Half-term report: MotoGP™ factory team managers
The six factory team managers sit down at the TT Circuit Assen to talk about the first half of the season and look ahead to the future
Friday, 24 June 2022
On Thursday at the Motul TT Assen, the six MotoGP™ factory Team Managers sat down for a special half-term report Press Conference to look at the first half of 2022 and ahead to the future.
Massimo Meregalli; Team Manager of Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP™, Paolo Ciabatti; Ducati Corse Sporting Director, Paolo Bonora; Aprilia Racing Team Manager, Francesco Guidotti; Red Bull KTM Factory Racing Team Manager, Livio Suppo; Suzuki Ecstar Team Manager, and Alberto Puig; Team Manager of the Repsol Honda Team were all present.
Here are some quotes!
How impressed are you with Quartararo’s recent run and where has he improved since 2021?
“The beginning has been difficult, difficult also because we were expecting something from Japan that we were not able to deliver, and I think we lost some motivation or goodness, but then we decided to stop thinking about what we didn’t get, and try to maximise what we had. We went to Qatar and the race anyway didn’t go as expected, also it took us a bit to understand the new aerodynamics. Then we moved to Indonesia, we had a really good result in the wet, a circumstance that we usually do not perform well in. But I think the switch that Fabio had was in COTA, when at the end of the race, even though we had a really big gap in top speed, he was able to fight with Marc until the end of the race. When he arrived in Portimao, he arrived, in my opinion, in a different way, and from there I think we maximised our package, and they really worked well in his corner to not lose anything in preparing for the race, working very well with the tyres.
“Anyway, all the little aspects have been kept very well under control. Then as you know, Fabio has great consistency, and probably in this moment is the only one that could really exploit the strongest points of our bike as much as possible, and he has such a strong feeling with the bike now. He’s mature, more than last year, because he’s improving the lap time wherever we are going, and he’s very determined. Also, when I said mature, because in difficult situations like Argentina, in COTA, in Qatar, in the end he was disappointed, but not in the wrong way. Since we returned to Europe, he started to be really focused and fast, and what he did in the last three races, for me, was amazing. He achieved these results in very fast circuits, where at the beginning we could not expect it, and also at the Sachsenring, which is not really a good circuit for Yamaha.”
How much are you hoping Luca Marmorini will help develop the M1 in the future?
“The hopes are not only about this new synergy, but the way that also in Japan they probably changed their mind. They always work internally but now they are starting to be more open-minded and focused on improving the bike and the results. For sure, I’m expecting to see some results of this new collaboration, probably, at the end of the season, because they are already – as you can imagine – working on next year, but I’m happy, I’m very confident.”
How rewarding has it been to now be title contenders?
“After some difficult times, we are now so happy about the results we have achieved this year. Everybody in Aprilia Racing is very proud about the results, about the level, and the motivation of all our riders is very high. I think – my personal opinion – it could be very realistic [to win the Championship]. What is happening now is a deserved reward to all our efforts.”
You mean it is realistic to fight for the Championship to the last race?
“I don’t want to say anything. My way of working is to keep the feet on the ground, keep working as we have done for many years, and doing it step by step, race by race. We don’t want to think about more than this, but to keep working like we have is, for us, the correct way of managing the race. So, we will see.”
How do you think you can develop the bike in the second half of the season?
“Usually, they say that if something works, don’t touch it, but to be realistic, in such a high-level championship like MotoGP™, you can’t relax, even not race by race. So, at the moment, we are currently working still on the chassis set-up and the electronics setting, and for sure, of course, on the engine performance. This is to achieve the goal to give more confidence to the riders. We are following the Aleix and Maverick comments, and with the help of Lorenzo Savadori and our test team, we keep pushing to solve some problems on our bike, for sure, to improve it. In the end, we are so happy about the improvement that Maverick is making race by race, and Aleix, as you can see, is doing an amazing job. So, we must keep this way of working until the end of the season, and keep pushing.”
What is your analysis of the first 10 Grands Prix so far?
“I think consistency is what matters today. If you look at the standings, and if you look at Fabio and Aleix, they score points in every single Grand Prix, they are among a few without any zeroes, and they are doing an amazing job. For us, obviously on one side as a manufacturer, we are happy with the results because we have won five races out of 10, we have been on pole seven times out of 10 races, there is always a Ducati on the first row, always a Ducati on the podium, and we’re leading the manufacturers’ championship. But obviously, we are behind in the riders’ standings, especially with Pecco and Jack, because they are sixth and seventh, 91 points from Fabio, and this is heavy, because obviously the zeroes that especially Pecco had recently – one was not his fault, but still is a zero – are affecting his chances to fight for the Championship, which is always our goal, and it looks like a difficult challenge now on for the season.”
How difficult will it be to beat Quartararo in 2022 now?
“Well, it is still possible, obviously, because there are still 10 races, or nine races, and we can score many points, but realistically, it’s going to be very difficult. As you can see, Fabio and also Aleix are consistently on the top and make very few mistakes, so we just have to do our best, as you can imagine, trying to win where we can. We were very pleased in a way to see many Ducatis competitive at the Sachsenring, which traditionally has never been a very favourable track for us, but obviously then there was a mistake. We had two bikes on the podium, but obviously Pecco was supposed to be challenging Fabio for the race win, because of his form, because of his pole position, but crashed. So, we can’t be completely happy, but we have to try our best until the end. It’s the only thing we can do.
Are you in talks with Alex Marquez about Gresini and when will Ducati be able to confirm its full, eight-rider line-up for next year?
“Well, we have said that we will decide at the end of August, who will be the team-mate of Pecco at the factory team, and the other rider, either of Enea or Jorge, will be in the Pramac team with Johann Zarco. We are discussing the final details of his renewal and they will have 2023 bikes, so, equal treatment in terms of technical package. Concerning the discussions between Alex Marquez and Gresini, we know that it’s an ongoing discussion but it’s something more managed by the team than by Ducati.”
What is your assessment of the first 10 races after a good start and difficulty since then?
“I mean, it’s a sweet and bitter start of the season. I mean, the start was really stunning, but then we faced some difficulties in some circuits. In the last five races, we performed pretty well. Our race results have been affected more from the qualifying, where we have to improve our performance, but the race pace is good and the effort of the riders… they are fully committed. We are now focused on how to improve our performance in qualifying to be more competitive during the race. We saw, where we’ve been able to start on the first row, we were able to fight for the podium, so this will be they key for performing better in the next races.”
What are the improvements that KTM hope to make in the second half of the season?
“As I said, it’s more on Qualifying Practice that we have to improve, and we also changed the way of working in the garage a little bit, the method of working from last year, so it’s some automatic that has to be more easy for the technicians in general. We have to improve only qualifying, and then we will know better where we really are in the race.”
Is Pol Espargaro coming back and when might KTM decide its rider line-up?
“We already made an announcement for the factory team, which is a big move for us, and we need our time to make the decision with Herve and Tech3 for the line-up of the satellite team. There are still some decisions ongoing.”
How satisfied were you after the first five races?
“Sure, I was super pleased, very happy to be back in the paddock after four years, and the team welcomed me very well. It’s a fantastic group of people that are very professional, very friendly. Basically, in Portimao, we were leading the Teams’ Championship and Alex was on the same points as Fabio, and that was the time when I knew we should have retired [laughs]. It has been a very good start, Alex showed he was in good shape, a different rider compared to last year. Joan was struggling a little bit more but it’s also true that he has kind of a way to approach the Championship, he wants to start calm, and be stronger when he arrives in Europe. Then what happened probably had some influence.”
How difficult has it been since Jerez, and what are Suzuki’s targets for the remainder of 2022?
“First of all, I need to really thank all the guys in the team because, despite the news, they didn’t give up, they kept a good mood. If you stay in the paddock, you see in the evening that the atmosphere in our hospitality remains very friendly and happy. Of course, I’m trying to help them to find a solution for next year. But, the important thing is, apart from the impact and the shock of the first hours, they had a very strong reaction.
“For the riders, it’s very difficult to say. For Alex, he has zero points from the last two races, but basically not from his fault, because of the Barcelona crash. He has been fast anyway, so I think it’s difficult to say if the news has had an influence on their performance, but also I think Joan after especially the Barcelona test found something better in the set-up of the new machine, and I’m really confident that we can try to finish this season with good results, because of course, this will help us to be more happy.”
What is your assessment of the first half of this season?
“Well, I think you said it clearly; it’s not a good season for us and there’s nothing to go more deep in the situation. We are clearly not competitive, and we have to improve, and this is what we are trying to do. You can say many different ways of giving a long explanation, but the truth is that we must improve and we must change our procedures, and this is what we are trying to do. I mean, in the history of Honda, we’ve had more good moments than bad moments, results-wise, but now we are in a bad one. So, we have to fix it.”
Where does the change have to come from to make Honda more competitive again?
“Well, the history of Honda is that they never give up. We can take this time, or this time, or this time [moves hands further apart], but we know we will get there. But, we have to try to probably change a little bit our way of thinking, and the key point is to not give up in the chase, in the will to find the better solutions.”
It’s difficult to develop without M. Marquez, but is the best-case scenario that he gets onto the bike this year?
“Yes, if possible, it would be good that he could try the bike by, let’s say, after summer, end of the year. This would be the best, especially for our engineers, so that they understand which direction. But, the priority is the total recovery of his arm, so this is something that is, like, no question, and this is how we will proceed.”
There is talk of Mir to Repsol Honda, Rins close to a deal with LCR… can you give us an update on the line-ups for next season, and the chance of Ai Ogura moving up from Moto2™?
“Well, when Suzuki’s story appeared, we were all shocked and obviously I think the Suzuki riders went to talk to all the guys that are sitting right here with me – it’s normal. There are options, there are different options, and we are considering them.
“We said since the beginning that it will take more time this year for Honda to decide, and this is where we are now. We have possibilities, he has big possibility also, and regarding the satellite team, of course, the satellite team is run by Lucio, it’s his team, and we will support him with whatever decision he decides. Regarding Moto2 riders, this is something that’s still not on the table, because still the championship is ongoing, and in case Ogura can make a good result, it’s something that should be discussed probably in Japan.”