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The MotoGP philosophy Suzuki's "madman" installed that Honda and Yamaha can't

The philosophy change imposed in MotoGP by the European brands, led by Ducati, has left Yamaha and Honda feeding off scraps. Curiously, it's an approach that former Japanese rival Suzuki was able to adopt with success prior to its untimely exit at the end of 2022. The key individual behind it explains all

Joan Mir, Team Suzuki MotoGP, David Brivio

In a decision that caught everyone by surprise - from the members of the team itself to the rest of the paddock - Suzuki decided in early 2022 to shut down its MotoGP programme at the end of the campaign. Despite the brutal blow for the Hamamatsu-based team, which had to face most of the year with an uncertain future, the manufacturer left the championship in the best possible way from a sporting perspective, with two victories in the last three rounds.

Those two wins scored by Alex Rins in Australia and Valencia certified that the GSX-RR was one of the best bikes on the grid, if not the most complete of them all. With the base of that same bike, two years earlier, Joan Mir had brought the title back to Suzuki two decades after Kenny Roberts Jr was crowned in 2000.

The 2022 Suzuki combined the agility of the best Yamaha with the extra power that the engineers had found, which allowed Rins and Mir to hold their nerve on the straights against the all-powerful Ducati. That bike was the perfect metaphor to explain what was achieved by those responsible for thinking, articulating and executing the MotoGP project, with Davide Brivio at the helm.

The Italian succeeded in harmonising the Japanese-based engineers in charge of the bike's design and evolution with the operational part of the racing team, mostly made up of European technicians, responsible for optimising trackside performance. These are two realities that live far apart from each other, as it is clear to anyone in discussions with Honda or Yamaha personnel without a recorder running.

KTM and Aprilia understood a long time ago that hiring key parts from the competition would increase their level of competitiveness. This is a logical practice not only limited to MotoGP. Evidence of this is the leap in quality made in Formula 1 this year by Aston Martin, who hired from Red Bull and Mercedes some of the most important members of their organisations. This approach, which Suzuki also followed, is not on the table for Honda or Yamaha, who are reluctant to look for talent outside their borders.

As MotoGP's summer break draws to a close, Yamaha and Honda sit in the last two spots on the manufacturers' championship table. Yamaha has just two podiums to its credit, while the Honda has spent more time injuring its riders than it has finishing races. Alex Rins did score an incredible victory in Austin to end its drought, but that has so far proven an outlier as Honda has yet to get close to a podium again. 

Insight: How Honda's stubbornness has left it in a MotoGP no-man's land

Honda and Yamaha are struggling massively, with neither marque seemingly willing to look outside of its borders for help in the same way the European marques have

Honda and Yamaha are struggling massively, with neither marque seemingly willing to look outside of its borders for help in the same way the European marques have

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Such is the misery within Honda, rumours are linking Rins - who is out for the foreseeable future with a broken leg - to Yamaha, while Marc Marquez's future at HRC has been called into question after a bruising year so far that has yielded just five points for the eight-time world champion. 

While Suzuki's success obviously cannot be pinned on any one individual, most members of the team agree that Brivio was the mastermind behind the whole set-up. The Italian, currently with Alpine and at the helm of its young driver programme, was tasked by Suzuki to lead its return to MotoGP in 2015, four years after he left the series. That allowed him to devise a strategy that aimed to foster as much understanding as possible between Japan and Europe. Even if, as Brivio himself admits in conversation with Autosport, it was far from easy to achieve.

"I had a bit of credibility because I had won with Yamaha and with Valentino [Rossi]," Brivio recalls. "But on my first visits to Japan, I went crazy. They had eight-hour meetings, where we were exhausted. I used to go to Japan four or five times a year."

"In the beginning, at Suzuki I was treated almost like a madman. They said 'that's not the way we do things'. After a while, they started to trust me a bit more, until they relaxed" David Brivio

The differential element between the Suzuki case and that of Honda and Yamaha is trust. In this sense the complicity between Brivio and technical chief Ken Kawauchi was key, as they formed a pairing that blended well and generated the necessary serenity in the company.

Brivio recalls: "Shinichi Sahara called me and told me that Suzuki wanted to return to MotoGP and that the engineers were already preparing the bike in Japan, but they didn't have any structure. I told them I was going to help them, and I started to draw up the shopping list. Ken would tell me what items we needed, and I would go on a mission to find them."

Brivio will never forget Sahara's first wish: "He asked me to sound out Rossi and find out if he would be willing to race with us, starting in 2014." After bringing the Japanese executive down to Earth with a thud - Rossi was absolutely out of reach - Brivio began to flesh out his targets.

"We brought in Manu Cazeaux, who was in charge of coordinating a bit of the engineering side," recalls Brivio. "With him, we created the performance area, and little by little, we grew."

Brivio was seen as a

Brivio was seen as a "madman" by Suzuki initially, but his methods brought about a philosophy change that drove it to title success in 2020

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

When Suzuki shut its doors, the other teams were quick to sign up the members of that department, aware of their value. Honda brought in Kawauchi to further increase the Japanese roster.

With the experience gained from his role as the 'architect' of Suzuki's MotoGP return, Brivio fully understands the frustration that HRC team manager Alberto Puig and Yamaha director Lin Jarvis may feel at the reluctance of their parent companies to hand them more responsibility.

"In the beginning, at Suzuki I was treated almost like a madman," says Brivio. "They said 'that's not the way we do things'. After a while, they started to trust me a bit more, until they relaxed."

"We were like a family," a former Suzuki technician, who now works in the garage of another MotoGP team on one of the European bikes, admits to this writer. "Suzuki came to rely on us a lot. Can you imagine this at Honda or Yamaha?" reflects this authoritative voice, convinced of the answer: "Absolutely not".

What Suzuki achieved is hard to imagine for Honda and Yamaha right now

What Suzuki achieved is hard to imagine for Honda and Yamaha right now

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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