The news is now official that Suzuki will be without team principal Davide Brivio for the 2021 season, leaving the reigning MotoGP world champion team without its key figurehead just as it sets out to defend the title won by Joan Mir under two months ago.
It has come as bombshell news to the Japanese manufacturer, as well, with project leader Shinichi Sahara admitting this morning in the statement confirming Brivio’s departure that the news throws its plans for the future into disarray.
“Sincerely, it was shocking news for us about Davide’s departure from Team Suzuki Ecstar,” said the veteran engineer.
“It feels like somebody took a part of me, because I always discussed with him how to develop the team and the bikes, and we’ve worked together for a long time.
“In 2020 we achieved fantastic results despite the unusual and difficult situation due to COVID-19. And 2021 will be an even more important year for us to keep the momentum.
“Now we are trying to find the best way to cover for the ‘Davide loss’.
“Luckily in most cases I have had quite a similar way of thinking to him, therefore it is not so difficult to keep the direction we should go as Team Suzuki Ecstar, I think. We would like to wish him the best of luck for the future.”
So just how much trouble is Suzuki in now that such a key member of the management team is bound for the F1 paddock?
Thankfully, due in large part to the hard work done by Brivio himself since he helped relaunch the team for the 2015 season, the impact of his departure should be limited – although there will be worrying times ahead in Hamamatsu – the squad’s Japanese base – while that’s determined for sure.
Key to Suzuki’s success under the Italian’s management has been the building of a team that functions effortlessly. Merging Suzuki’s Japanese engineers, largely Italian crew and Spanish riders, it takes the best from all of them while still retaining an atmosphere that feels more like a small family outfit than a factory team that has just won a championship.
You’d like to think that there’s no reason that should change despite Brivio’s departure given that the squad is already in place and will remain with the same rider line-up until at least the end of the 2023 season.
Of course, managing the egos and certain personality clashes between Mir and team-mate Alex Rins might not be an easy job as they continue to fight each other for victories and titles. Avoiding intra-team tension was a job that Brivio excelled at in 2020, and it’s going to take someone with a deft hand to continue along the same lines without rocking the boat.
From a development perspective too, things should be largely seamless despite Brivio’s departure. Partly aided by MotoGP’s COVID-inspired development freeze for 2021 and partly because of the well-structured team under him charged with looking after the project’s engineering wing, it’s hard to imagine that losing Brivio will slow things down there.
The biggest impact the news could have might not be in the Suzuki garage, though, but in the boardroom.
It’s no secret that Brivio has been the driving force behind the plans for Suzuki to expand from two bikes to four for 2022, telling The Race during in the 2020 season that it was a key target of his.
“We would be happy to have a satellite team, to get more data, to have more riders on the bike, more information,” he said at the Catalan Grand Prix last September. “We think it can speed up the development of the machine, the same as other manufacturers.
“The point now is to get the support from the company. We have to present the project within the company and see what they think about it.
“The time is not ideal to increase racing activity, but we’ll try to bring it on the table and to decide. Probably that won’t be before early next year – we will hopefully know by the beginning of the next championship.”
What stage those negotiations are at, both internally at Suzuki and externally with any teams interested in taking on the Suzuki satellite role, remains to be seen – but it’s possible that that’s where the biggest impact from this week’s news will be felt.
However, the most immediate headache that the news will bring to his former bosses is the question of who to sign to replace him.
With the news coming as a complete shock to the MotoGP paddock, there hasn’t yet been time for much speculation about who will step into the role.
There are of course numerous people available and with experience in running a winning team – but given the unique atmosphere that Brivio has cultivated so well within Suzuki, it’ll be important that the big bosses in Japan find the right person for the role or risk upsetting everything that took them to a remarkable underdog win in 2020.