
Then maybe the races came and we found some more difficulties. Electronics is one of the areas where Andrea feels also more that we have to improve. Also thinking about this matter, he comes from a bike where probably it’s one of the most sophisticated electronics. So, it is true that we are not at that level. We are so very young in this game. We need to recover fifteen years of experience. But this is what we are doing. We have additional engineers arriving here from Japan to work on electronics. We have modified slightly our team operation in order to concentrate some guys more on the electronics.
We are aware. We are working. I think we’re making progress step by step. Of course, as is correct and is right, the riders are always very demanding. They want to fix the problem tomorrow, which is correct. That’s their job to ask. We are trying to do as soon as we can. I can tell you that the racing department is working very, very hard. I don’t know how much time we need, how long it will take, but I don’t see why we cannot fix sooner or later. I don’t know when.
I think overall, on top of all these problems we are also suffering the fact that at the end Andrea has been alone as a rider. First of all, we don’t have a satellite team. This is maybe one of our weaknesses in this moment. Alex Rins got injured.
So, you can see in any other team or any other manufacturer there are a few riders, as far as I can read on what you write. Maybe Yamaha is a little bit struggle with this year’s bike, but they realize that because they have the Tech 3 racing with the last year bikes. They can compare the data and information. Otherwise it would have been much more difficult probably to understand. Even Honda maybe last year, they distribute a little bit the job. Maybe Cal was tire testing or something for the factory team. But anyway, the riders can see the data of others on the same bike, and they can learn something.
Also if you take the situation of Lorenzo and Ducati, it’s improving. He’s doing a good job step by step, but he went through a difficult moment. But of course, having somebody in front and going fast, it means you have to understand why and you can do better. Andrea in this sense is alone. He doesn’t have a reference. Whether there can be some other idea coming from other rider or also maybe some motivation coming from other rider – why not? That’s quite normal. I think in this moment we are also penalized by this.
That’s the way it is. Alex is coming back. Of course, we have to kind of restart everything because he only did one race, one serious race – Qatar. Then he got injured and whatever. So, as I say, the situation is difficult but we’re working as hard as we can. I think we can improve, for sure. Then in this game, you don’t have to rush because you have to do also things correctly. That’s why we are testing quite many things, many ideas, geometry. This will be very important after this test to get the kind of situation clear. Put together the best package and go to Assen and see what’s happening.
Q: You said that Andrea had a good feeling without too many of these problems at Valencia. Was there then some change to the bike made over the winter that created these problems? Was it a development direction that had benefits in one area but poor in another?
DB: It’s difficult to say. We did some changes from last year’s bike, like the electronics. In our opinion they are all good changes. It happens sometimes also that other manufacturers improve. We improved the electronics and it looks better. In winter we had the new evolution chassis, which we didn’t choose. Actually, we are racing mostly with the chassis from last year. The engine is a little bit better, a little bit faster, powerful. I will not say we made some mistakes. I don’t know.
Maybe you also have to consider the tire factor. Going into these hot races maybe it’s making also the problem even worse. We are trying to find out. That’s why also during this test we are testing some new ideas. We are also going back on some old things to understand some factors. Something we’re working hard to understand.
Q: Alex has tested a day today. He will test another one tomorrow. Do you plan to bring him back to racing at Assen?
DB: The target is to get him back in Assen. We made a plan with him. Of course, he will be much happier maybe to race this weekend in Barcelona, but we thought that first of all the diagnosis was between six and eight weeks, and the eight weeks is in Assen. Now is six weeks. We didn’t want also to take any risks. We wanted to get him back 100%. Also to start in his home race, on Friday morning, without having tested the bike would have been I think probably useless.
Q: And a lot of pressure.
DB: Yeah, pressure, and also now he can also have a chance in these two days to test some different things. Try to get back the feeling, first of all, and also to try to make the best spec for him and go to Assen. So, we think that this was the best plan. Also we didn’t want to get him maybe on a bike with pain and injections and maybe cannot do more than five laps, because he’s struggling on changing direction and things like that. I don’t want to go like that. So that’s why we made this plan. I think it makes sense. It’s a good opportunity to test and we will see if everything will be okay tomorrow night. We will decide tomorrow, but it looks like everything is going well. I see not a big problem on getting him in Assen.
Q: Is there a particular track that you think where Suzuki can be stronger or will play to its strong points? Is there a particular track coming up in the next races that you are afraid of, that you think you will discover more problems?
DB: Last year Silverstone was good. Maybe not only the track – of course Maverick. It’s a special track also for Maverick, not only for the bike. But also the bike seems to be good there. In Brno also we had a good race. I don’t know. I don’t see one track being particularly difficult. As far as we are able to fix our problem and have a good base, then more or less I don’t see one specific track that worries us more than another.
DB: Yeah, Austria, but okay. You have to let Ducati win! I’m joking. I don’t know this year without the wings.
Q: When you are comparing the data of Maverick to that of Andrea, where are the big differences between the two of them?
DB: There is also some difference probably on riding style and the way to ride is a little bit different. Andrea is riding fast, but like yesterday he couldn’t push too much because he had some bad feelings in the front. Maybe pushing more means crash. So, it’s always difficult to find where is the limit. We are in a position where I think basically Andrea as a rider and our bike is not showing the real potential. Because also some chemistry and combination has to be put together. We have to work. We will be stronger if we fix the situation.
Q: How is Andrea’s feedback? Is he clear about what he needs? Is it more difficult that he’s also got a crew chief who’s not from Suzuki last year, so you have the rider new and the crew chief new?
DB: The feedback from Andrea is quite clear. He has four years of experience in MotoGP. He knows what he needs. He’s quite clear on his explanation. The crew chief comes from Ducati but is not alone in the garage. He has the support from Suzuki engineers. We have technical manager with him. We have chassis engineer with him. There is the electronics guy that was with Aleix last year. Also all the support we have engineers on the back checking data. All the suspension is the same as last year. It’s a team job. It’s not one single person. So, from this point of view, he’s doing a good job and this is not the problem.
Q: Sylvain was saying he tested lots of sexy parts today on the bikes. Can you tell us about all of the developments you’ve got this week?
DB: I think so. That’s why tomorrow we continue to go through with Sylvain, with Andrea and also with Alex. Then we have to analyze the results and put together the best package, maybe the chassis, the geometry, this position, whatever. Put everything together. We hope to maybe get the better start in Assen.
Q: Do you have a different fairing?
DB: No, chassis parts and whatever. Fairing, now we have the two options – the standard one and the modified one. But for the moment, the faring remains.
Q: Sylvain’s been working with Tom O'Kane today. Is this something that Suzuki might utilize in the future as kind of a test team?
DB: This test team has been put together kind of at the last minute, because having the opportunity to have Sylvain this weekend. We’re very happy about working with Sylvain because he’s getting very good feedback. So, we wanted to use him and to make him also testing some parts, some solutions, and get the feedback. So, we needed kind of a testing team, but our test team is in Japan.
So, we couldn’t move all the team here, so what we have done is we got a test bike from Japan. Then Tom is working for Suzuki, so he was available. So, we asked Tom to come here first of all for the race weekend to do the job he’s doing. Then we asked him to get back as a crew chief for Monday and Tuesday with Sylvain. Then the electronics guy come from Japan, a couple of mechanics… It’s kind of a small test team, but it was a good opportunity to continue to work with Sylvain. We are happy to work with him.
Q: We’ve heard a little bit about the change at the top level of management at Suzuki with [Satoru] Terada-San. Has that been in any way related to results?
DB: No. In Japan, sometimes the positions change. I wasn’t there. Sahara was a project leader already until 2011. When Suzuki stopped, he went to work for production. He was basically very much involved on the GSX-R 1000, kind of responsible for it. I don’t know exactly the position but as far as I know he was in charge and responsible for the GSX-R 1000, which is a great bike. He did a great job. Now after six years he’s back to racing. He wanted to get back to racing. He’s a racing guy. So, we’re happy to have him with us.
Terada as a project leader did a great job because he started this project from zero, from a blank paper, and we had the bike at a good level already. Okay, struggling now, but we won a race in the second year. We scored a podium. He did a very good job, but in the Japanese factories it’s common that the position change time to time. So, now we are happy to get Sahara here and we’ll see how we continue and push more on development. This decision is not related to results or whatever. It’s just normal.
Q: In case you should decide that Alex is still not fit enough for Assen, Sylvain will not be available for next weekend. Do you have any plan B?
DB: No. He has a race when we are in Sachsenring, I think. I don’t think he has a race in Assen. He should be free for Assen, and not for Sachsenring, from that perspective. In case, we will ask Sylvain to race in Assen as well.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.