Contract season is upon us in MotoGP. Everyone bar Cal Crutchlow and Xavier Simeon is out of contract at the end of 2018, and only Maverick Viñales has signed a new deal to remain where he is. The coming Silly Season could either be hyperactive and extended, or given the early Viñales signing, it could be all over in a few weeks.
One of the key players in the coming rider reshuffle is Valentino Rossi. At the moment, all signs are pointing to Rossi signing on for at least another year with Yamaha, and probably two. But if he doesn't – and there will come a time in the future when even Valentino Rossi has had enough and decides to retire – then Yamaha face some difficult choices. Who to choose to take the place of the Italian legend?
Through the first half of last year, I spoke to three factory bosses about how they would go about the task. Taking the need to replace Rossi as the starting point, the conversation expanded to the wider underlying question of identifying talented riders before they make it to the premier class, and how you approach building a team of two riders with different needs and abilities.
The two other interviews – with Ducati's Paolo Ciabatti and Livio Suppo of Honda – were published last year, but still well worth reading. The final episode, with Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio, the man who persuaded Rossi to go to Yamaha in the first place, is the most expansive of the series. In a lengthy and fascinating conversation, Brivio talked about Rossi's place in the Yamaha team, Suzuki's choice to sign Maverick Viñales, their decision not to sign Johann Zarco, how to build a successful team, and what he learned working with some of the greatest riders in the world.
The first part of our conversation appears below. We started off discussing how Brivio viewed Valentino Rossi, and the task of replacing him.
Q: One day Valentino will retire and Yamaha will have to replace Valentino Rossi. What is the best way to replace Valentino?
Davide Brivio: In terms of from a sporting point of view, I think that they already started with Maverick [Viñales] after Valentino. From a fan point of view, charisma, marketing, image, whatever, Valentino is Valentino. It’s very difficult to get something like this. It’s impossible in a way. Of course, Valentino has a lot of fans because he’s probably humble, funny, nice – but I think we don’t have to forget that he has a lot of fans because he won a lot.
Of course, to be nice and to be funny, it helps, but you have to be a winner. You have to be a great sportsman. Then you also have fans because you are nice and you’re funny.
Q: That also works the other way around. You could also be bad and nasty, but if you’re winning then you’ll still have fans...
DB: Yeah, more or less. What Valentino did without any doubt is that it brought to MotoGP people that they didn’t know what the motorcycle racing was and people like the man. Maybe also you go around the world and sometimes they ask me, what’s your job? Maybe in some countries where motorcycle racing is not popular, I tell them I work in MotoGP, and I see that they are still doubtful. They still don’t understand. And I say, “You know Valentino Rossi?” “Ah, yeah! Okay.” So I say, I work there.
So, he arrived to all the people around the world whether they like or not motorcycles. It could be another one, but very, very difficult. They are a unique kind of sportsman. Probably like Michael Jordan, I don't know. Of course, Formula 1 had many but everybody still remembers Ayrton Senna. He lost his life around 20 years ago. So, there are some icons who are difficult to replace. You can come close, probably Valentino is like this. As I love motorcycles, of course I am a fan. I am a fan of MotoGP. I hope that there will be somebody else, but probably you can come close. First of all, we have to wait for another 20 years to see if somebody wins for so long a time. Probably I won’t see it.
Q: In sporting terms, Yamaha took Maverick, and Maverick is obviously the future. You know how good Maverick is. If it was you, who would you put with Maverick? Do you put a young rider? Do you start looking now in Moto2, maybe Moto3 even, thinking “This is a talent I can use?” Or do you look for another rider?
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