An exclusive interview with Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo, who has overseen five MotoGP riders' titles with two different manufacturers.

Suppo's current focus is to help reigning champion Marc Marquez claim a fourth premier-class crown in 2017 - or a long-awaited first such title for team-mate Dani Pedrosa...
Firstly Livio, how is life without Nakamoto?

Livio Suppo:
Well of course we miss him, because Nakamoto-san is a very nice guy. But we've been honestly quite lucky because also Kuwata-san has a very good attitude and is an easy-going guy.
What is Tetsuhiro Kuwata's background?

Livio Suppo:
He is an engineer, who before joining HRC was in Formula One with Honda, together with Nakamoto. Then in HRC he was responsible for the electronics. Now, as you know, there are three people replacing Nakamoto; basically Kuwata-san for the administration, Kokubu-san for the technical side and Hattori-san for the business side.
And how is Marc, he seems as motivated as ever?

Livio Suppo:
Of course, he is still very young so his motivation is surely still there! I think both Marc and Dani are happier with the bike compared to last year. Still not 100% happy as always, and we still need to work, but I think we start from a better platform than last year.

Marc and Dani were 9th and 13th on day one at Sepang, so then some people forget that a test is a test and say we are in big trouble. Of course, if the lap time arrives very quickly everybody is happier. But it doesn't always happen. Look where Jorge and Ducati were after day one [17th place, +1.7s].

Marc finished the test in second and only 0.14s from the top. Dani was fourth and 0.2s behind. It's easy to jump to conclusions early in testing.
Marc is only 23-years-old and has already won three MotoGP titles and five world championships in all classes. Can he become one of the best ever - if not the best?

Livio Suppo:
Well, sure his talent is unbelievable and last season he showed that he has been able to grow up a lot as a rider: In terms of having a strategy, to understand that to win the title you don't need to win every race, but get the best out of each race.

Especially nowadays because there are several riders and manufacturers that are competitive. If you think that in the few years before 2016 only two manufacturers were able to win races - Yamaha and Honda - and then last year four manufacturers won races.

Honestly speaking, if you see the results of this first test - it is impossible to predict - but it looks like there are again four manufacturers that are able to win races in 2017. Iannone has been fast for Suzuki, Ducati of course will be fast and Yamaha and Honda also.

I think this is good for the sport, but it is very difficult time to be dominant because the competition is very high.
Marc is starting his fourth season in MotoGP, while Dani has been at Repsol Honda since joining MotoGP in 2006. What does Dani continue to bring to the team?

Livio Suppo:
At the end of the day Dani is one of the strongest guys out there and one of the few guys able to win races every single season he has been in MotoGP. We also know him very well, we know his 'plus' points and we still believe the plus points are much more than the minus. So there is no reason why we should change.
Honda are testing with different engines, it sounds like Marc and Dani are favouring the new engine [with the 'big bang'-style sound]?

Livio Suppo:
In the end, they both spent more time - and also Cal - on the new version of the engine. They, and also the engineers, believe that this engine, even if it is still not 100%, has more potential.
What does it need at the moment? It seemed like the top speeds were good...

Livio Suppo:
Honestly, the top speeds they were showing [on the timing screens at the track] were a little bit too close to the braking point I think. Because sometimes they were a bit strange.

But anyway the feeling of the riders is for sure that they are more happy with the power. Now what is important is that we need to adjust better the electronics with this new configuration of the engine.

Still Honda has not the same knowledge of the single software, compared with our own software before. So it takes a little bit more time.
How different is the single software compared to the former Honda electronics?

Livio Suppo:
The new Magneti Marelli single software is, let's say, more a 'European software'. So the philosophy behind it is very different from the one that Honda used before.
Honda made big progress with matching the electronics to the engine last season, does it help that you know the kind of process to go through this time around for the new engine?

Livio Suppo:
That is probably why at the moment we are less in trouble compared with last year. Because last year everything was really new. This year the knowledge of the software is much better. Still not 100%, so that's why we need more time to adapt the new software to the new engine configuration. But we start from a better knowledge of the system for sure.
Satellite Hondas won races in the wet and dry last year, what are your expectations for this year?

Livio Suppo:
Cal is again showing a good performance. Cal did a very good season last year and I believe he can stay at the same level this year.

Jack was reasonably happy with the Sepang test. His lap time was not showing a big improvement, but if you look at the pace and speaking with the rider he is much happier than before.

Some of Jack's team members have changed. He now has much more support on the electronics; before he had only one electronic guy and now he has two. Of course he has also changed chief mechanic [from Cristian Gabarrini, returning to Ducati to work with Jorge Lorenzo, to Pedrosa's ex-crew chief Ramon Aurin].

Aurin is one of the most experienced chief mechanics we have; he knows Honda very well and the systems we have. Gabarrini knew also, but I think this change was probably good for Jack.

Tito had a big problem at Sepang, so I really hope he will be fit again soon.
Finally Livio, Yamaha have become the first to show their new fairing with integrated winglets. Were you surprised they did it so early?

Livio Suppo:
Maybe they wanted to have the trophy for being the first to introduce something different! Because recently this has been something up to Ducati and from now on, if anybody comes with a [fairing] solution like that, everybody will say they copied Yamaha!

I'm not an engineer as you know, but in the last couple of years there has been a lot of focus on the aerodynamics, much more than before. But I heard an interview with Dovi at Sepang where he said he expected a big change [without the winglets] and in reality, okay acceleration is a bit worse, but the bike is also easier to turn.

Honestly speaking, I think there's been too many rumours about this. I don't think the wings on the Ducati were the reason why they won in Austria. Maybe they had an advantage at that kind of circuit, because it suited their bike, but at other circuits the plus and minus was more difficult for them.

If you look also at last year, in some races Jorge was using wings, Valentino not. Dani was not using - Dani won at Misano without any winglets. So, not as an engineer, but after 20 or more years in this 'world', my feeling is that these kind of things are very good to speak about - because it's very visible - but the influence on the performance is not dramatically important.
Thanks Livio.

Livio Suppo:
Thank you.

By Peter McLaren