Following the departure of former Suzuki MotoGP team head Davide Brivio at the end of the team’s highly successful, championship-winning season in 2020 to join the Alpine Formula 1 team, it appeared like the end of a great partnership.
According to speculations, there might be a link between the two actions, especially in light of this week’s shocking announcement that the entire team structure he constructed from the ground up in 2014.
Brivio’s departure came as a complete surprise at the moment. He joined Suzuki in 2014, three years after it had previously withdrew from the premier class, and was faced with the crucial task of rebuilding a squad from the ground up, after the previous team (headed by Englishman Paul Denning) had been largely split up.
He also performed a great job for the company, constructing a team that is widely regarded as one of the leanest but most well-run and efficient in the league, built from the ground up with experts and retaining a valued blend of Italian passion and Japanese precision that has lasted to this day.
Brivio’s Suzuki, on the other hand, was a huge hit. By promoting Maverick Vinales, Alex Rins, and Joan Mir directly from rookie seasons in Moto2 to factory MotoGP rides, it took a risk that paid off three times, with the trio all becoming race winners for the factory team – and, of course, Mir going on to win an unexpected but hard-earned world championship in 2020.
While Brivio may have left Suzuki unexpectedly at the end of that title-winning season, lured away by the opportunity to work in F1 with Alpine (which didn’t turn out quite as expected, with Brivio moving sideways after 2021), his Suzuki legacy lives on, with both riders fighting for the title again in 2022 and the team currently leading the teams’ championship.
However, it was clear very immediately after the experienced Italian’s departure that things would not run as smoothly within the club without him.
To begin with, there was the tumultuous choice to replace Brivio, a process that took well over a year despite Suzuki’s Japanese management eventually going full circle and settling on former Honda and Ducati boss Livio Suppo — the initial name offered to fill Brivio’s shoes.
Meanwhile, the squad suffered as a result of the absence of a leader. It was first run by a committee as senior individuals gained more control over their separate areas of duty and Suzuki formed a management committee to make crucial decisions, but this didn’t work out in practise.
Project head Shinichi Sahara (unofficially the ‘boss’ of the committee) grew separated from his engineers back in Japan as he was compelled to spend more and more time in Europe due to travel restrictions. This was due to both a lack of management and the pandemic.
As a result, development was bogged in the mud, especially since the crew didn’t have a ride height device throughout the first half of the season.
You’d think that if Brivio had stayed on the squad, the results would have improved as well. It’s not that 2021 was a poor year; Mir finished third, but the team went a complete year without winning, and Rins had a particularly bad season that may have been averted under Brivio’s tutelage.
Suzuki’s ambition to expand its operations and establish a satellite team was another critical component of the project that suffered without Brivio in charge.
Brivio was a big proponent of making that happen, and he’s said to have persuaded the board that the team should go satellite in 2022, with Valentino Rossi himself ready to take over and operate the team under his VR46 name.
Brivio’s departure also ended any chance of an independent Suzuki team until at least the start of 2024, with the board once again needing to be persuaded of the benefits of all the additional data it would bring for the GSX-RR every weekend, according to Suppo, Brivio’s replacement, who spoke to the media only last weekend at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
While neither the lack of results in 2021 nor the lack of a satellite team are likely to have triggered this week’s shock news, it’s easy to imagine that if Brivio had stayed, things might have turned out differently if he had been able to exert his considerable influence over the head office in Japan.
Of course, it’ll always be one of MotoGP’s great what-if questions; one we’ll never know the answer to – but it’s a terrible shame that Brivio’s dream squad will now be broken apart in one way or another.