With the news that championship-winning Suzuki team boss Davide Brivio is walking away from MotoGP to take over Alpine’s Formula 1 efforts in 2021 catching the paddock by complete surprise, there hasn’t yet been time for the usual rumours to start up about what happens next at Suzuki.
A number of names will inevitably be linked to taking over from the veteran Italian team boss in the coming days and weeks, but there’s no clear favourite to step into the role – which leaves it all open to speculation until more becomes clear about what happens next.
With that in mind, we looked at some of the potential candidates to step into Brivio’s big shoes to fill at Suzuki and to attempt to continue his winning ways.
Promotion from within
Perhaps the most likely option given the small family feel of the Suzuki team would be to promote someone already working for it.
However, the very thing that makes the team so successful is also something of a handicap.
Given the team is run on a budget on the smaller end of the scale and without the huge resources of the likes of HRC, there’s no obvious successor to Brivio as an individual figurehead.
That makes it likely that Suzuki is going to have to start its search externally instead.
And that’s likely to be especially important if it wants to continue to utilise a European team boss alongside a Japanese project leader, a structure that Brivio and his counterpart Shinichi Sahara – who described Brivio’s exit as “shocking news” that felt “like somebody took a part of me” – made work extremely well.
There’s no more highly-regarded former team boss sitting at home right now than sometime Ducati and Honda head Livio Suppo.
So securing the services of the Italian would be something of a coup for Suzuki if it could bring him onboard.
A multiple championship-winning boss at both his previous brands, Suppo began his career as manager at Ducati in 2003, successfully running its team until 2009 and taking the 2007 title with Casey Stoner.
He then made the switch to Honda, luring Stoner to join him and winning again in 2011, before signing Marc Marquez to replace the Australian and lifting crowns in 2013, 2014 and 2016 before stepping down.
With a reputation as a hard but fair taskmaster, he’d bring a very different personality to the Suzuki box from Brivio – but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work for both sides.
There have been rumours in the paddock all through the 2020 season that Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti has been looking for a new opportunity, and it could well be that one has come along for him at just the right time.
Much more in the mold of Brivio when it comes to managing people, he’s highly regarded in the paddock and would certainly bring more continuity with the previous management style if Suzuki could lure him over.
He’s got no shortage of experience, either. The boss of Ducati’s World Superbike project during its glory days, he won titles in the production racing class with Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, Neil Hodgson and James Toseland before making the move over to MotoGP.
He’s been in charge of the grand prix project since 2013, presiding (alongside Gigi Dall’Igna) over Ducati’s return to form and the Desmosedici’s jump from midfielder to title contender.
The man who put together Petronas SRT Yamaha’s expansion into the premier class, Wilco Zeelenberg is an outside bet given his ongoing role at the satellite team.
But with considerable experience as a team manager and within a factory squad, he’s a name that could well be linked to the empty Suzuki seat.
Zeelenberg has been managing race teams since 2007, taking a World Supersport championship with Cal Crutchlow in 2007 – before moving over to the factory Yamaha MotoGP team taking on a role managing Jorge Lorenzo’s side of the garage and acting as his rider coach.
They won titles in 2010, 2012 and 2015 together, and Zeelenberg remained with the team after Lorenzo’s departure to Ducati, looking after Maverick Vinales, until Petronas came calling for its 2019 debut.
Since then, it’s been an incredible journey for the Dutchman, as Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli went on to smash records left, right and centre in the new team’s first two seasons.
Definitely the most leftfield option on this list – and perhaps more hopeful dreaming than realistic chance – it would be an incredible coup if Suzuki could bring back perhaps the most legendary figure of its recent history in the shape of 1993 world champion Kevin Schwantz.
No stranger in the Suzuki garage even today and a well-liked, well-respected character who would be a good fit for the friendly team and its family atmosphere, Schwantz would be well-received if he was asked to take over the reins from Brivio.
However, there’s one thing that works against him: limited experience in a team management role.
Familiar with running his race school in the US and having dipped his toe into running a team at the Suzuka 8 Hour race, he’s nonetheless got nowhere near the experience of the other names on the list.
Still, as Brivio’s appointment in F1 shows, sometimes a leftfield change can be appealing.
Someone from outside MotoGP
Of course, there’s the possibility that Suzuki will look to do exactly what Alpine has done by poaching Brivio and look outside its own series to find a new team principal.
That would open up a world of possibilities given the range of people available, and would be something of an unusual step for the top-level motorcycle racing – but it remains an option.
And it wouldn’t be that much of a departure for a MotoGP factory, what with Aprilia currently overseen by ex-Ferrari F1 man Massimo Rivola.