It'll be all change at Suzuki for MotoGP 2017, when the current Maverick Vinales-Aleix Espargaro partnership will be replaced by Andrea Iannone and Alex Rins.

The switch was triggered by Vinales eventually accepting a Factory Yamaha offer, where he will take over from triple world champion Jorge Lorenzo.

"Undoubtedly Maverick has a great talent and he has always been very fast. In 125, Moto3 and Moto2 he won races every year, it didn't matter if he was a rookie or not," Suzuki team manager Davide Brivio told Crash.net during an interview at the recent German round.

"It is clear that he has a lot of talent and also, as we saw here at Sachsenring [where Vinales set the fastest Friday time after a big accident] you need to be brave. Also our bike is not so bad and allows him to ride in a good way.

"All together, we have definitely we made quite a big step from last year and are regularly a lot closer to the top."

Maverick Vinales celebrates first MotoGP podium, Davide Brivio looks on (Pic: Gold & Goose).
'We are proud it was a difficult decision for Maverick'

The improvement made by Suzuki, culminating in a debut podium for Vinales and the GSX-RR at Le Mans, was the main reason it took the young Spaniard so long to decide on Yamaha.

"We had an option to retain Maverick, but when he told us he wanted to change we didn't feel it is the right way to force a rider to stay," Brivio said. "We are also quite proud that it was a difficult decision for Maverick. It took him a long time and that means we are doing something good.

"Because if it takes a long time to decide between staying in Suzuki or taking a bike that basically dominated last year's championship, we should be very proud of that.

"Anyway Maverick decided [to leave] and we didn't want to keep a rider that has in mind to do something else. One of the characteristics of this project since the beginning, starting with Aleix and Maverick and now Andrea and Alex, is to find riders that are really committed and motivated. We think this is very important.

"We have a very good relationship with Maverick. We like him very much. But if he felt, for his career or whatever reason, it is better to change we have to accept that and let him go. That was our position."

Alex Rins celebrates Moto2 victory in France (pic Gold & Goose)
'We had to build a new future'

On the same day that Vinales was officially confirmed as joining Yamaha, Suzuki announced the signing of Andrea Iannone, who had lost his factory Ducati place earlier in the week.

Iannone's arrival effectively left Espargaro out of a seat, since Suzuki were known to be favouring the format of one experienced rider alongside one up-and-coming rookie.

The team's new rising star was duly named as Rins, although an option had also been in place with fellow Moto2 title contender (and reigning champion) Johann Zarco. An 'upset' Espargaro subsequently signed for Aprilia and Zarco for Tech 3 Yamaha.

"We started this project with Maverick and Aleix and we tried to keep Maverick with us. When Maverick decided to leave we felt it was a time to think ahead a few years let's say. To re-organise," Brivio said.

"We took Maverick from Moto2 as a rookie. It was a challenge, a bet. It worked out very well and we wanted to build our future with him. That was not possible, so now we had to build a new future.

"There was an opportunity to take Andrea Iannone. He was about to decide to stay in Ducati or not, but he was interested in our project. We thought it was a good asset to have Andrea.

"Of course, he has a different bike [at the moment] but he is able to finish on the podium and fight with the top riders. We like his spirit. So we took Andrea. Then we had to decide about Aleix, we also had an option on Zarco and there was the opportunity to take Alex Rins.

"Again it was a difficult choice for us. I went to Japan to discuss it with all of the management. In the end we thought that Rins has the potential to be a very good rider for the future. So we decided to make this investment with him and try to help him grow. We think he is somebody that can be in the top positions in one or two years."

Should Rins repeat the kind of success achieved by Vinales, Suzuki could once again find itself battling to keep rival teams at bay. How long is the present agreement with Rins for?

"It is a structured contract. We start with two years, but then we have some good possibilities to renew," Brivio replied.

Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales (pic: Gold & Goose).
'If Maverick stayed, Aleix would have been the best team-mate'

Espargaro will leave Suzuki at the end of this season having been the top GSX-RR rider in last year's world championship, the first to put the machine on a pole position and having played a key role in development since the factory's 2015 MotoGP return.

"It was a very difficult decision to take," Brivio said of letting Aleix go. "We wanted to have three or four bikes and put everybody on a bike. Because with Aleix we started this project. He is quite fast, gives a good contribution on the development of the machine so we feel somehow sad to take this decision.

"But as I say, we only have two bikes and we had to take a decision and probably we were thinking more for the future.

"Also another thing, if Maverick would have stayed most likely we would have kept the team like it is. So if Maverick stayed, probably Aleix would have been the best team-mate for Maverick."

Maverick Vinales in Qatar (Pic: Gold & Goose).
Suzuki 'studying' satellite options

As Brivio says, Suzuki only has two MotoGP bikes at present, both within its factory team. It doesn't look likely to happen in time for 2017, but will there be more Suzukis on the grid in 2018?

Dorna hopes each manufacturer will eventually support one factory and one satellite team, while the likes of LCR and Pramac are thought to have expressed interest should Suzuki be able to expand its MotoGP presence.

"We are studying the situation because Suzuki has no experience of satellite teams," Brivio said. "We are studying how to organise for that, how much resources, spare parts, engineers etc. We wish to do it, but also we have to see if we have enough resources.

"Since we returned to MotoGP in 2015 a few satellite teams have come and asked us for information. I think it is quite normal. They want to know if we have in mind to supply more bikes, what is the situation. It is very nice and positive for us also.

"So we spoke to a few different teams, they come to ask and we chat, exchange information. But there has not been a real negotiation with anybody yet. When and if we are sure we can supply satellite bikes we will go into deeper talks with teams."

Vinales and Espargaro will start the second half of the MotoGP season holding fifth and eleventh in the world championship, respectively. Iannone is eighth, with two podiums, while Rins is second to Zarco in the Moto2 standings.

By Peter McLaren

Comments

Loading Comments...