In terms of podiums, Suzuki has just enjoyed its best season in the four-stroke MotoGP era. Nine top threes, added to Alex Rins’ fine end of the season gives the factory momentum and has it going into the winter break believing wins are possible in 2019. spoke with team boss Davide Brivio before the end of the season to assess Rins’ recent development, the effectiveness of the factory’s test team, and whether he believes Suzuki is well placed to repeat – or better - its recent success in 2019.
In 2016 Maverick Viñales finished the season fourth overall, which was a remarkable result. But you scored more podiums this year. Would you consider 2018 to be Suzuki’s most successful year since it returned to MotoGP?

Davide Brivio:
From one point of view six podiums, with three podiums of each rider means both show some competitive signs. We are quite happy about this because it comes after a difficult season in 2017, when we struggled. We realised why – because of the engine – and we modified that. To be able to do this is good. It’s what we should do, to try and stay in a top six position, and get on the podium when an opportunity arises. This is exactly what is happening now. From this point of view we are reaching our target.

Compared to 2016 we are missing the win! If you want to talk about that, it’s two different stories. In 2016 it was only our second year in MotoGP. We had Maverick, who is consider to be one of the greatest talents. We were able to get a win. But now we are coming from a difficult 2017, which leaves some effects. And you have to consider with Alex Rins we also missed half a season last year. His rookie route was more difficult. But now we are happy because Alex is improving race-by-race, he’s learning and growing up. He’s fast.

It’s already a few races since Austria, where, even at the end he had to slow down because of the tyre. But Argentina was a special race. Then he got the podium at Assen in a big fight with all the best riders. Then in Austria, Misano, Aragon especially and again in Thailand, he’s always been in the top group, and close to the fastest riders. So that is very nice and very encouraging. Still we are working. We still consider him almost a rookie – he’s still learning. We’ll see where we can arrive.

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In some races this season, your riders, Andrea Iannone in particular, complained of a lack of rear traction. But from Misano, the Suzukis have been really strong in the second half of the race. What changed?

Davide Brivio:
From a tyre point of view we are not so bad. Of course, we use the tyres, but not much worse than the others. It depends on the situation. We are trying to manage it well. I’d like to say that especially Alex is very good on managing the tyres as a rider skill. For instance, at Misano and other situations, where the tyres were a bit of an issue and we needed him to manage, he did a good job. He’s able to do that when it’s necessary. So he’s managing it well. He’s young, and is already at a good level in terms of race management.
Is there one quality Alex has that stands out?

Davide Brivio:
I would say the talent. Sometimes he does great things and he makes it look as though it’s easy for him; not easy, but natural. Maybe he does a good lap time or a good position in a race, and it looks as though he hasn’t done a big effort. We have to work on this, to use this talent and the target is to be constant for one season. The target is to work more during the practice to qualify better and be more in front for the race. There are many small things around that could help him become a better rider.
How big a role has Suzuki’s full-time test team, with rider Sylvain Guintoli and experienced crew chief Tom O’Kane, played in your success this year?

Davide Brivio:
We started this year with this project, the test team. I would say it has been very important. We are very happy working with Sylvain. He’s quite fast to be a test rider and he has a lot of experience. Also he’s very sensitive on a bike. With him we can really make the first selection.

He can test the chassis, the engine, electronics and his comments are quite close to the factory riders. So he’s very reliable testing for us. They do selection, and when we have initial parts they work on setting it up. Sylvain’s skill and Tom’s experience is together and hopefully when they bring something to the factory team it’s already at a good level. I say good in the sense that it has been deliberated and selected as good, and is already at a good point.

I think this job will be even more important next year because having a rookie rider like Joan [Mir]… Alex has the experience to develop the bike now. At the beginning at least, it will be Sylvain to help him with this development job waiting for Mir to build up his experience and to give his contribution as well. So overall I would say in the package Sylvain will compensate Mir’s lack of experience at the beginning, as well as doing the job he did this year.

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Can you tell us about the development direction Suzuki is taking for 2019?

Davide Brivio:
Everything is an evolution. There is nothing completely different or new. We’re using an engine that is a little bit more powerful than what we have, which is always the target. Together with the chassis, and there we’re trying to improve some weak points, like the braking and other areas, the engineers provided a new version. Overall Sylvain liked the package. This package will probably come to Valencia for the testing. Alex at the beginning will try to compare the Valencia race bike with the first evolution for 2019.

We will carry on this part through the winter – the chassis, engine and electronics – selecting hopefully new parts. Then the target is to make the right choice, the right selection, to decide whether the chassis is better or now, whether the engine is better or not.

Then we’ll put the puzzle together for the 2019 bike, and the bike we’ll use in Qatar for the first race. That’s the job during the winter. We’ll start with the current bike and then introduce all new parts, and decide which one is better.
Do you think Alex is ready to be the factory’s lead rider in 2019?

Davide Brivio:
Absolutely, yes.

I have to say that already in the past winter Alex made his own selection with his own parts. In the winter we tested chassis, engines, swingarms and various parts with both Alex and Andrea. Alex made his own selection and he built up his own package, which is what he’s using. We find Alex is quite sensitive and quite good in development and understanding what he likes, what he needs. I would say he’s ready to do this job, because he already did it this year. Maybe at the beginning having the help of Sylvain can be nice, can be interesting for him to get confirmation, a double-check from another rider.

But I also expect that Joan Mir won’t take too long, in the sense that at the beginning being a rookie he will be much more concentrated on his riding – finding the line then how to ride the motorcycle. Once he is initially stable then he will start to think about trying different parts and seeing the difference. Joan is a type of rider that can do this job, but at the beginning this is not his priority, to select the package.

At the beginning I expect him to trust in Alex’s job and maybe follow him. Then we have seen already with Maverick, with Alex that quite soon they start to find their own way to find what they like, what they need for this progression.
So from you’re saying Alex selected the parts that make up this year’s bike. Did Andrea follow his lead in some respects?

Davide Brivio:
Each one made his own choice, his own selection. Yeah, Andrea sometimes went back. For example in Aragon he decided to take exactly the setting of Alex and to use it. Sometimes Andrea went in Alex’s direction. But I would say both made their own choice. Alex will be in his third year of MotoGP and I think we’re ready to work on a bike with him.