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EXCLUSIVE Michael Bartholemy (Marc VDS) - Q&A

5 June 2013

By Christian Tiburtius

An exclusive interview with Marc VDS team principal Michael Bartholemy, whose rider Scott Redding is leading the Moto2 World Championship with victories at the last two rounds.

Bartholemy previously ran the factory Kawasaki MotoGP team and is also Redding's personal manager.

During the interview, which took place during post-race testing at Mugello, Bartholemy confirms that his 'target' is to find Redding a MotoGP ride with one of the manufacturers...

Crash.net:
Hi Michael, thanks for taking time out to talk to us when you're so busy at the Mugello Moto3 tests.

Michael Bartholemy:
No problem, but in this moment it's a good busy rather than a bad busy. Or put it this way, in the Moto2 it's a good busy and in the Moto3 it's a difficult busy right now!

Crash.net:
So you're testing with your Moto3 rider Livio Loi?

Michael Bartholemy:
We knew that it was going to be difficult and that there would be bad tracks, but now we've had a weekend like this and we need to find a solution. He's finding it hard to get a good set-up for this track.

For sure it's a track which needs big b*lls and you have a lot of corners where you need to make speed for the next, he knew it was coming though, so we have to work to keep his motivation high and to give him more feeling on the bike.

He's a very young Belgian rider and actually only became old enough to race during the season. He's fast and finished 16th at Le Mans. This weekend was basically a bit of a disaster and he was orbiting between 25th and 30th

Crash.net:
You've been in team management for a long time, how did you get into it?

Michael Bartholemy:
My grandfather was already a racer and bikes were very much in the family and there were bikes around the house. My father didn't race but he did take us to various races including GPs so when I could get a little money together I got a bike. I started racing when I was 17 in the European endurance racing championship with races lasting between four and eight hours with two riders. I did pretty well, but I come from a normal family without too much money so I had to stop when I was 22 for financial reasons.

I still had good contacts in the racing industry and Yamaha contacted me when they had a new 750 bike coming out and they wanted me to enter it for them in what was then the equivalent of Superstock. We did a world championship race for them at Spa and at the time I was the youngest team principal in any world championship. That could be a problem because people sometimes found it hard to respect someone so young and always thought that you just came from a rich family.

We did well there and that started a good relationship with Yamaha during which I did four years of endurance racing for them. I was getting a bit tired of endurance, so when the Thunderbike class started in MotoGP, I wanted to move there. They said I could do it, but before that I had to move back to Belgium to do some Supersport and Superbike seasons to get more into the rhythm of those championships.

From there I moved to World Supersport, first in an importer supported team and then to the factory Honda supported team. In the end we were getting great results with riders like Broc Parkes and Kevin Curtain.

At the end of 2003 I got the offer to go to Kawasaki as principal of their MotoGP team. People often seem to ask me when their teams are struggling: Honda got me into their Supersport team when they were struggling and we left them successful and when I joined Kawasaki they were in their third year and were 22nd and 23rd in the championship. The first year I was there we finished tenth with Nakano.

I stayed there from mid-2003 to mid-2009. On the 25th of December 2008 Kawasaki called me to say they had decided to stop the program. It was a bit of a mess because we had so many contracts outstanding with employees and Dorna, but we put the single bike Hayate team into place with Marco Melandri.

They basically said it was going to be a black bike, no hospitality and we don't give a sh*t where it finishes, it just has to be on the grid. For that reason, I didn't feel welcome anymore and stayed at home for the rest of 2009 until I met Marc van der Straten.

Crash.net:
Did you end on good terms with Kawasaki?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think I gave them some of the best results they have had so if something ends so abruptly it's never a nice end. An employee might sometimes get a watch when they leave, so when I'd worked so hard and got those results it felt a bit like a kick in the a*se when you can't even go back to the factory to talk to people.

Crash.net:
So what crew have you got in your current team?

Michael Bartholemy:
Basically in the Moto2 team, everybody is from MotoGP with about 30% of people having been with me for some time. I have some people who have been working with me for 16 or 17 years.

Crash.net:
What do you enjoy more, MotoGP or Moto2

Michael Bartholemy:
I was in MotoGP for so many years but I'm enjoying Moto2 more now because we are getting the results. When I travel to a Moto2 race I feel that we can win or get a podium whereas at Kawasaki we were trying for the top ten. When you're away from your family for 280 or 290 days a year and you give so much it makes life very different, I have so much more enthusiasm and motivation.

If you offered me factory Yamaha or Repsol Honda, for sure I would like to go back but until then I'd prefer to be in a top team in Moto2. When I arrive home people clap me on the back and say 'well done', we are high in the championship, you feel satisfied when you do that.

Crash.net:
Who is Marc van der Straten?

Michael Bartholemy:
He's a count and made his money from beer. His grandfather was the founder of Stella Artois, they have now bought several other breweries since and they are one of the biggest brewing companies in the world. The money for the team doesn't come from there though, it's funded from Marc's private money, there are no beer brands on the bike.

Crash.net:
What is the balance in the team between cars and bikes?

Michael Bartholemy:
Marc's father started the car team in 1964 and we've still got a successful car team now. The motorcycle activity started in 2010. Both teams operate from a large base in an airport in Belgium where we have 4000 sq meters with our own paint, machining and carbon facilities etc used by both teams. The facilities are very good.

For sure Marc's knowledge is better for car racing, he's done it all his life, but at the recent Le Mans race where Scott was first and Mika was second it was the same weekend as his biggest car race, the 24 hour Nurburgring, and he was at Le Mans.

He was at Mugello this weekend, stayed for the test and he's just gone home now and the cars were racing at Silverstone. He's going to be with us at Catalunya too, he used to stick with the cars but he's now at nearly every motorcycle race.

It's a close team, everybody's always there, we win together and cry together when it's sh*t.

Crash.net:
Do you find managing a race team easy?

Michael Bartholemy:
It depends on the year, in the last two or three races on Saturday night I'm always waking up thinking about the race and things that may happen. I haven't done this for 23 years for the money, I want to win races, I just want to win every weekend and it's a lot of pressure.

You can only be successful if you live it every day, if you stop for some days living in this world then you cannot be successful any more. I have motorbikes in my head every day. You need to always, always work on it and think about it.

Crash.net:
The team seemed to do better after it had switched from a Suter to a Kalex chassis for 2012. Some people have said that that was because the Suter chassis was only being developed according to what Marc Marquez wanted?

Michael Bartholemy:
No, that's complete bullsh*t, I think that the first year with the Suter chassis was one of our best, we got some front rows and podiums, it wasn't a bad year. The 2011 bike was actually developed by our team and the Aspar team and nothing to do with Marc Marquez.

Marc was having a fantastic season though, so perhaps from Aragon Suter started to concentrate on Marquez because they wanted to win the title and that's natural. From my point of view that seems perfectly reasonable, if you want to avoid that, you have to make your own motorcycle.

The big problem is that the Suter was always developed for a very small rider because the basis of the Suter is a Kawasaki MotoGP bike and the rider was Shinya Nakano. So if you are a bit taller and heavier, you'll put more weight on the rear and you'll always struggle with the front, it's the problem that Kenan [Sofuoglu], De Angelis and many others had.

That's why we moved to the Kalex. For me a lot of the north European riders - and those are the ones we've got, we haven't got any Spanish or Italians - they do a lot of pocket bike racing. Maybe that's because the weather is sh*t or something like this so they all need a lot of confidence in the front end of the bike and the Kalex gives that.

Crash.net:
Scott's victory this weekend at Mugello seemed particularly important because he dominated the race throughout, would you agree?

Michael Bartholemy:
The Le Mans victory was nice because it was his first in Moto2, but the victory this weekend was the best I've ever seen him do. He basically destroyed the opposition, he was at a different level to everybody else.

When Terol passed him on the straight, and he could always do that, Scott could take it easy and pass him back when he wanted because he knew he could do it. He was then confident that he could pull the gap necessary so that Terol couldn't pass him back and in the last five or six laps Scott was controlling the race and could have gone faster if he wanted.

He hates Mugello, he really doesn't like it, there are straights where he can be passed and long corners where his long legs don't help and the victory was very difficult for him. So for me what he did this weekend was a big thing.

Crash.net:
What do 'Want it' and 'Breathe' mean on the pit signals?

Michael Bartholemy:
We will tell you this when we don't need it anymore!

Crash.net:
Where would you rate Scott against the opposition?

Michael Bartholemy:
For me at this age level, the biggest talents are Marc Marquez and Scott. The difference is that in Moto2 Scott, because of his weight and height, always had to ride so much harder to make it happen.

I'm sure that Scott is at a similar level to Marc Marquez though, their styles are very similar and the future will be this style of riding the bike.

The minimum weight rule has helped, but it was as if he needed more help in his head. Before, in the race everybody was always passing him on the straight. He was just sitting there thinking 'f*ck everyone's got 25 kilos on me anyway' and we know that we can't lose 25kg anywhere.

Now it's probably 9kg and in his head he's thinking 'I can make the difference here, I can beat them'. Now he's fully motivated. Before the big difference in weight was getting him down most weekends.

With Mika Kallio it has been a disadvantage we've got nearly 10kg on his bike.

Crash.net:
Scott this year seems to look more mature and determined, would you agree?

Michael Bartholemy:
He is definitely more focused, he knows that now, everything is there to make it happen and he wants to win the championship.

Crash.net:
Is there a number 1 and 2 rider in the team?

Michael Bartholemy:
No, from a technical point of view and equipment, everything is the same. Maybe Scott is kind of Marc's baby because he arrived right at the beginning of the Marc VDS story but both riders have the same opportunities.

I think that Mika will never go back to MotoGP but he is second is the world championship so he's a great rider too.

Crash.net:
As Scott's manager and also the principal of Marc VDS Moto2, what will you do if Scott moves to a different team next season?

Michael Bartholemy:
I would certainly continue as principal of Marc VDS. I would also continue as Scott's manager, the target is to have him on a factory bike and once he is there I won't need to devote as much time to him as now. For me the most important thing is to secure him a factory [MotoGP] ride.

Crash.net:
When you say 'factory ride', do you mean all bikes made by a manufacturer, or only the official 'factory' team?

Michael Bartholemy:
For me factory ride in Yamaha means those of Rossi, Lorenzo, Crutchlow and Smith and the same with Honda and Ducati, any bike made by that manufacturer. Because for me there is not a big difference between the factory and satellite bikes.

The bike is a bike. A factory doesn't make a sh*t bike for a satellite team they're just too expensive and the difference between how they are doing is with the rider. If satellite riders say that they have an old bike, the oldest it will be is last year.

Look at the lap times Lorenzo was doing on his bike last year and then compare them with the lap times that Cal is doing this year. I haven't checked but I feel sure that Lorenzo would be faster.

If riders complain about the bike when they're on a satellite bike then I think they're really just wingeing. As long as you're on one of the four bikes from each manufacturer then you'll be OK, there may be a small delay in getting parts, but the bike is basically OK.

Crash.net:
Yamaha Tech 3 are currently talking to Pol Espargaro should they also talk to Scott?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think they already signed Pol last year, I haven't seen the contract, but from what I hear from people I know well in the paddock, it's already a done deal.

We've been in contact with Yamaha about the engine [lease for MotoGP next year] and it was a clear statement from them that they have all their riders for next year.

Crash.net:
Scott's name is often mentioned as a prospect for Ducati, can't a Ducati seat be dangerous for a rider's career?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think that Scott would be pleased to go there and Ducati would be pleased to know he was coming. For sure it could be a dangerous contract but at the moment we are speaking to all three manufacturers and we will select the best package at the end.

I know what I would prefer for Scott in an ideal world, but at the moment I need to keep this to myself. I repeat that the priority is a factory bike.

If they said you can have Rossi's Yamaha or Pedrosa's Honda, that would be perfect or on the other side, if Ducati said you can have a long term contract and these are the improvements we are making that would also need looking at.

Crash.net:
As the principal of Marc VDS Moto2, given that Scott goes, which riders will you be looking at?

Michael Bartholemy:
Without committing myself, I think we would like one of the top Moto3 guys such as Vinales, Rins, Folger or Salom - these are the four names we have an interest in and we want to keep one top level established Moto2 rider like Kallio, Rabat or Terol.

The rider market in Moto2 was something I had to learn. In MotoGP, in June you're already starting to negotiate the contracts for next year. In Moto2 nobody moves until the last race. In the first year I was thinking 'f**k why is nobody coming, we are a nice team and everything' and nobody was talking.

Crash.net:
What do you think of the current CRT strategy in MotoGP?

Michael Bartholemy:
Maybe you know that I was the first to build a CRT bike. We built a BMW engined [Suter] bike and were probably more successful with it than other teams using it, but we stopped that program because we didn't believe in it any more.

For me what is coming now, the production racer, is a very good idea. The Honda is one of these and the Yamaha package isn't bad either - you get the engine, the electronics and a large amount of data. If you have a company like Kalex make you a frame with an aerodynamic package you can definitely make it.

Crash.net:
So that would be another possibility for Scott?

Michael Bartholemy:
This is a possibility in case he hasn't found something really, really good, which I don't think is the case. If the teams are now not considering Scott Redding then I think there is something wrong with the world!

Crash.net:
Do you ride a motorbike on the road?

Michael Bartholemy:
No, not since 2003. We had a big sponsor's event at Spa and the week before I was riding my bike and I had a little accident. I lost some toes, had maybe six breaks in my feet and broke both shoulders and I thought that when you're 33 or 34 you shouldn't be doing stupid things like that.

Crash.net:
What do you think of the British MotoGP TV coverage moving to BT Sport next season, just when British riders are starting to do so well?

Michael Bartholemy:
I know that, Scott was there when they made the announcement. Honestly I can't say anything about that, I'm Belgian, I don't watch British TV and I have to repeat that I can't say anything about that

Crash.net:
Thanks a lot

Michael Bartholemy:
Thanks.


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