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MotoGP Interview - Michael Bartholemy (Marc VDS): EXCLUSIVE

“When you have a Rabat and you go to a Morbidelli, it's like 100 percent different people. The most nervous guy in the world and the most relaxed guy in the world” – Michael Bartholemy
Michael Bartholemy, team boss of Marc VDS' Moto2 and MotoGP teams, sat down with on Friday at the Grand Prix of the Americas to detail the improvements to the team's Moto2 package, working with championship leader Franco Morbidelli, and the likelihood of the team extending its contract with Honda beyond 2017.
Marc VDS' two Moto2 riders have started the season strongly. Where has the change come from over the offseason?

Michael Bartholemy:
When we started with Franco, already the last half part of the season last year was not so bad. Sometimes he felt quite strong and was racing against [Johann] Zarco, who had quite a good package. It's his second year with the team. In the first year you always need a little bit this time to find yourself, to find the way, how you work together and how you set up the bike. There were many changes to make this victory in Qatar. In the end we were always beaten by him or by [Thomas] Luthi, people that have a bit more experience. I think last year there were some small mistakes from him. I would say it was inexperience. For sure, the thing in Phillip Island was for sure a little bit his mistake, and also Luthi, with his experience, could beat him. Already there we saw the progress was OK. Also, the missing thing with the bike – we were missing a bit of top speed compared to Zarco and Luthi. We have worked quite a lot on this during the winter. We have not done it for the past three years because it was too expensive and I thought it was not needed. I think it was a good step for this season now.

The new bike is suiting him better in terms of front feeling. Also, Ohlins make quite a big step compared to the beginning of last year. In the end [of 2016] it was already coming better. For sure there was a big difference after the Valencia race when we were going to test. There was some new material coming that we develop over the season. In the end you always think, 'OK, it's coming next week.' But they are big companies with big change so basically we were going a bit in this MotoGP direction with the suspension. It was taking more time than expected but I think these three or four factors together has made the result that we had in Qatar and Argentina.

For me the main thing with Alex is the front feeling with the bike. The biggest problem last year was when we had a heavy bike at the beginning of the race. He was struggling with front feeling and most of the crashes he had were in the beginning of the race. For sure the new chassis is helping a lot with us. From our side we were directly convinced the 2017 bike is better. Other people were hesitating a bit between the 2016 and '17. Luthi right now is hesitating a little bit [between which is better]. For our riders this way was for sure better. the second thing with him is… My feeling is last year he was a bit, does he stay with us or leave the team. I think his management was also not 100 percent sure if VDS was the team to stay in. In one moment in the year, in June, he called me and said, 'This is the team I want to stay in. It doesn't matter what other people think. I want to continue.' I think this is also a little bit a 'click'. He started to be more mature. Now you see a different Alex on track. A day like today [Friday, after FP1] or in Argentina or Qatar, when he goes out he fights with the people. He's not anymore the guy that waits. He's there. He showed he has the speed and that he can go faster than other people. The package for both riders is pretty OK.

Argentina… I'm never a person that looks for excuses. It was a mistake. In this moment, it was the last lap and there were only four corners to make. The gap was a little bit big, like 20 or 30 metres. To catch it back in four corners, it would have been tight. He was fighting with his team-mate. If you're with another person you're cooler in your actions. The mistake that he did was to attack Frankie four laps before the end. Frankie is a Sunday guy. He's quite hard on racing day. Let's say it like this. I think it was better if he attempted to do it on the last lap, to surprise him. He [Franco] knew Alex was there. He was also quite fast. From the other side, I think Alex learned something from his crash. When you go back from Friday and Saturday we had this slide many times in this corner. But when he slide he cut a little bit then he could go with 100 percent throttle and the bike was still going. But with a tyre that had more than 20 laps… He was sliding, he thought he could go again, he opened the throttle, thinking it wouldn't come round any more. Then it came round and OK, he crashed. It's a sahem. We could have come here for first and second in the championship. The situation would have been good. It's like this. We have to motivate them. I spent some time with them before we came here. It was clear what the target is for the next races. The championship is still long. Then we have to go for it.
Is there a big difference between the 2016 and '17 Kalex chassis?

Michael Bartholemy:
The main thing to have this confidence to not crash any more is the new chassis and the suspension. This is the thing that helps him to find confidence. In general the bike has improved. It was three years that we weren't in this wind tunnel. We spend a lot of time in there. You see even today we are always one or two kph faster than our competitors. This helps. We have also changed one technical supplier which helps us have more speed and acceleration. In Moto2 it is all these small things that can help you. There is never one big thing that helps you find half a second. You have to play with these small details.
So the wind tunnel and working on the bike's aerodynamics was also key to your strong start to the year?

Michael Bartholemy:
Basically, we have improved our top speed. I think last year our bike was giving a lot of slipstream to the people behind us. Basically we have worked on two sides – to have good aerodynamics and to avoid the people behind us having a better slipstream, which makes it complicated. In the wind tunnel the more aerodynamics that you have, the better it is for those behind you. So you need to find this compromise. What we have found was not bad. It was a step and it was good to return there. It was three years ago when we were last there with Scott, when we had this problem of a big rider in Moto2. It was a good choice to go back.
Were you working on the bike as well as rider position in the wind tunnel?

Michael Bartholemy:
The wind tunnel is quite expensive and we have to calculate it with the budget and everything. What we have done is we sent one bike over for one month. So when it was free we made tests without the rider. When the new aero package from Kalex was ready we sent that over. So they had it for one week. Then we went there with the riders to make the final adjustments, look at rider position on the bike and look at these things. But in the end the Kalex is a bike which is produced from them. It is not that you say, 'We've built a new fairing or we have a new fender.' You have to start to adapt small pieces to the bike. This weekend we have a little bit more than we had last week. It's a process that takes time. In the end, you have to produce the parts yourself. You don't want to give it to Kalex because they will use it with the other bikes, which is normal.
Franco always comes across as very laid back. When speaking to the press, at least, that hasn't changed since he became Moto2's leading name. Have you noticed a change in his working methods from 2016 to '17?

Michael Bartholemy:
We have noticed a difference. I think the difference is not him. It's more his environment. Some people in the team, I think are struggling a bit more with it than me. I think I have passed this period of my life many times – when you have a young rider and he starts to win a race then everyone wants to speak to him and they think, 'Oh, why me?' It's a normal process. If you come back at the same time next year it will not stress them anymore because they are used to it. We had this with Redding. We had this with Rabat. So when I was in Argentina we had meetings and spoke about some things that he was not liking so much. But it has not stressed me at all. I think in one month we'll be laughing about it. We have to concentrate on racing. We have to concentrate to make him happy. Like you say, the guy is quite easy and cool. Last year I said to him one time, 'Hey, do you want to be a world champion one day?' Because he was like relaxed and everything is easy. It's his style. For sure, when you have a Rabat and you go to a Morbidelli, it's like 100 percent different people. The most nervous guy in the world and the most relaxed guy in the world! It is fine to work with him. I know how it is.

From the other side this is also a benefit. Sometimes when you want to try something on the bike, or there is a problem, he is not the guy in the garage that complains. He's laid back. He takes it easy. When he goes out he does his job. I'm quite happy with the choice. In 2015 when I decided to go with him, there were a lot of people in the team and around me that were not happy with my decision. I always saw something special in this guy. At that time there were a lot of riders that wanted to come to our team. But now I must say it was a good choice to go with him. It was a good choice to keep Alex. I'm pretty happy with the result. There are not many teams in Moto2, like us, that for many years have two front runners. Most have one top guy and one in the mid-field. For some years we have this level where both riders can make quite good results.
And for Alex, is it a case of him needing several seasons on a bike to show his true potential?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think for Alex is someone that has like a knife always here [motions to his neck]. When he came there was this fight with Alex Rins. One guy won the championship, the other guy finished third. Alex Rins was making better results. The press was killing Marquez. His brother is this top star and he was struggling. It's the reality. In the end, we, as a team, always stayed behind him. This time last year, when his management wanted to go a different way, many times I spoke with him. He called me and said, 'My way is VDS'. I think this is what we needed. He started to be Alex Marquez. Many times I said to him, 'I don't care about your brother. Your brother will never race for me.' I'm a private team. My total budget is maybe his salary for one year. [I said,] 'I don't give a s**t about him. He's in Repsol Honda. You are my rider. Don't think about the press or the people around you. Do your job and one day it will come.' This is what I saw last year. In May or June I made an analysis of all the riders. When you work with Alex he never show the real result. Sometimes he shows you things where you think it's not so bad. If he could put it all together one day he can arrive. This is what he is showing now. In these two races and practices he only made one mistake. This was on Sunday. On Sunday you can't make a mistake. On Friday and Saturday, sure. But for the rest it is there. He's one of the three people that can go for the championship.
It's still early in the season but there are already rumours that Franco is set for a switch to MotoGP in 2018. Could that be with Marc VDS?

Michael Bartholemy:
When we made the contract with Franco it was always clear that it is a two-year deal for Moto2 and it is a two-year deal for MotoGP. The only thing is if he has an offer from a factory team on a factory bike, then OK, it is something different. For me it is clear that if we win the championship we have to offer him one of the MotoGP bikes. This is a little bit the philosophy of the pyramid we make with the Moto3 team and the pyramid with the young kids we have in Spain, [and it's similar to] what we have done with Tito. We know we can never attract this 'millions' guy. We are a private team. It looks from the outside that it is this big Marc VDS / Estrella Galicia project, but we have a budget that we have to respect. We can only make certain things on this budget. The idea is to build up our riders for the future to make them win in Moto2 and bring them to MotoGP. [Then] Make the best of them in MotoGP and hopefully one day they can go to a factory team. I think this is the job for us. For me, if we win the championship, sure, we should have him on our MotoGP bike for next year.
And is that dependent on Franco winning the championship?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think this is something that is always in discussion between the rider and the rider's management, than us. In the end, the contract says that if he wants to stay another year in Moto2, he has to stay with us. HE cannot go to another Moto2 team. The contract is quite tight but we have possibilities. If he says now, 'OK, I finish third in the world championship, and I want to go for the title,' he can stay with us for another year in Moto2. If we say, 'OK, it is time to move up,' we will supply him with the best material that we can supply him for MotoGP.
What would that mean for your current MotoGP riders?

Michael Bartholemy:
The situation is not 100 percent controlled by Marc VDS because you know Jack is an HRC rider. What we did in Qatar is we had a meeting with Honda to speak about the future because our HRC contract is running out. It was a three-year contract. We said that we would quite like to continue. From the outside it was quite positive. But we speak also about this 'Jack method'. We asked what the situation is. We said, 'It is not fair when we go to Jack and offer him a job for next year', because he is under contract with the partner that we have. They say they would like to have a certain time to decide if they want to continue with Jack or not. In case they say that he is free, then we can make him an offer. So this is the situation at the moment. But we have to respect Honda. As long as Honda say, 'Wait, we don't know what to do with him', we wait. We need to respect the situation. Just I wanted to avoid a situation where we offer a contract to his management. His management go to Honda and say, 'Hey! Bartholemy offered us this!' This has to be clear. We told them to decide. If it is yes [between Jack and Honda], it is perfect. If it is no, we can decide to go with him or not. It is a fair negotiation. It's a fair deal. In the end, I think he has potential. He can do things. Why not? I think it is too early to say now that he is a Marc VDS rider. This depends on him, his management, Honda. It's something these people need to decide.
What's your timeframe? When do you expect to agree these terms with Honda?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think Honda will decide in the next month. Like the end of May. This would be nice because after this it's coming a bit late.
What's the situation with Marc VDS renewing with Honda? Is it your priority to stay with HRC?

Michael Bartholemy:
I am not sure to be with Honda next year because the meeting was, we said they are our first choice. We would like to continue. And actually they say the same. They say they want to continue but there are things that they have to finalise. For example, they have to finalise the budgets. Their fiscal year ends in March. So when we were talking with them it was still in the old year. It was around the 20th of March. So it's normal that they need until April to make some calculations. So, first, we need to speak to them. Until we hear from Honda, we should not talk to somebody else. We have some other manufacturers that approach us. They wanted to have a meeting but we said the same. We said that we want to see if Honda continues with us. Then we can talk. It depends a bit on the answer.

It's not good now, when you start to speak to everyone in the paddock to make some mess. I think we should always go in an honest and straight way. In the end it depends on Honda. I think Marc VDS is not an unattractive team. Financially we are not the richest people in the paddock but we can pay our invoice. We have quite a good Moto2 programme and we can bring through some riders for them. I think they should think sometime about the future. Maybe one day Marc will go. Dani is not the youngest one. Cal is not so young anymore. OK, Valentino is there at 38 but at the moment you need one guy with 21 or 22. And the best school for this at the moment is Marc VDS. We are building. For them, it's also a package that is attractive. But let's what they decide. It's in their hands. They need to decide what they can offer. For me it's also important the technical package. It's not only the financial situation. The technical package needs to be at least what it is now. It is important was well. Let's see their idea and then we have to decide.
Does that have a similar timeframe to Jack? The end of May?

Michael Bartholemy:
Yeah, I think so. My feeling is they will decide earlier about the bike. Then maybe give Jack one or two races and decide on him. It looks for me, the bike is a bit more Japanese side and the rider is a bit more Italian side of the decision. This is my feeling.
Chances of you staying with Honda machinery in 2017?

Michael Bartholemy:
It depends on them. We had a meeting in Qatar. Our team owner was there and he said we would like to continue. Our programme, let's say internally, is fixed. We will stay in MotoGP until 2021. This is something we have agreed internally. After this we will see. Now we will see who will supply us with the best package and at the moment the priority is Honda. But, I cannot decide for them. The decision has to come from them.
Do you have plans in place for Jack if he is not given an HRC contract?

Michael Bartholemy:
I think the financial help for sure is there. But don't think we have this side of the garage free of charge. If you have to pay a rider, OK, it is an extra load, yes. But it is not something where you have to look for millions. I pay for the f**king bike. I'm a client. Like Lucio. Sure Jack is an HRC rider. But the rest I pay.
Can you update us on Tito's situation?

Michael Bartholemy:
Do you know, there is progress. We are not any more like last year. There is progress with both of them [Jack and Tito]. We have two races. Both times Jack finishes in the top ten and the other guy finishes in the points. So there is progress from last year. The bike has also progressed. The bike is better than last year for sure in many points. The bike has still to improve. For sure, it's not an easy package to ride like the Yamaha. Tito is not somebody that himself, he will improve. He is the guy with the most determination you can find. You will never find a guy like him. In the end he's completely crazy about motorcycles. For him he is only interested in motorcycles. You cannot do more than he is doing.

The only thing I think he slowly starts to understand is how he has to ride that bike or how you have to handle the bike when the tyre is dropping or the bike is coming more light. It is coming a bit more easy. I see a day like today [Friday, GP of the Americas]. He was upset with himself. But in one moment before the last ten minutes [in FP1] he was in ninth place. This was the best Friday morning we had in MotoGP since we started with him. But still he was not happy. He was still complaining about himself. For me the biggest problem with Tito is he is a guy that was also in Moto2 like this. He always thinks of himself. He always thinks that he, himself, can make it. But MotoGP is not like Moto2. In Moto2 sometimes he was half a second behind in qualifying and he'd think, 'OK, I can make that up [in the race].' MotoGP is not like this. If you start to be too aggressive with the bike your lap time is slower. This is something we try to teach him to be relaxed on the bike, to speak with the bike more. The bike has to talk. He can't force the bike to do what he wants to do. This can never work. Even if it looks with the top guys very spectacular. But in reality they are riding quite smooth. They know exactly what they are doing. This is our biggest limit. The moment when it is not coming, or the moment when he comes to the garage and sees 'P17', he starts to overreact and then it gets worse. Sometimes on his out-lap, he'll make one of his fastest sectors because he just doesn't think about the lap time. This is what we're working on.

Tito is a difficult guy. It was the same in Moto2, because he had his rhythm. He has Almeria. He has to be on the bike ten hours a day. With this, he can go fast, but you cannot replicate a MotoGP bike. It was much easier with a Moto2. This bike here, you can only ride it when you come to this circuit or in certain tests. You can make 100,000 laps and sometimes it will not help you. We try for this moment to say OK, 'You are at home six days. Three days of no bike.' But you need to force him. I call every two hours and I don't hear any noise of bikes. If not… Then he can go three days on the bike. When your brain switches off and you go back on the bike the result is much better. Now, slowly he starts to realise. He says, 'My lap time over three days 0.2s faster' just because he goes fresh and not stressed. Like we said before, he's a nervous guy, the opposite to Frankie.

Tito is quite difficult to control. I think I still have a good feeling with him because he's a guy that's very honest. Tito would never lie. He would never say, 'The bike has a red light coming on and this is why I was slowing.' No. This is non-existent. He always looks at himself. There are many discussions every day about 'Why do you make it like this?' to help him to be more relaxed with what he's doing. But look at Argentina. Twelfth position. [We were happy] Not only for the position but it was a nice race with four people and he won the battle. He is fighting with them now. He is not any more the guy that is completely alone and last in the field. This is important for him because in the end the guy is a world champion. He is still the guy that won the most Moto2 races in one season. He is not like a shit rider. The guy can ride a motorcycle. It's just that our bike is a bit more complicated than other bikes to ride. You need a bit of time to adapt to it.

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Michael Bartholemy, Grand Prix Of The Americas, 2017
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