The year in review: Team Managers talk 2021
Representatives from Ducati, Yamaha, Suzuki, Honda, KTM and Aprilia take stock of the season
Friday, 12 November 2021
On Friday at the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana, representatives from each of the six factory teams sat down to review the season: Paolo Ciabatti (Ducati Corse Sporting Director), Lin Jarvis (Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing & Team Principal of Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP), Shinichi Sahara (Project Leader and Team Manager of Team Suzuki Ecstar), Alberto Puig (Repsol Honda Team Manager), Mike Leitner (Red Bull KTM Race Manager) and Massimo Rivola (CEO Aprilia Racing).
Here are some key quotes!
Paolo Ciabatti: “We’re pleased about winning for the second consecutive year the Constructors’ championship, I think also this year in a more normal championship over 18 rounds is even better for us to achieve this result, and I think it’s the best ever season for Ducati with 21 podiums, the highest ever number. The other best result was in 2007 when we won the championship with Casey and we had 18 podiums with Casey and Loris Capirossi. Six races, 10 pole positions, there’s always been a Ducati on the front row and I don’t remember the last time that happened. It has been successful, I think winning with three riders, on the podium with five riders shows our bike is very competitive, we’re still maybe struggling a little on some circuits like Sachsenring and maybe Assen isn’t perfect for us, but all in all we’re happy. It’s a shame we weren’t able to fight until Valencia with Fabio but he did fantastic season and made almost no mistakes, he deserved to win. But we’re confident we’ll be there next year to try and bring this title back to Bologna.
“We made a big change from last year to this year, we ‘promoted’ Pecco and Jack from Pramac to the factory team and invested in new young riders – the oldest is Johann who is just 30. So, happy because the results are showing we made the right choice and went in the right direction, and we also have some new rides coming next year. Eight bikes on the grid is for sure a challenge from the logistics side, but we did it in the past with Pramac, Avintia and Aspar. So we know how to handle it. Having many of the most promising young riders on Ducatis is good for us and our future.”
Lin Jarvis: “We’re super happy with the result, that’s what we’re all here for at the end of the day, to win the riders’ title, the one that really counts and is remembered in years to come. [Ciabatti laughs] We’re friendly competitors on and off track so that’s part of the game [laughs]. Super happy, it’s been five years since without winning a rider title, and I think Fabio did the almost prefect season, he did a bit of a Joan Mir and got the title then crashed out, which was finally what was the decisive factor to allow Ducati to take their deserved Constructors’ prize. There’s still the team title but we’re 28 points behind but never say never, for example in Misano they had zero points and then in Portimao we ended up with close to zero points. Things can change quickly here. It’s very competitive but it feels good to have another riders’ title under our belts.
“It’s about bringing the whole package together, working together as a team, having the engineers working closer with the team, with the Europeans. To win in a highly competitor world with six manufacturers you have to have everything aligned. It’s very complicated and complex, unpredictable as well, sometimes you have almost everything aligned and then a major problem happens, for example like Marc, with his unexpected injury a year ago which has been a game changer for Honda. So I think we’ve definitely regrouped over the last two or three years. Last year was a difficult year, you’ll all recall and I do, unfortunately in bad ways, we had issues with the engine, the valve story, if you make mistakes in your prep and process you don’t achieve the goal so this season we took a step forward from last year. We’re still lacking pure power but that’s due to also the Covid restrictions from last season to this year, with no engine development, so we were unable to make a step forward but many things we improved this year. We took Fabio into the factory team, with some of his, let’s say, staff members on board, very good synergy, very good working together. It’s not his first year, it’s his third with Yamaha. Fabio has stepped up this year as well, we’ve fixed many problems we had last year when it was a brand new factory bike, new generation, I think we just stepped up and were able to get the job done.”
Shinichi Sahara: “We achieved the rider title last year and team title, compared to this it’s been very difficult, a tough season for us. But the start of the season, before starting we decided to not be defending champions and decided to be challengers again to achieve the top positions. But as a result, we had some difficult moments in the middle of the season and first half of the season, without a device that other manufacturers already had. But fortunately we have two strong riders, and Joan is very consistent and he has speed, we just need something small to achieve more speed and results. And Suzuki sometimes struggles in qualifying, this costs in our race results. Every time on the grid, Simon Crafar asks me and I say, ‘the grid position isn’t ideal for us but race pace is good’, and he says it’s the same comment I always make! But I think we’ve already started to overcome this for next year and I think next year we’ll be in the position to fight for podiums and wins.
“My new role as a team manager is too much for me, but everything is done and quickly with support from the team, and I’m very satisfied. I’m trying to make a new team structure for next year, have a new team manager and this is now fixed. At the moment I can’t say anything about this now!”
Alberto Puig: “It wasn’t easy at the beginning, Marc came but still wasn’t really fit, and even still he managed to win three races, and for Pol it was also difficult. He expected one type of bike and realised it was different. It took him quite a long time to understand the bike. He started in Silverstone, it managed to click a bit and he got pole, and from then on he improved. I think important for us was the Misano test, we realized quite a lot of things and we were able to react for the last part of the season, and globally the results have been improving. But it’s clear that it’s not what we’d call a good year for Honda. We still need to improve many issues and that’s where we are right now, the factory trying to improve the hardware and the bike, and on the other hand, for Pol it’s not a problem but for Marc we’ll have to see how things go for him.
“Normally a rider that wins is not winning because he doesn’t understand the bike, he understand the bike. So now we’ll have to have a second year of development without the rider who’s won a lot of races. It’s not the best scenario but racing isn’t always what you want, it’s what it is and what you have at that moment. Now we have to try and understand what’s our direction with the other three. They’re fast but they don’t have the experience winning as Marc has. But it is what it is, we’ll go for it and try and take the best of their information.”
Mike Leitner: “We started the new season not in the way we wanted but after some races we found quite a good way to fix it, and from Mugello on we were very competitive, Miguel won Barcelona, then two second positions, Brad also did great results at that time. After summer break we expected to continue in that way but things turned… like Alberto says, racing is racing and you have what you have, sometimes things change fast. It took us a little to understand but for us a big change in the racing operation was the loss of concessions, it forces you to develop the bike differently, especially from the company and the way you get new parts, and all these things, the procedures. We learned a lot about that and the target is clear: do better in 2022.
“The class is so competitive with every manufacturer, you don’t have a bike with one big bad point. They’re balanced and in this category, 0.15 of a second puts you in a completely different area. Putting all the points in line with the riders, team everything. We took two victories, to be fair it’s not a terrible season, and Brad will finish sixth or seventh in the Championship, we’ll take the most positives out, learn from this season and make the next step.”
Massimo Rivola: “It was a good season compared to the past for sure, despite that we’re not finishing the season in the best way so we need to focus on what we’re doing now and finish in a proper way. We’re very keen to fight in 2022, we’ll also be a factory team. If we look at our progression from 19 to 20 to 21 hopefully we’ll keep that progression and close the gap to the guys in front, but still we are behind so we have a long way to go.
“The approach we have with Maverick is to do the races as a test, trying different parts and setups and configurations, trying to understand what’s better for him, this is sacrificing the race result itself and sometimes his confidence which has been a bit harder to build, but I’m sure in Maverick we have a super talent and I’m convinced we can find a way to match our resources with his talent.”