Suzuki’s future in MotoGP

At Intermot Davide Brivio addressed the amassed members of the world’s motorcycling press to officially announce Suzuki’s return to MotoGP in 2015, the blue-ribband class of motorcycle racing. After confirming that the team will wildcard at the final round at Valencia and that Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro will ride the GSX-RR machine next season, we sat down with him to discuss the project so far.

1966923_720059128073748_24910505825830678_nDressed in a sharp navy suit, Davide Brivio climbed the steps to the stage at Suzuki’s world press conference at Intermot to officially announce the return to MotoGP after another year’s worth of extensive testing. Randy de Puniet, Nobuatsu Aoki and Takuya Tsuda have moved development forward with the new GSX-RR racer over the course of the season, all under the watchful eye of the new Team Manager, with de Puniet set to race the prototype machine at Valencia this season.

Brivio, who has helped orchestrate the project this year and organise the team for next season, joined Suzuki’s MotoGP effort in April 2013, but technical development of the new bike was already way underway.

“The project was very advanced from a technical point of view when I joined,” Davide Brivio explaned. “When Suzuki left MotoGP in 2011 the engineers used this time and took the opportunity to design a completely new bike on a blank sheet of paper. It’s a completely different bike with a new configuration, moving from a V4 to inline-4, and if you look it is very much more compact. If you put the old 800 next to the new 1000cc bike, the 1000cc bike is much smaller.

“Being away from racing gave the engineers chance to redesign the bike completely and review the concept, and this would have been very difficult while racing. So from a technical point of view the bike existed in Japan before I joined the project. I first came onboard at a shakedown test in Japan in April 2013. But aside from the bike there was no team, no structure. There were engineers in the racing department at SMC [Suzuki Motor Corporation], but as far as any team structure and European representation, there was nothing.

f87dcb34-1a18-4d36-af4e-5e140fefa2c0“When Suzuki approached me about this role, I could not say no because I like this job and Suzuki has a lot of history with Grand Prix racing. I like the team organisation and putting a crew together, and when I got the call from Suzuki I could not turn it down. The fact that there was nothing organised also makes this a great challenge and opportunity for me personally, and also it is even more exciting as it is the first time Suzuki’s Grand Prix team will be run out of the factory, rather than employing an external team. This is a proper factory team and we are all employees of SMC, which shows you how seriously Suzuki is taking its return to MotoGP. It is an important step.

“We now have a workshop in Italy and we are based out of Suzuki Italia, which is owned by SMC, and they give us all the support through there. When we started this project we had to organise everything from the workshop, technicians and even tools.”

After putting a team together, Brivio’s role was to head up the testing, making sure each test ran according to plan, making sure goals and targets were achieved, and then making sure feedback was given to the engineers in Japan to focus development on new components.

“New components come from the team in Japan, and it is our job to try them, to test them and evaluate them, and give our feedback to find the best direction to move forward with. We make a plan together and we set up targets and work out what we want to achieve. For example at the planned test in Aragon after the MotoGP round there, we were comparing two different chassis.

“We are on our second stage of chassis development for this year so that is good, but the biggest job we have to do is with our work on the electronics. We are relatively new with the Magneti Marelli ECU, and so we are having to redesign our software to work with the new hardware. This job started about a year ago but it is a very big job. Our bike is a very good bike, the handling and ride-ability. The riders get off the bike and enjoy it very much. But now we have to fine tune the electronics to optimise engine performance, and this is our biggest area of focus.

“But we have been working hard all year and we will race in Valencia as a wildcard and we will hopefully have some new engine development too. We will hopefully have some other new components too so we can decide which direction to move forward when we come back next year.”

suzuki-motogpspanish-testshighres39Testing throughout 2014 has been well documented and publicised, with the team running a number of tests at a circuits immediately after select rounds this season. It is something Brivio thinks has been a positive not just for the bike’s development, but also for Suzuki too, and he is looking forward to the 2015 campaign when he and the team will field Aleix Espargaro and former Moto3 champion Maverick Viñales.

“I have to say that testing over the last two years has brought people back to talking about Suzuki. Suzuki has a history and a heritage in Grand Prix racing and it is a good thing for everybody that we are coming back. The testing has provided some good and positive PR for Suzuki and we hope to do the same when the results start coming with our new riders next year.

“That is why the riders we have chosen for next year are two riders who are full of motivation and are challengers like us. Aleix Espargaro has struggled in many private teams during his career but in the last three years has found some stability, riding in CRT class or the Open class he has consistently been the best rider in the class and his results have been good, and he was also challenging riders on factory bikes. He got the first Open class podium at Aragon and has been performing really well. It is exciting for him because he has never ridden for a factory team or been on a factory bike. And because our other rider is a young rookie it will be Aleix’s job to help guide our development, so it is a big opportunity for him.

“On the other side of the garage will be Viñales who is a young kid and was Moto3 champion. He will spend one year in Moto2 then make the jump to MotoGP. I think he is full of talent and he’s a guy that every year has won some races. Since his first year in 125s, where he won four races, he has always won races. This is his first year in Moto2 and again he has won races. I think he is a great talent to get on Suzuki so it will be our job to give him a good bike and extend the relationship as long as possible to try and build for the future. We want to make both riders capable of being Suzuki champions.

“Aleix is 25 and full of experience already and is hitting is prime. So we have an expert guy, and a very talented rookie guy who will be 20 next year, so we can look at the future with excitement.

gsxrrlogo-1“As a team we are coming in to our rookie year next year,” Davide Brivio concludes. “But we want to get close to the top guys. We enter as challengers and so we have to understand our level and work out how to get close to the front. One year we will have to get close to the front and then for 2016 there is a big change with the spec electronic software and hardware too. So we will be developing the bike for that change too, and also developing the riders too to make the GSX-RR package the best package possible and challenge at the very front.”

Suzuki will race the prototype GSX-RR with Randy de Puniet at Valencia on 9 November, before the first test with the new riders on 10 November.