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Q&A: Alberto Puig (Repsol Honda)

8 June 2007

Having had his own grand prix career cut short by a serious leg injury, Alberto Puig returned to 'active duty' within the premier-class pit lane last season - when 125 and double 250cc world champion Dani Pedrosa, whose career Puig has nurtured from the very beginning, made his MotoGP debut.

Here, the 40-year-old - who took one 500GP win and four further premier-class podiums between 1994-1997 - talks about his current talent-spotting and managerial role within Repsol, the development of young riders, Honda's difficult start to the 2007 MotoGP season, what makes Pedrosa so special, his own interests away from racing and much more...


Q:
What are your main responsibilities as sporting director at Repsol?

Alberto Puig:
In the 125cc and 250cc classes I try to find riders, organise structures, coordinate people and look for competent mechanics. As regards the relationship between Honda and the teams, I try to organise and establish the working lines to be followed, as well as future strategies, suggesting what can and what cannot be done.

Q:
Having been a rider yourself, how do you think motorcycle racing has evolved? You were 20 or 22-years-old when you were racing, and now there are 14 or 15-year-old 'kids' on motorbikes reaching 200 km/h or more...

Alberto Puig:
Well, I think this is evolving as everything else. This has become highly professional, there are sponsors, more competitions, the kids start earlier... In short, everything is much more serious than before, different. Motorcycle racing is evolving as all other sports and the age of the people starting to practice them has moved. It happens in tennis, gymnastics, skiing, bicycle riding... There are younger people coming.

I think that anyone that has the chance to do something well as a child tries to focus on it. Nowadays, your own family leads you to test yourself. This makes everything start earlier and you become professional earlier. The result is this brutal competition we have now. Any type of sport is like a real war. Let's not fool ourselves, this is a highly competitive world in which everyone defends his/her own plot and tries to benefit.

Q:
Do you think that these very young riders should give up school at such a young age to go racing?

Alberto Puig:
Every rider is a different case and each one of them has his own story. What is good for one is useless for the other. The first year we entered the world championship with the three young riders in 2001 I insisted in them going to school while they were racing. But to be honest, if the sportsman starts having interesting results, school begins to have less and less significance to them. It is very difficult to combine, because it is a complicated world, with a lot of travelling, although you obviously try to make them continue.

I studied four years at university, but there comes a time when it becomes really difficult. But I think that there is always space for new things to be learned and it's always good. That's theory but the truth is that when you are entirely dedicated to this, if you really have chances, the world of professional sports is a full-time job. But I think that it's good that young guys try to continue with school, according to their age.

Q:
What did you study?

Alberto Puig:
Economics.

Q:
Which are the main values you and your team try to instil in the young riders you work with?

Alberto Puig:
It's very simple: seriousness, never look for excuses - the bike is working, is not working - excitement with what you're doing and hard work. That's it.

Q:
Can a hard working, excited, brave, young rider get far even if he does not have a huge amount of talent?

Alberto Puig:
Sure, but obviously not as far a very talented rider. He can get far, but the one with a natural talent always gets further. Except for those with careless attitudes. But under normal conditions, a talented rider has more chances.

Q:
Let's talk about MotoGP. Do you think that Honda will be able to recover from its current technical disadvantages?

Alberto Puig:
We hope so, because we consider Honda to be the number one manufacturer in the world. But we currently do not have the bike we would like to have. Everybody knows that and they know it too. We are waiting for the improvements to arrive. But we obviously can't [say] that we're happy with the bike, because we are not.

Q:
Can you explain the current situation as regards to Dani's chances of fighting for the title?

Alberto Puig:
The situation of the championship is the following: We, meaning Honda, have followed a line of development which was not the right one for some time. Moreover, as regards the tyres, Bridgestone has made a big step forward. Now we have to make a major step forward to get to their level. We fully trust in the rider and we think that Dani, with a better set bike and a small improvement on the tyres will be where he has to be. That's completely clear to all of us. We trust both in Honda and in Michelin, we know that they are going to react and that they will give us what we need. Meanwhile, the only thing we can do is what we do, trying to make it as good as we can and hope for times to change.

Q:
How would you describe Dani as a rider?

Alberto Puig:
I've said it many times. I think that Dani is one of those extraordinary riders. I sincerely believe it; he is a very special rider. And I won't get tired of repeating it, because that's what I think. He is a rider with a special intuition for this and we just have to wait that everything gets back in its place and to have the bike we need. Then we will see again what we can do with this guy.

Q:
And how would you describe him as a person?

Alberto Puig:
He is the type of person we like. He doesn't speak much, he's humble, and comes from a humble, hard-working family. He is not pretentious at all. He always tries to avoid crowds because he is quite introverted. But he's the best friend of his friends. Outside the races he is very calm, very normal. Very professional, despite there being many people who do not understand his way to understand races. Very professional as regards the technical aspect and the work, this is what he's here for.

Q:
Turning to the 125cc class, you have a young British rider in the form of Bradley Smith - now in his second year at Repsol Honda. How would you describe Bradley as a rider?

Alberto Puig:
I think that he is a mega-intelligent young guy. You tell him something and he understands everything right away. He is bright. He started at the academy with Dorna, he has been following the right steps and I think that this kid gets where he gets because of his natural talent and because of his own analysis. That's how he gets the results.

Q:
And as a person?

Alberto Puig:
He is English, something I like. He is a discreet young man, cold, but at the same very well-educated, polite and little interested in getting himself noticed.

Q:
Britain hasn't had a leading grand prix rider for over ten years. Do you think that Smith, your discovery from the MotoGP Academy, could mean the end of that drought?

Alberto Puig:
We have been working on that, we want to let Bradley be the one who will make English motorcycling and its large tradition recover its position. We think he can. We think that Bradley should take that direction.

Q:
Both Bradley and team-mate Esteve Rabat have taken their first grand prix podiums already this season - are we going to see them on the podium again in 2007?

Alberto Puig:
I don't know, I'm no fortune-teller, but we'll try. We're very happy, but we obviously want more.

Q:
Let's talk about Alberto Puig as a person now. They say that you're very protective of the people close to you, including all the people working with you in the garage...

Alberto Puig:
I don't know. I try to have my people relaxed and happy. That's my job. Having to coordinate all of this, I have to transmit calmness and as much as I can to the people. Because, as I told you, I consider people to be very important and I think that the value of a teams lies in all of its members. The same thing applies to the riders: I try to keep them relaxed and to worry only about things they need to worry. I personally don't care much about what people tell about me, so I prefer that if there's anything happening they should come to talk to me and not to other people. I want them to be relaxed and to do their job well, because I think that we all have our own function in this thing. If that's my function, no problem.

Q:
What does Alberto Puig value most in a person?

Alberto Puig:
The first thing I value is to truly believe in our project. I appreciate riders, mechanics who really believe in our project. I respect them, because if someone wants to be with us, I will appreciate if they want to follow our programme. Apart from that, nothing special. I believe in what everybody else believes. Seriousness, hard work, excitement for the sport, and above all clarity. Clarity of ideas, clarity of thoughts and of character. Not the hypocrisy we believe is working nowadays, there's too much of it out there. I told you that there comes a point in which you think that almost nothing matters. I always tell what I think, that's how I am, whether you like it or not.

Q:
What does Alberto Puig hate most in a person?

Alberto Puig:
There are things nobody likes. To be honest, I don't spend much time thinking about things like that. I care about people who matter to me: I want to know how they are, I accept them how they are, with their good things and bad things and I don't think much about the rest. But there's one thing I hate and that's people's lack of professionalism. I don't like it at all. The problem is that most of them do not know it. That's the problem. There are many people around here, who do not notice how little professional they are.

Q:
Do you have a life beyond motorbikes?

Alberto Puig:
Of course.

Q:
A hobby outside of the world of motorbikes?

Alberto Puig:
Bicycles. I like to ride bicycle in my spare time.

Q:
Road rather than mountain bikes?

Alberto Puig:
Yes.

Q:
Despite your leg injury, do you miss getting on a race bike and competing, or is that all in the past?

Alberto Puig:
Not competing, because I have obviously no age to do so, but I like motorbikes. In fact, I always ride a motorbike in winter. I ride the motorbike with these guys and I have a good time. I do motocross, supermotard, I still can, and I enjoy my winters on the motorbike a lot. I'm still practising, quite a lot, but not enough to start racing... I don't have this yearning anymore. But you do wish the riders racing in your organisations and in your structures to do the best they can. That's why I always try to be close to them, during the practices or any of these events.

Q:
Will we be able to see Alberto Puig riding a Honda RC212V at a test one day? Would you like to do that?

Alberto Puig:
Of course I would like it, but I can't. They asked me to test it, but the problem is that my left foot is bad, it is 'blocked'. During my last racing year, the mechanics made a special design to be able to change gear with the right foot. But they're not going to do a special clutch design for me now, for a 10-lap test. But, yes, I'd love to test that bike.

Q:
What do you think and feel when you look at a picture of you sitting on the NSR500 you rode to victory in the 1995 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez?

Alberto Puig:
That life is bloody strange! That's it. It just happened to me in a very good moment. But it happened in the past and many terrible things happen to many people in the world and they're not talking about their problems every day. What do I truly think? Well, after crashing at 275 km/h against a wall and only crushing one leg, you have to consider yourself a privileged person. That's what I think deep inside.

It obviously annoys me to see guys like Capirossi, Barros or Checa, who are the same age as me racing, while I haven't been able to race for seven years. But on the other hand, I consider that life is a give and take, you get good things and you get bad things. Then I think that I've been lucky in life after all that has happened and how it happened, because it could have been much worse.


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