Suzuki team manager Davide Brivio believes Andrea Iannone can be a consistent podium challenger on the GSX-RR in 2017.
Iannone joins the team along with MotoGP rookie Alex Rins following the departure of Maverick Vinales to Movistar Yamaha, while Aleix Espargaro moves to Aprilia after Suzuki opted to not to renew his contract.
Iannone, who finished on the podium in third place in his final race for Ducati at Valencia in Spain on Sunday, has gained a reputation for his tenacity and Brivio feels the Italian will be a perfect fit at Suzuki.
“We expect a lot from Iannone. We took Iannone because we think he is one of the top riders in MotoGP. He is a rider capable of winning races and actually we made the contract before he won a race, so we believed that already,” Brivio said.
“It is up to us to give him a good package, a good bike and set up the bike to suit his style. We saw even yesterday what type of race he is able to do and he is a strong fighter.
“We start this project with Iannone who is the top rider to guide us on development and then in the meantime we have Alex Rins, who will be trying to grow up and learn as much as he can. We decided on Rins because he is young, talented, but of course it was a difficult choice. We talked with [Johann] Zarco a lot and offered him the chance to test the bike in Japan and he was good, he made a good impression. But you have to make a choice and we decided on Rins, but it was difficult.”
Hot prospect Vinales delivered Suzuki's first premier class victory since 2007 when he dominated from the front at Silverstone and Brivio says the young Spaniard has a fierce determination to win the MotoGP world title.
“We have to say thank you very much to Maverick because he did an incredible job this year in the second part of the season,” he said. “Maverick has grown up very much and he was riding very well and using the potential of our bike. In some races like Japan and Australian in the dry, also Aleix was in the position to fight for the podium and this was a very important sign for our development.
“Maverick has a champion's mind and he just wants to win the championship. He works for this target and he might look a little bit shy, but he knows what he wants. He is intelligent, clever, and I am sure he will work on his side of the garage and it doesn't matter who is on the other side. I think it will be useful for him to have a fast rider on the other side like Valentino because you cannot relax. He has a clear target to reach and probably can learn a lot. He has a very clear mind that he only wants to win.”
Brivio feels it was a case of job done in 2016 as Suzuki improved the top speed of the GSX-RR, which was a key issue in 2015 when the Japanese manufacturer returned to the premier class. The goal this season was to reduce the deficit to Honda, Yamaha and Ducati and Brivio is satisfied Suzuki has made big strides forward.
“Regarding the 2016 season, I would say we are quite happy with what we achieved because we feel that we had some good improvements, especially second half of the season – I would say from Brno and then Silverstone, where we won the race. We are still struggling a little bit on the wet, but in the dry races I would say we were always in a position to fight for the podium. This has been a great achievement and of course our riders played a very important role,” he said.
“We are quite happy and now we are looking forward to 2017 to continue this job and we think we are well organised to continue this. I always said for the 2016 season that our target was to come closer and closer to the top three manufacturers because Honda, Yamaha and Ducati improved a lot in 2015,” added Brivio.
“We wanted to get close and I think we are coming close to them. I think the target now is to be more regular in trying to be in a position to fight for the podium, in all races. When you think of Marquez at Honda, Valentino and Maverick at Yamaha, Lorenzo at Ducati, we are fighting against a very strong package but we have the possibility to get into this fight and take the opportunity to get on the podium and win a race. We did this in 2016 and I don't see why we can't do this in 2017.”
While Suzuki won't have a new bike for next season, Brivio has identified the key areas where improvement is needed and said the team will work to refine the current GSX-RR, focusing on the engine and developing the electronics.
“We don't have a new bike for 2017 but we will continue to evolve this project. It will be an evolution and we are working on improving the engine. Our situation is less serious than last year because last year we had a big gap to recover, but now our engine performance is quite well, it's at the level of the other Japanese bikes. But of course everybody is working to improve their performance and we have to do the same,” he said.
“Tomorrow we will use a middle-spec engine and you will understand because we will have the direct engine starter and this is the first spec – it's not the spec we will use in Phillip Island or Sepang. The project now is quite well balanced in terms of the chassis so we will try to improve the power of the engine for more performance. Chassis-wise we will introduce a few parts in Sepang but we will be very careful and we will only use if we see some benefits from these parts,” Brivio added.
“Next season will be more difficult because there were not so many expectations this year outside on Suzuki and now there is more expectations for 2017, but it's a nice problem and that is why we are here. Now we have to play the game and I think with Iannone I think we can do from the beginning if we can do a good job with the bike in the garage.”
Improving the bike in the wet is also high on the agenda at Suzuki and Brivio said the team would also work hard on refining the set-up to prolong tyre life in the closing stages of a race.
“We have to make more experience probably on the electronics. We are working and we need to work more specially on the wet races. We have probably to check more deeply on analysing the end of the races,” he said.
“Not only us, but everybody has some drop on the tyre at the end of the race and if we can improve this part then maybe we can gain some advantage – we have to fine tune this situation.”
Iannone and Rins will be in action on the GSX-RR for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday during the official MotoGP test at the Ricardo Tormo circuit.