When Suzuki MotoGP boss Davide Brivio dramatically left the team at the end of his very successful, 2020 championship season to join the Alpine Formula 1 team, it seemed like just the unfortunate end of a fantastic relationship.
But in light of this week’s bombing news that the entire structure of the team he built from scratch in 2014 will come together in late 2022, is there a connection between the two decisions?
Brivio’s departure was a shock at the time. Joining Suzuki in 2014, when his return to the premier class was first announced, just three years after he had previously retired in 2011, he was given the task of building a team from scratch, after the previous team (led by Englishman Paul Denning) was mostly was divided.
He also did a good job for the company, building a team that is widely recognized as one of the thinnest but most successful and efficient in the championship, made up of foundations with professionals and maintaining a valued blend of Italian passion and Japanese precision that remains to this day.
On top of that, of course, Brivio’s Suzuki was also very successful. He has supported not just one, but three handsome young talents by promoting Maverick Vinales, Alex Rins and Joan Mira directly from beginner seasons in Moto2 to factory MotoGP rides, and that dice paid off three times as all trios won the race for the factory team. – and, of course, with Mir, who will win the unexpected but hard-earned 2020 World Cup.
Although Brivio may have unexpectedly left at the end of that season to win the title, lured by the chance to work in Formula 1 with Alpine (which in itself did not turn out exactly as expected, with Brivio postponed after 2021), his Suzuki legacy remains, with both of his drivers battling for the 2022 title again, and the team is currently leading the team championship.
But after the departure of the Italian veteran, signals immediately emerged that things within the team would not go so smoothly without him.
First, of course, was the problematic decision to replace Brivio, a process that took more than a year despite Japanese Suzuki management eventually going full circle and opting for former Honda and Ducati manager Livi Suppo – only the first name suggested is to fill Brivio’s shoes.
Meanwhile, the team suffered from a lack of figures. It was initially led by a board because senior officials were given more power over their areas of responsibility and as Suzuki formed a board of directors to make key decisions, this did not work in practice.
Admittedly, not only due to a lack of management but also a pandemic, project manager Shinichi Sahara (unofficially the ‘head’ of the committee) became isolated from his engineers in Japan as he was forced to spend more and more time in Europe due to travel restrictions.
As a result, development got a bit stuck in the mud, and – especially because the team lacked a ride height device in the first half of the season – and Mir’s title defense.
If Brivio had stayed with the team, you could have imagined that the results would have stayed stronger. Not that 2021 was a bad year in itself, with Mir finishing third in the season at the end, but the team went all year without a win, and Rins had a particularly horrific season that could probably have been avoided under Brivio’s auspices.
Another key part of the project that suffered without Brivia was Suzuki’s plan to expand its efforts and add a satellite team.
Brivio was a key advocate for this to happen, and was believed to have largely convinced the board that he should make a satellite jump in 2022, with no one but Valentino Rossi himself waiting to come in and lead the team under his VR46 flag.
And that perspective disappeared with Brivi’s departure, cutting off any possibility of an independent Suzuki team at least until early 2024, and with management having to reassure itself of the validity of any additional data it will bring to GSX-RR every weekend, according to Brivi’s Suppo replacement when spoke to The Race just last weekend at the Portuguese GP.
And while neither the lack of results in 2021 nor the lack of a satellite team likely sparked this week’s shocking news, it’s not hard to imagine that Brivio might have stayed, things could have been a little different had he managed to leverage his significant influence at Japan.
This will, of course, remain one of the big “what if” issues in MotoGP; one to which we will never know the answer now – but one way or another it is a terrible pity that the Dream team that brought Brivio together will now be dismembered.