Last week Sport Rider published Alberto Puig’s first interview with the media as the newly appointed manager of the Repsol Honda MotoGP team. I should say the “surprising” new manager of the official factory team because I don’t know anyone reporting on the world championship who didn’t raise an eyebrow when the rumor became official that the Spanish ex-racer was going to take over the Honda squad.
Those of us who have known Puig for years clearly understand he does not exactly possess the qualities that a manager of the most powerful team in the world of motorcycling is supposed to have. This is a position that requires more than a former racer. It demands someone capable of navigating the political landscape off the track, something which his predecessor, Livio Suppo, had mastered.
Whether you liked Suppo or not, no one could argue with the Italian’s professional successes. Suppo brought Bridgestone to Ducati when it decided to enter MotoGP, presenting an advantage that helped the Italian factory win the title with Casey Stoner in 2007. The Australian, by the way, was another one of Suppo’s contributions to the Bologna factory. He was also instrumental in moving Stoner from Ducati to Honda, where he won a second title in his first attempt. Suppo was further in charge of the Repsol Honda team when Marc Márquez arrived and over the five incredible five years that followed. I repeat, you can criticize how Suppo managed the HRC team, but the results are indisputable.
Puig is at the antithesis of the “political” Suppo. Alberto has always sold the image of being direct, authentic, and avoiding speaking between the lines. This is the stance he has taken since he was forced to retire as an active rider due to injury. That attitude led Puig, in his position as a race commentator on Spanish television, to be just as critical of Dani Pedrosa as he had been devoted and unconditional with him over the many years he served as his manager. The distance that developed between Puig and Emilio Alzamora, Márquez’s manager, while Puig was responsible for the Honda Moto3 team is no secret either. Despite Puig’s public lack of empathy for the current Team HRC riders, someone in Japan decided he was the ideal person to manage the team. They are the experts…
In his very “Honda” speech, Puig also repeated that, “An individual, a person, is not capable of changing a team like HRC.” How then would he describe the effect Masao Furusawa had at Yamaha or the impact Shuhei Nakamoto had at Honda? What happened within Honda when Valentino Rossi moved to Yamaha? Or in what way did individuals such as Stoner or Márquez influence the teams through which they passed? They are precisely the type of people who create change in the ultra-competitive world of MotoGP.
In Spain, we have a custom of granting a newly appointed politician a 100-day grace period before questioning his or her administration. We should extend the same courtesy to Puig. To effectively manage Team HRC, however, he is going to require a major metamorphosis.