In many ways, the appointment of Alberto Puig as Repsol Honda team manager is both surprising, and a logical choice. Puig was both the obvious person to run the Repsol Honda team, as an experienced team manager with a long association with Honda, but someone with a complicated history with the team's existing riders, having previously managed Dani Pedrosa, and crossed swords with Marc Márquez' manager Emilio Alzamora.
The Sepang test was the first time the Spaniard had a chance to talk to the racing press since his appointment. In a press conference with some of the assembled media who had turned up early, Puig addressed a broad range of topics. He talked about the challenges he sees in the Repsol Honda team, and his new role as its manager. He gave his perspective on managing relationships with the riders.
But Puig also shared his vision on racing, and the key ingredients in racing success. He spoke about how he sees the rider contract situation developing. And he also talked about Honda's main focus at this particular MotoGP test, telling us that the main objective will be to choose an engine for the rest of the season.
Here is 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. So I was there at that time, and this is it. It's nothing new or something that couldn't happen. 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 or focus on the team, and what will be your job?
AP: 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. But 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, and maybe I cannot be as focused as I was before, but I will not stop the relationship. I will keep an eye on it. 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?
AP: 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?
AP: I tell you, it's my first time 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?
AP: No. Frankly speaking, I will answer your question. 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: Which teams did you manage in the past?
AP: Well, in 2001, we did those three guys, Toni Elias, Dani Pedrosa, and Joan Olive (in the Telefonica Movistar Junior Team in 125s). Then, in 2002, I think it was again Pedrosa and Olive. In 2003, it was Sebastian Porto in 250 and Dani in 125. And then 2004, it was Dani in 250, his first year as a 250 rider and when he won the title. And also the same in 2005, he repeated the title. And then in 2006, we did the team with Márquez and Rabat in 125s but I also moved to the Repsol Honda team to support Dani. I forget a little bit, but this is more or less the story. [In 2006, Puig managed the Repsol Honda team with Bradley Smith in 125s, in 2007, it was Bradley Smith and Tito Rabat, and in 2008, the team switched to KTMs with Marc Márquez and Tito Rabat.]
Q: You have worked with Dani, but what is your opinion of Marc as a rider?
AP: 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. But this guy sticks with this, and he's doing it, so let's see.
Q: Rider contracts end this season, any idea for 2019?
AP: Frankly speaking, no. I would lie to you if I say yes because at this time I still have to do how I'm going to do this job! So I don't know about this. 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 [parts] we have here and see how the market evolves.
It's true that 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?
AP: For the moment we have the best rider. So this is a plus.
Q: But you've got to keep him…
AP: 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?
AP: 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?
AP: 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 4 of last 5 titles, what can the team still improve?
AP: Good question! This is difficult. But once again as I'm trying to tell you, this guy made the difference many times. So always you can improve things in life, not only in a team. And because time is changing and moving, new things are coming and you must adapt to the situation. Upgrades your things and sometimes you even have to accept to change 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.
If you see in the last years… 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 – 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?
AP: 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 focused now on trying to find the best engine package possible.
Q: Understand that at some point Marquez would like to win with another manufacturer?
AP: 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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