After the departure of both Shuhei Nakamoto and Livio Suppo from HRC and the Repsol Honda team, Honda have announced that they will be making Alberto Puig Team Manager of the Repsol Honda team.
The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda. Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more. He went on to become Dani Pedrosa's personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.
But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces. Suppo approached the role of team management very much from a marketing perspective. Puig is much more of an ex-racer, and is much closer to the Japanese engineers than to the marketing and media side of the operation.
Though Puig's ability to manage a team is beyond question, he faces some unique and severe challenges in managing this specific team, the Repsol Honda team. Puig is a no-nonsense character who can be abrasive, and he already has a problematic relationship with the two riders in the Repsol Honda team.
Though he was Dani Pedrosa's manager for a long time, he spent last season criticizing the Spaniard in his role as an expert commentator for Spanish broadcaster Movistar. Puig criticized Pedrosa's approach and attitude, and may have a few fences to mend on that side of the garage.
But Puig's relationship with Marc Marquez' side of the garage is even more troubled. Puig has long regarded Marquez' personal manager Emilio Alzamora as a rival, and having the two in the same garage when Puig still managed Dani Pedrosa was a major challenge for HRC. Both Puig and Alzamora were more concerned with preventing the other side of the garage from seeing their respective riders' data than with cooperating towards a common goal.
Tensions came to a head after the Australian Grand Prix in 2013, when Marc Marquez was disqualified for not making a compulsory pit stop. That failure was an indirect result of the lack of communication within the Repsol Honda team, with Alzamora wanting to keep Puig away from Marquez, and Alzamora also distrusting Livio Suppo and then chief mechanic Cristian Gabarrini, all of whom he regarded as holdovers from the Casey Stoner era forced on them by Honda and Suppo.
Alzamora won that particular battle. The following year, the remnants of Stoner's crew were forced out of the Repsol Honda team, and Marquez was reunited with his full former Moto2 team. Alberto Puig had stopped managing Dani Pedrosa, and moved on to other projects with Honda, but the tension between the two remained, as Alzamora was also managing the Estrella Galicia Moto3 team, and excluded Puig from involvement.
Puig has also had his moments in the past with the Repsol Honda team. As Dani Pedrosa's manager, he was severely critical of Nicky Hayden when the American was Pedrosa's Repsol Honda teammate. There were frictions during Hayden's 2006 championship year, but they came to a head in 2008, shortly before Hayden left, with Puig claiming Hayden "could not set up a bike", while Hayden hit back in typically polite and measured style, asserting that Puig "basically runs our team, he runs HRC".
With that history behind him, Puig is being thrown straight into the deep end. His first order of business as Repsol Honda team manager will be to negotiate new contracts with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa. The long-standing enmity between Puig and Alzamora will complicate negotiations with Marc Marquez, though Marquez has repeatedly stated he is very happy with Honda, and has no intention of leaving.
Whether Puig will be keen to keep Pedrosa on after spending so much of 2017 criticizing is also open to question. But finding a replacement for Pedrosa could be tricky, as Marquez is perfectly happy with Pedrosa as a teammate, and he - and especially Alzamora - could view any replacement as a potential threat, especially given Puig's stellar reputation for nurturing new talent.
With the appointment of Puig, HRC have brought in a superbly competent and proven manager. But they have also set themselves some interesting challenges along the way.
Below is the press release from HRC announcing Alberto Puig as Repsol Honda Team Manager.
Honda Racing Corporation announce Alberto Puig as Team Manager of the Repsol Honda Team
Honda Racing Corporation is pleased to announce that Alberto Puig has been appointed as the new Team Manager at the Repsol Honda Team, beginning with the first MotoGP test of the year, at Malaysia’s Sepang International Circuit, 28-30 January.
Following a racing career that included a 500cc race win and a lengthy stint aboard Hondas, Puig established himself as one of the most respected managers in the motorcycling field. As HRC Advisor, his most recent role has been as Director of the Asia Talent Cup and British Talent Cup.
In his new position as Team Manager for the Repsol Honda Team, Puig will report directly to HRC Director-General Manager Race Operations, Management Division Tetsuhiro Kuwata. He and Technical Manager Takeo Yokoyama will be responsible for racing operations.
HRC Director - General Manager Race Operations Management Division
“We are happy for Alberto to assume a new role as Team Manager for the Repsol Honda Team. Alberto has already been a part of the HRC family for many years, first as a rider and then as an Advisor, ultimately managing the Asia Talent Cup, where he helped promising young riders to develop into the sport. We believe his skills and great expertise at the highest levels of international motorcycle racing, together with his long and successful relationship with HRC, will give a precious contribution to the Company and the Team, which is aiming to once again fight at the top of the MotoGP Championship. We give Alberto a warm ‘welcome aboard’ and wish him good luck in his work!”
Repsol Honda Team - Team Manager
“I’m very grateful to HRC for this opportunity they have given me with the Repsol Honda Team. I’ve been with Honda for the last 25 years of my professional career, first as a rider, then as a team manager in the smaller classes, and lately as a coach for many of the Asian riders Honda have around the world. To have the chance to be in this position in one of the most successful teams in the MotoGP championship is a very big honour for me, so I can only focus on giving my best back to Honda and on trying to help them to achieve their goals. I’m sure our riders will be ready when the time comes, and we as a team will also be ready to once again fight for the title, with humility but also with great determination.”