As bombshell stories go, it’s harder to imagine a bigger one than the news that Suzuki boss Davide Brivio, fresh from winning the world championship only weeks ago with Joan Mir, will desert the MotoGP paddock for F1 in 2021 as he moves to become the CEO of Renault’s newly-rebranded Alpine effort.
But while it’s a huge blow for the Hamamatsu manufacturer that its veteran team boss will be absent this coming year (something that’s worth looking at all on its own), it’s also a massive loss for the entire championship given Brivio’s decades of experience as a team boss.
Brivio has been managing winning race teams since the 90s, first cutting his teeth in the World Superbike paddock at the absolute height of its dominance over grand prix racing.
Heading up first Belgardia Yamaha before being promoted to running the factory team, Brivio showed for the first time what would be something of a career trademark by taking the team from mid-pack contenders into first regular race winners and then title contenders – only just losing out on the 2000 world championship to Colin Edwards when Nori Haga accidentally ingested a banned substance and was forced to miss the final round.
Brivio’s efforts in WSB earned him the chance to move over to MotoGP, just in time for the switch from two-stroke to four-stroke and with the same task as he had in the production racing class: find the path back to the top.
That took only two seasons, in thanks partly to Brivio’s management of the M1’s development and thanks to the single greatest coup of his career: engineering Valentino Rossi’s switch from Honda for the 2004 season.
Creating one of the greatest fairytale stories in the history of motorsport when Rossi took a below-average motorbike and won not only his first race on it in Welkom, South Africa but also the 2004 title, it started a beautiful relationship that saw the pair win four crowns between then and 2009.
In fact, so close did their relationship grow while working together that when Rossi departed Yamaha for Ducati in 2010, Brivio also left the Iwata manufacturer, taking on a consultancy role within Rossi’s then-nascent VR46 structure.
The pair also had fun away from the MotoGP circus as well, however, with their friendship growing close enough that Rossi has since then fielded a car for Brivio and brother Roberto alongside his own at the Monza Rally Show, giving them the chance to indulge in a shared passion as well as working together.
That close relationship might or might not be the best thing to mention on his first day in the Alpine garage, mind you, given that new driver signing Fernando Alonso is currently dating Rossi’s former long-term partner Linda Morselli!
Brivio’s absence from MotoGP team management after his Yamaha departure didn’t last long, with his name the first one on the list when Suzuki decided to rejoin the championship after a brief hiatus enforced by the global recession.
Tasked there with delivering the same job as he did at Yamaha not once but twice, it’s something he did in typical Brivio style.
Signing a mix of young and untested talent and veteran experience in the shape of Maverick Vinales and Aleix Espargaro, under the Italian’s tutelage the team first became race winners with Vinales, then regular podium contenders with his replacement Alex Rins, setting the stage for Mir to lift the title in only his second season in the premier class at Valencia in November.
In fact, betting on young talent has been something of a signature move for Brivio and Suzuki since they combined forces. Suzuki plucked three riders directly from Moto2 before many believed they were ready for MotoGP, and it’s paid off three times in a row – and could well be something that attracted Renault to Brivio given its own strong academy programme.
It’s only one of the factors in play, though, with Brivio’s success as a people manager also likely to have played a key role in his signing even given his lack of four-wheeled experience.
Brivio has created what many in the MotoGP paddock regard as an almost-perfect team within the Suzuki camp, expertly blending the best qualities of the manufacturer’s Japanese engineers, a largely Italian team and two Spanish riders.
“What we’ve done in these years with the team at the track is to keep things simple,” Brivio told The Race just after winning the title, “and not make mistakes, select the new parts well and pay attention to what is working and not working before making decisions.
“The mix between Japanese and Italian (or let’s say Latin), is a good mix in my opinion. The Japanese keep us a little calm, they brake us when we go too fast,” he says.
“But we try to accelerate them, to push them, and in the end you find a compromise.
“If we were only Latin, we would make too much of a mess. If it was only Italian and Spanish, maybe it would be chaos – but the Japanese help us.
“Everyone involved in this project feels like they are a part of it, like they gave a contribution to it.
“There is no key person in Suzuki – we don’t have one person. You see in F1 teams or maybe in the European MotoGP teams, there is a man in charge of the project.”
And while losing Brivio is a huge blow for Suzuki and a massive coup for Alpine, it’s news that will be met with dismay right across the MotoGP paddock, given his reputation. With Brivio seen as one of the nicest people in the paddock despite his high-pressure role, it’s odd to find a team manager who is almost universally loved – but that’s exactly what the former Renault squad have managed to poach.
There’s no doubt that he’s got a huge challenge ahead of him to repeat his previous successes at Alpine – and it’s unlikely that he’ll find it just as simple to take the team to winning ways as he did at Suzuki.
However, with Brivio’s reputation for people management and his uncanny ability to get the very best out of his people despite a budget that’s normally incomparable with the opposition, it’ll certainly be interesting to see just how he can influence the team as they launch their new five-year plan.