Throughout its 2020 MotoGP world championship-winning year, the Suzuki camp seemed like a happy place.
Eventual champion Joan Mir clearly felt fully supported by the Japanese manufacturer and its Italian race team, much was made of the family feeling within the team, and it all paid off when Mir was crowned at the end of the season.
Since then, however, there has been massive upheaval within the organisation.
Veteran team boss Davide Brivio, the man behind so much of the esprit de corps within Suzuki, is gone, lured away to help turn make Alpine’s rebranded Formula 1 project work at the eleventh hour in the off-season and leaving the team with big shoes to fill.
It didn’t manage to do that, though, instead deciding in part to lead by committee, promoting a number of people internally to more senior roles, delegating more responsibility to figures like the riders’ crew chiefs, and leaving overall decision-making to Japanese project leader Shinichi Sahara.
It’s starting to look like that hasn’t quite been the success Suzuki hoped for, though, as the team moves back closer to a Japanese model and away from the hybrid European-Asian structure that brought it so much success in 2020.
As a result, tensions are starting to rise.
It’s believed that without the calming presence of Brivio, Mir in particular is starting to become frustrated with Suzuki’s conservative approach to development – something that was highlighted perfectly in Sunday’s Catalan Grand Prix.
As usual struggling in qualifying, and starting from 10th, Mir was forced to make up a huge amount of time in the opening laps as he fought his way forward to fourth.
While he’s traditionally able to attack in the first part of a race, he’s still struggling in one key area: getting off the line.
Suzuki is now the only manufacturer on the grid without a front and rear holeshot device for race starts after Yamaha finally brought its to Mugello at the end of May.
It’s obvious the impact this is having on the grid as Fabio Quartararo managed to almost match the Ducatis on the run to the first corner at Barcelona. But with Suzuki still working on its version, Mir is reportedly becoming more and more frustrated at losing out on the chance to attack instantly.
That’s an issue that was further compounded by a bad race on Sunday despite finishing fourth, with Mir admitting afterwards that his choice of tyre cost him the chance to fight for the win.
“It was a shame, because I felt ready for the victory,” he said. “Maybe we took not the right choice with the medium [rear] tyre. I was losing a lot of time on acceleration in the last laps, and it was a shame. I’ll try to learn from the mistake, and take information from it.”
The conservatism isn’t just linked to development. Suzuki’s plans to run four bikes in 2022 have been nixed once again, ending any hopes of collecting more data every weekend and, according to The Race’s sources, ending any hopes of teaming up with Valentino Rossi, whose new VR46 MotoGP team was desperate to work with the brand.
Of course, on the other side of the garage, things are even worse, with Mir’s team-mate Alex Rins crashing out of four races in a row before a rather stupid cycling crash in which he broke his wrist at Montmelo on Thursday. That left him watching from the sidelines.
A few paddock veterans have suggested that the chance to reset his head after a difficult spell might not hurt Rins in the long term – but that’s only a hope, not an expectation right now.
So what’s to be done to fix Suzuki’s problem and get things back on track sooner rather than later? Mir’s planned a reset and surge after the summer break to try to retain his title, but things need to change for it to happen.
Perhaps the most obvious step would be to find someone to parachute back into Brivio’s old role, to bring some European mentality back to the team and to restore the balance that took it to the 2020 title.
There aren’t too many candidates who have experience managing riders, running a Japanese factory team from Europe and who are available… but perhaps it might not be a bad time for someone at Suzuki to check in with former Honda Racing Corporation boss Livio Suppo – just to see if he has any plans for after the series’ summer break!