The 2022 MotoGP season is now four rounds in, Team Manager Livio Suppo arrived with a bang just before the first round of the year, but the experienced Italian has already made his mark and feels at home in the blue corner. We sat down to ask him all the burning questions…
Livio, you arrived in a 'last minute’ way, but with a lot of know-how, did your racing background help you to adapt quickly?
Livio Suppo: “For sure it has helped me a lot! The funny thing is, I was out of MotoGP for 4 years, but honestly speaking, after one day in Qatar it was like I never left. It was also great for me because the Suzuki team was super nice and I had a very warm welcome, so then I really started to feel at home. It feels to me like I’ve been at Suzuki for longer than I really have.”
So would you say that the welcome and your arrival was better than you expected?
L.S: "Everything happened so quickly that I didn’t really have time to think about expectations. But let’s say that I’m really happy about my choice to come back, and very pleased that (Project Leader) Shinichi Sahara asked me to join this team. I’m lucky that the team is already strong; Davide Brivio and Sahara-san did a great job of building up the team structure, so much so that the squad managed to do one full season without a Team Manager, which is something quite difficult – when you’re used to it and suddenly you don’t have one, it’s not easy. To cope without a Team Manager means that you must have a really good structure behind you, and I’m lucky that the structure is strong. I hope I can continue to improve the general situation.”
In what way do you think you can improve it?
L.S: “It’s a difficult question because we’ve only had four races so far, but I’m starting to better understand how everything works, and starting to have some ideas on how I can boost the team. As I said, everything is well organised with the team structure already. But, of course, there’s always room to improve, although I’ll say in our case it’s nothing dramatic.”
What has been the hardest thing to adjust to?
L.S: “Well…actually, to remember everybody’s names! That’s the most difficult part! Before I started I wanted our Team Co-Ordinator, Mitia Dotta, to make me a list of names and photos so I could study it on the flight – because it’s really not easy! But so far, that’s been the only thing, everything has been very nice and smooth.”
How did it feel to celebrate 500 podiums and a piece of Suzuki history in Austin?
L.S: “Of course, like everybody of my age, I was a big fan of Kevin Schwantz for many years. Obviously, I’ve met him before because I’ve been in the paddock for many years, but in Austin when I gave him my new business card with ‘Suzuki Team Manager’…well, when I was young if I could think that one day I would give my business card to Kevin Schwantz with Suzuki written on it, it was something strange and special! Then to finish on the podium and celebrate with the team plus Kevin, Randy (Mamola), Loris (Capirossi), and many riders, I know all of them and I was happy to have been able to be part of that. The only thing that could be better is if we had won. The right approach in racing is that unless it’s a win it’s never enough – of course you celebrate 2nd place because it’s a very good result, but winning is totally different. On the flip side, sometimes when you’re winning a lot you get too used to it and you almost don’t celebrate because you lose the joy!”
The start of this season for Team Suzuki has been a bit different compared to 2021, especially for Alex Rins, how do you see it?
L.S: “I think Alex is proving that sometimes in life when you go through a difficult situation it can help you to become stronger. Alex has always been a strong rider in MotoGP, since his debut, but last year was very difficult for him. And after a season like that, if you don’t have a strong character, you can lose yourself. However, he seems to have built himself up and so far he’s proven to have learned a lesson. On Joan’s side I think it’s more about his style; his style is to be very consistent. Since the beginning he told me that, in his mind, the championship starts in Europe, and I understand his feeling because usually the first races overseas are a little bit strange in terms of results, but it’s true that the championship points are always the same! So, it’s good that, even if he believes the championship starts in Europe, the points are always there and he’s been closing the gap to the top.”
Bearing in mind the consistency shown from both Alex Rins and Joan Mir in the first four races, and the extreme competitiveness of the championship this season, do you think this solid consistency could be the path for success?
L.S: “Not exactly. Consistency is good, but really to win the championship you need to have consistency and performance. Which, of course, is not easy. The level of the MotoGP field, as you said, is really high and well-balanced. At the moment it looks like we don’t have one person to dominate - even though Bastianini has already won two out of four - but everybody is up and down and there’s no clear favourite. My feeling is that I don’t see any real dominance at this moment – which is good for the sport, good for the fans, but for the riders it’s more difficult. The stress is always there and even a small mistake can cost them a lot, especially in qualifying. So, when the competition is so close I agree that consistency is important, but you need to be Top 4 really. And if you want to really fight for the title, you have to be on the podium every race, or at least most races. In this championship we can consider fifth or lower a ‘bad’ result. The calendar is very long at 21 races, and it’s the first time that anyone has done it: the riders, the mechanics, the team members. Everybody has to keep their concentration and focus for a long time, and that will be something to consider too.”
You mentioned that the first part of the season, the fly-aways, are always very different. Now that we’re entering the European section of the season, have you set any specific targets?
L.S: “Honestly, I don’t really like to split the championship into sections and think of it in distinct parts because as I said, if you can get 25 points at every race it doesn’t matter where you are. I think it’s better to approach it race by race and realise that every weekend is important. You don’t have to think about the championship, just try to do the best in each race, if the best is often a win then the title is a natural consequence. So, I think we need to be focused, and we know that the potential of the bike is better than last year. The engineers in Japan did a great job, especially on top speed, and this helps the riders with overtakes. It also helps them to go into the race with less stress, because they know that even if they make a mistake or get overtaken, they can comeback. They know they don’t have to push like crazy to be in front, so this is a big plus.”
Considering this improvement in performance, is it finally time for a satellite team?
L.S: “It’s something that we’ve always had in mind to do, but for sure it won’t happen next year. Clearly, despite our improvements, it’s still a real benefit to have two more bikes on the grid in terms of collecting data. It’s also nice to have the possibility of having young riders make their debut on Suzuki, and there are many other bonuses to having a satellite squad. We would like to do it, but you won’t see it in 2023.”
Do you plan to include some wildcard races for Sylvain Guintoli this year?
L.S: “We always love to have Sylvain on track with us, he is a great rider and he’s achieving great things in the World Endurance series right now - last weekend he won Le Mans 24hrs for the second time, so big congratulations to him and his Suzuki team-mates. He is a doing a great job as our Test Rider and having a test team based in Europe is really important for us. We are happy to say that he will ride in Motegi and we look forward to seeing him.”
How about the question on everybody’s lips; how’s it going in terms of rider negotiation for next season?
L.S: “This season is one of those where there are many riders whose contracts end this year, including our riders. We know there are a few riders who have already signed, but the market is still quite open. Even before the start of the season we felt happy with our riders, and now we can see the results from the first few rounds, we remain very happy with them. Our intention is to renew with both of them, and we will start speaking with their management soon. In the past, the riders would all sign later in the season, nowadays the transfer window’ or ‘rider market' happens much earlier in the year - and honestly, I don’t think this is good, for the riders and the teams”