New Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig sat down with a small group of media on Saturday morning at Sepang, on the eve of the opening official MotoGP test of 2018.

The Spaniard is taking over from Livio Suppo, as Honda seeks to retain the triple crown of MotoGP riders', teams' and constructors' titles.

Puig will thus oversee both reigning champion Marc Marquez and 31-time MotoGP race winner Dani Pedrosa, whom Puig took into grand prix racing in 2001 and managed for the majority of this career.

After parting from personal management of the #26, Puig worked as a HRC Advisor as well as Director of the Asia Talent Cup and British Talent Cup. But the top Repsol Honda job is his biggest challenge yet.

As well as track success, Puig must also help secure Honda's 2019 rider line-up, with all of the current factory riders out of contract at the end of this year.

Below is an edited version of what Puig had to say…

Q: Were you surprised when Honda appointed you manager?

Alberto Puig: I've been many years with Honda, so it was a possibility that people who are already involved can do more jobs in the future. Normally I think that when you are in an environment and you have some years of experience in some areas, you have a possibility to get new opportunities and new challenges. This is what I think.

Q: Will you carry on with the Asia Talent Cup and what will be your job?

Alberto Puig: To be honest, at this moment, I am still trying to understand everything regarding this job as a team manager. As for the projects that I was doing in the past, they are projects that are really related to Honda, even though the platform was Dorna.

There was a joint venture for developing riders in Asia with the Honda brand. So we decided that I will continue some support with all the young riders activity in this area. Maybe I cannot be as focused as I was before, but I will not stop the relationship. We have a lot of people who take care of it, but I will still keep trying to know what's going on and checking the situation.

Regarding this job, well, I was a team manager in the past for other teams in the 125 and 250 classes, I think I understand the job. But also it's true that this is a much bigger team with much bigger responsibilities and at the top level of racing. I think it's good for me to arrive at this position, because in the last years I could get some experience, and I think at this moment, at my age, if I have to know something, now is the moment, because I have done many many things in racing in the past years, so maybe this is the time for me.

Q: Will being an ex-rider make the team stronger?

Alberto Puig: I think this team has been strong forever. I mean Honda is a team that for many many years they won many many races. And I think that they are the team who have won the most races as a team and as a manufacturer. So frankly speaking, I don't think one individual can change the course of things or a team.

I think that the key point in racing is to have a top rider and a top technological company that can provide and deliver good bikes to the riders. If you have these two things, you have a chance to be a good team. If being an ex-rider can help or not? Well, it's always good to have some experience in the racing field, but as I said before, it's not like we come here to change the story.

Of course, when you come to a new place, you try to analyze the situation, the way you see it, and maybe you see it different from another guy, or you see it the same, you try to improve. But at this moment it's difficult to say how this can evolve. But of course the target is always to try to improve and to look to this picture from a racing point of view. This is what I wanted to say.

Q: Is there anything which needs to change from the past?

Alberto Puig: It's my first time [as team manager] here now, so it's difficult to say. I think this Honda team has been here for many years, and I don't think anybody will change or bring something completely new to Honda. The technology is there, and it's a company which always tries to find and get the best riders, so we will see how it goes.

But also, I think that times change. Maybe it was good three years ago, maybe now it's not so good, or maybe in the future it will be good. But frankly speaking, I will try to look at it from a very logical, simple and racing point of view.

Q: You were Dani Pedrosa's personal manager, are there any complications coming back as a team manager?

Alberto Puig: No, frankly speaking. I know Dani really well, I was the guy that helped him to start racing, and my memory of that period was, I helped him to win many races, to get three world titles, and we had a very good time together. I have a good memory from that time, and I enjoyed it a lot, I learned a lot, because it was my first time being a team manager after I stopped racing.

And then, life is life, we didn't think in the same way, and we just stopped. But now we meet again in a team, in a different position. I'm not going to be his manager of course, I will take care of the team. But once again, life puts us together and brings me to a position where my job is to try to help him get the best results possible.

We have two riders in the team, I will look at them both the same, because this is what I have to do in my position, and the only plus is that I know the rider, and I think that he has a potential there, he's not a new rider for me.

Q: You have worked with Dani, but what is your opinion of Marc as a rider?

Alberto Puig: I think the same as you! He is a very talented rider. Extremely talented and a very tough guy. He is very strong, mentally. I think he makes the difference because he is always consistent. Such a long season, I think the consistency is the key point. He is fast, he is young, and I think he has a self-confidence, this guy. I assume, because the way he is handling the seasons.

It's true that he had some seasons that were not so easy, last year was very difficult for him. He was down on points many times, but he managed to recover. And also I think he created a very good group around him who back him up like crazy, and this is a plus. And to create this is not so easy for a rider.

Q: Rider contracts end this season, any idea for 2019?

Alberto Puig: No. I think now, in my opinion, it's not the time to talk about his. It's a time to time to start to try what [bike parts] we have here and see how the market evolves.

At this moment the most important is to see how the machines are working. How our riders are feeling. For now this is what I believe is correct.

Q: You won't have much time though because Vinales has already signed, Ducati say they want to sign their riders by March… Seems to get earlier and earlier. Put more pressure on you?

Alberto Puig: For the moment we have the best rider. So this is a plus.

Q: But you've got to keep him…

Alberto Puig: For now, he is here so we don't want to get nervous before it's necessary. It's true what you say that the situation is coming every year more fast, but I believe things happen and normally a rider that wants to be in some place will look for the time to make the situation. So if you are in a hurry for something, maybe it's not a good sign.

Q: Being a MotoGP team manager also requires politics, you have experience as a rider but how about this aspect?

Alberto Puig: Well, we will see! I think it's not a big dilemma. The good thing about this job is that you can learn. With years you get used to - you understand or cope with things you maybe don't like so much, but it's part of the situation. So I think I will not have real problems, frankly speaking.

Q: In your experience, what are the most important parts of being a team manager?

Alberto Puig: I think that the key point of racing is the technology and the human side. I mean the rider and technology. Then there are many, many people in teams but I don't think a person can change the course of the thing, you know?

Of course if you are a team manager you can give, depending on your background – there are people that come more from a racing point of view, some guys come more from a marketing point of view, from a logistics point of view, even you can have people from business. All options are good, I mean you can find many types of managers in the paddock.

I have to do what I know, based on my experience and this is what I will try to do. But I think that my principles are quite similar to HRC principles. Because HRC is a racing company, a technology company, and also – I am not a technician – but I come from racing since I was really small.

Having said that, I think it’s a combination that has been working in the past years, because we both understand this as a sport, as let's say a racing priority. I don’t say it's easy, but we will try.

Q: Marc won four of last five titles, what can the team still improve?

Alberto Puig: Good question! This is difficult. But once again, this guy made the difference many times.

So always you can improve things in life, not only in a team. Times change, new things come and you must adapt to the situation. Sometimes you even have to accept a change in your mentality, to get the step that is needed.

So I think the rider, in this case, he has his own dreams and he will try to keep winning and winning. But we will try of course to back him up the best way we can.

I think many years ago Honda had a big, big difference with some other manufacturers. In recent years, with the regulation changes, everything has tightened up a lot and now it's quite complicated.

So here is where we can improve. I mean some of the other manufacturers improved a lot and they made big steps, so we have to try to have everything ready so this guy [Marquez] - even though the rider makes the difference - has all the things required to deliver the performance he wants.

Q: Honda has new fairing, can you give us an idea of what to expect from this test?

Alberto Puig: As you know with these new regulations, on the engine side it's important to fix what you will race. Because the engine must be frozen before the first Grand Prix and we need to give both riders the same specification. So at this moment this is our biggest concern and what we are working on specifically and with more determination.

Yeah the fairing is different, of course we are always trying to find some better possibilities for the riders and we upgraded some things from the last test in Valencia. But I think this test will be crucial to find a better way. But on your question we are really focussed now on trying to find the best engine package possible.

Q: Would you understand if at some point Marquez might want to win with another manufacturer?

Alberto Puig: This I don't know. This is very personal. I mean depends, everybody has his own dreams and his own challenges. This is something difficult to answer. You should ask him. Only thing we can do is try to give him the best possibilities, the best tools, so that he don't need to think about it!


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