Interview, Part 2: Suzuki's Davide Brivio On How Suzuki Sees A Shortened Season And Negotiations With Rins And Mir

Alex Rins and Joan Mir at the Thailand round of MotoGP at Buriram in 2019

Last week, Suzuki Ecstar MotoGP boss Davide Brivio held a teleconference with a number of journalists to face questions on a broad range of topics. Brivio talked about the possibility of MotoGP resuming again at Jerez, as Dorna has announced, and what that would entail for Suzuki and for the paddock. He discussed how the manufacturers are working together to cut costs, putting an end to the long-running dispute which has divided the MSMA members, which I examined in detail in this story.

Brivio also fielded questions on the 2020 MotoGP season, and how Suzuki saw the advantages and disadvantages of a curtailed season with a limited number of races taking place on an even smaller number of circuits. And he went into some detail on the contract extensions signed with riders Alex Rins and Joan Mir.

Below is the second half of the interview Davide Brivio gave to journalists:

Q: With a shorter season planned, at fewer circuits, who do you think who will be the surprise of the year, and what are the chances of Suzuki riders causing an upset?

Davide Brivio: I don’t know, but I don’t think having a short championship or a long championship will change a lot. The fast riders will always be the same. Of course there are a few variables this year, because we have to see if this long stop affects somebody more than others. In terms of results or competition or whatever I think it will be pretty much the same.

I tried to make an exercise by myself: taking the races we are supposed to do, and there is a rough idea of which ones like twice in Jerez, we might go two times to Austria – something we can think of now and talk about ten races – more or less if you take the results of last year and put it into exactly this year and double the result of Jerez and Austria and so on then the situation in the championship would be very similar. I don’t think this is going to change much.

Of course you cannot afford to make a mistake, because there are so few races to recover. In the normal situation, if you have a bad early season and have some crashes or something then in the second half of the season you can recover. For instance, last year, Viñales had a difficult start to the season and was strong by the end and got back. For the top two or three positions then I think it – won’t be the same – but quite similar to what it would be to the full championship.

I hope Suzuki can be the surprise, but I also hope that Suzuki won’t be the surprise any more! Last year, what we missed, was that we were not so strong at the end of the championship as we were in the first half but we could finish better than where we did. We just have to maintain more consistent results this year and maybe have a shortened championship could be good training from this point of view.

But, again, we have to see the situation when we restart in July after almost six months in which nobody rode a MotoGP bike. We are discussing with Dorna about having one day of testing, and it looks like this will be possible and then we go straight to the race weekend. It is also about the shape of the rider and the spirit of adaptation, and the rider who is more quick to adapt will have an advantage.

You can see in the history of the last years, many times the first few races are not very significant for the rest of the championship for many riders – for a few riders – in this case, you will have to be concentrated and in the best shape for three-four months and play everything.

From this point of view it is something new and I would say interesting. It is what it is. This will be a special year for everything and we will see. It is a good test. I think we will see the top five or six riders fighting for the victory. It doesn’t matter how many races we have in the calendar.

Q: Is repeating races at the same circuit a positive or negative for Suzuki? Because some tracks favor some manufacturers, for example, Ducati winning in Austria?

DB: From this point of view, of course we don't want to race twice in Austria! But that will probably happen. And for instance, we don't have a race in Assen where we feel very strong, and we're not going to race in Silverstone where we won twice in the last four or five years. But OK, that's the way it is. This year, you have to accept what it is. You cannot think about "Oh, we don't like Austria". But then somebody might be very strong in Austria, but will be less strong in Jerez, maybe.

Alex Rins on the podium, celebrating his win of the 2019 MotoGP race at Silverstone

So at the end of the day, to do two races at the same circuit is one of the solutions to be able to carry on the championship and to finish the championship. So we have to accept it. And we have to be prepared for that. So then, OK, if we are going to do 10 races or 12 races in the championship, and Austria will be two races, let's try to recover in the other circuits!

But also, "recover" is not the right word, because we go to Austria, with the full intention to fight for the victory. Of course it's a circuit where Ducati have won many times, and basically Dovizioso and Márquez are always strong, but Yamaha have scored podiums in Austria, so why can't we do that?

So you have to accept it. Of course, maybe for some manufacturers it's not good to race twice in Jerez, or for somebody it's not good to race twice in Austria. Somebody might suffer more in Aragon and maybe we will have two races there, I don't know what the calendar will look like. But that's 2020. 2020 is special.

Q: We saw that there was a lot of outside interest in your riders. Were you surprised that other factories didn't steal your riders? It must be nice that the riders and the team and the bike are attractive?

DB: The negotiations [with Rins and Mir] were quite easy, I would say. Because to be very honest, Alex was already showing interest to remain with us 12 months ago.

First of all, I have to tell you something: last year, around this time, April, I went to Japan to have a meeting, I am used to going to Japan a few times a year to have meetings. And already by then, we were discussing about what we are going to do for the renewal of the agreements. Of course we still had a year ahead of us, but I wanted to try to understand if we had an opinion on that.

At the end of that discussion, everybody involved were happy to continue with Rins and Mir for 2021 and 2022, this was already a year ago. That was our target, our idea.

And almost around the same time, Alex came to us and said, I would like to stay, I would like to continue with Suzuki, even for 2021 and 2022. If you're happy, we can sign the agreement now. Of course we were happy to do that.

It's a bit difficult to explain, but how our company works, it was a little bit weird and strange to go to our president in May or June or July 2019 and to say, "We have to sign an agreement for 2021". He's probably right, because looking at what can happen, it's better to go step by step. Anyway we had to wait for the right time according to our company procedure. In 2019, you are still thinking about the 2020 season, then when the 2020 season is about to start, you can start to talk about 2021, things like that. But let's say in our mind, we had already agreed with Alex. As a racing department, we were happy to keep Alex.

Then about Joan, we also talked to him back in the middle of last year, and we said, look, we're very happy, we would like to continue, we would like to make a long-term project. So we were happy with Alex and Joan, we didn't see any reason to change, and we also thought stability would pay off in the future. And Joan always showed his interest to stay.

Joan Mir in the pits at the Australian MotoGP round at Phillip Island in 2019

To be honest, with Joan it was a little bit easier, because we had an option. So we could exercise an option with Joan, so with Joan we were a little bit more relaxed, to be honest, because we had that option to exercise. With Alex, we got his verbal commitment that he wanted to stay.

Then it took a long time inside the company to find the right way and to get a signature of top management on the paper. But that's all. It's only bureaucratic. We had been in agreement for a long time.

But I'm the first person to say, until I see the signature on the paper, I'm not sure. That's why I always say to you for many months, "We would like to keep them, I think they want to stay, and I hope this will happen, I hope we can do it". Because I wanted to see the signature on the paper, that's all.

So that's what it took. And we're very happy, because we achieved our target, and I really think that Alex already showed he can win a race, that he's among the top riders in MotoGP. Joan, I think, has the potential to reach that level. We will see, but our target in the future is to have two riders who can stay in the top five, top six positions in the championship and play within those positions – it can first, it can be third, it can be fourth, it can be second, it can be sixth. Of course, with the other riders that everybody knows are strong. But our idea, our target is to put TWO of our riders into that group, and have them fighting there, and see what happens.

Q: We saw that Marc Márquez signed a four-year deal to stay with Repsol Honda, from 2021 through 2024. Was there any interest in looking at a similar four-year deal for Rins and Mir? And did you have a plan B for other riders in case they left, and if so, who were you looking at?

DB: Honestly, we never thought about such a long contract. But honestly, Márquez signing a four-year contract is a kind of an unusual thing, kind of a surprise, no? We are used to two-year agreements, and that's what we think about. Of course, our intention is to keep going as long as possible with Alex and Joan, Alex also said many times he would like to have a long career with Suzuki. Of course, we will have to continue to provide a competitive bike, or he will look somewhere else.

So let's say, in this moment there are no obstacles or no problem to sign a longer contract. I'm afraid that probably for our company, to sign a four-year agreement would be something a little bit special. So maybe it would have been more difficult to discuss and explain. But let's go step by step, and I hope to sign another two-year agreement for 2023 and 2024 again with Alex and Joan. So I would be very happy to do that.

And honestly, we never really thought about replacing them or having a plan B. Of course, in the past month, I had chats with managers of other riders, because this is quite normal. You have to understand: our paddock is a small community, and I know all the MotoGP rider managers, and I meet them many times during the weekend, or many times during the year, and I have a chat with all of them: [Márquez' brothers manager Emilio] Alzamora, [manager of Andrea Dovizioso and Lorenzo Baldassarri, Simone] Battistella, [Fabio Quartararo's manager, Eric] Mahé, [manager of Maverick Viñales] Paco Sanchez, who is also Joan Mir's manager. So it comes quite easy and natural.

Maybe they ask, "how is your situation with your rider?" I got this question many times, and I said "Our target is to confirm Alex and Joan," and they would say "OK, let me know, keep me informed," things like that. So I talk with all of them. But because we are also friends with a few of them, we chat and we discuss, also sometimes we share comments and opinions, points of view with all of them.

So I have a relationship with all of them. So let's say, if something would have gone wrong, maybe it was easy to pick up the telephone and call somebody. But we never really arrived to any negotiations or any plan with any of them, let's say.

So of course I was more or less aware of what everybody is doing – you know that the paddock is small, you know that Márquez is going to stay, you knew that Quartararo was going to renew with Yamaha, you knew that Viñales wanted to stay, but also Ducati were interested. These things you know. But as our target was to keep Alex and Joan, I could not really start a proper negotiation, a proper discussion when they want to stay. I think I was quite well informed, I had the information I needed about everybody, maybe ready to react in case of any problems.

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