Livio Suppo was the guest on our daily live show and our Paolo Scalera and Matteo Aglio addressed many topics with him, talking about the time he spent in Ducati and also about his great adventure in Honda, first with Casey Stoner, then with Marc Marquez. The manager has a huge experience in the MotoGP but, after more than twenty years in paddocks in the World Championship, he decided to embark on an entrepreneurial career giving life to Thok, a company that produces high-level E-MTBikes.
During their long chat, Suppo obviously did not avoid even the most prickly questions by listeners who wanted to know many previously unknown details and really gave him a run for his money because good old Livio revealed many behind the scenes related to many, more or less, controversial episodes of someone who's lived on the front line, from Sepang 2015 to Troy Bayliss's momentary transfer to Honda in the MotoGP, to evaluating Yamaha's decisions that put Valentino Rossi out of the team perhaps ahead of time.
They started with Marc Marquez's proposal to confirm 2020 contracts for 2021. What do you think?
"In fact, if you they don't race, 2020 will be a year that didn't exist. Marc's idea could be a good one. Of course, for those who have already signed for 2021 and also for 2022, it's not the greatest thing. What will Quartararo do, since he already has a contract in his pocket? And Valentino Rossi, who hasn't decided yet? Managing this situation isn't easy, even for those who have to write up the contracts."
Suppo: "Marquez's four-year contract is atypical, but he's an atypical rider."
Speaking of contracts, a particularly long contract was signed this year. What do you think of the four-year agreement between Marquez and Honda?
"It's an atypical contract. They're usually two years, sometimes even with an option in favor of the company. With an atypical rider like Marc, that makes sense, since Marc is so competitive that he is atypical, and Honda wants him throughout his entire career. This kind of contract involves a 50/50 risk for both the rider and constructor. In about five years, namely the contract's time-frame, a rider like Marc will not experience a drop in performance. On the other hand, Honda always makes competitive bikes. In this case, they're both sure of what they're facing."
What do you think of the brother duo in Honda?
"We have to understand the situation they found themselves in. In Valencia, Jorge said he was going to retire. Who was free among the riders to put on that bike? Zarco was there or maybe they had to choose Nakagami or Cal. But they would have messed up at the LCR. The Moto2 world champion was free, or at least available at the time. They did well, but then it's obvious that, if the rider's name is Marquez, it all seems different, but that's how it really went."
On the subject of contracts, What did you think about Lorenzo's transfer from Honda to Yamaha tester. Wouldn't you have added some clause to prevent it?
"I'm being difficult, and I'd say definitely yes. I don't know if the contract between Honda and Jorge ended without paying a compensation for 2020. I don't know if they paid in part or nothing at all of what was originally planned. It's certainly strange that a team allowed a rider, who had declared that he wanted to withdraw, do that. I think it should have been prevented."
Suppo: "Had I been in Honda, I would have prevented Lorenzo from returning as a tester for Yamaha."
There was another rider who left Honda unexpectedly, even if it was at the end of his career. Why do you think Pedrosa didn't remain with Honda after an entire career with them?
"I could be mean, but I won't. Someone arrived in Honda with whom Dani Pedrosa did not get along or maybe someone who has not even offered to act as a test rider has arrived. Puig created Dani, and really made him develop as a rider in his own image and likeness. Then Pedrosa suddenly no longer wanted to work with him. I think Puig, who is a righteous guy but a bit a resentful, is probably bearing a grudge. Dani performed very poorly in the past year compared to when I was in the pit boxes. The mood was obviously no longer a good one, and a rider suffers a lot from these things."
Still on the subject of contracts, what do you think about the possibility of Rossi racing with Petronas in 2021? If you had been in Lin Jarvis' shoes, would you have made the same choice?
"Honestly, I wouldn't have put him in Petronas. I believe that his career with Yamaha is such that I would have waited to renew Maverick, because Vinales has been there for a few years and the performances were iffy. At first, it seemed as if he were predestined, and was destined to dethrone Marquez. Actually, every year he's alternated races in which he was very strong with others in which he's had problems. I think it's a kind of characteristic of his, but it seemed premature to renew such a fickle rider well in advance. It's easy to judge in hindsight, given what happened with Covid-19, but I would have waited."
Suppo: "Jarvi had to wait instead of signing with Vinales, who is very discontinuous."
In any case, Rossi's retirement isn't too far off now. In your opinion, does Rossi need the MotoGP or does the MotoGP need Rossi more?
"That's a really good question. Maybe, if I have to be politically correct, I'd say they both need each other. Valentino loves to race and seems to be having a hard time saying 'okay, I'm going to stay home now'." Just like the MotoGP that's worried about when Valentino will sooner or later retire, because nobody has ever seen a MotoGP without Rossi at a high level. In fact, Rossi has accompanied and raised the MotoGP to the level it is at today. It's hard to say, in my opinion. If we think of the Ferrari and the F1, for example, the F1 would lose a lot because Ferrari would continue to sell cars without any problem for many years. I think that the MotoGP will continue normally, but we'll have a drop in interest in Italy, so let's hope there won't be some sort of Tomba effect. When Alberto Tomba retired, skiing practically disappeared from the scene in Italy. We still have Ducati. There are strong riders. We hope that the bond between the MotoGP and its fans in Italy will remain."
During your managerial career, you've managed many riders. Who has been the easiest and who the most complicated to manage?
"Nicky Hayden was the easiest rider, but working with Loris Capirossi was also nice. He was willing, polite. I was lucky. I always had easy riders from this aspect. I remember them all fondly. They were always reasonable people. I remember that the Mugello races were a nightmare. Phillip Morris had the Village, Telecom had the Village. There were 45 minutes of tour de force to bring the riders to the guests, but on the morning of the race, and I knew that the riders didn't like that at all. Perhaps the most difficult rider to manage was Casey because, when he had bad days, he was really difficult to handle. In 2012, after deciding on his retirement, he was unmotivated. He couldn't stand anything about what surrounded him, and it was a really tough year. "
Suppo: "Stoner and Marquez are really talented, but Marc's character is his secret weapon."
You also managed two of the best riders in motorcycle history, like Stoner and Marquez. How different are these two champions?
"In terms of pure performance, they are two great talents. Like Valentino Rossi or Mick Doohan, so to speak. Casey had the misfortune to race at a time during which there were many very good riders, the infamous fantastic four, like we used to call them. Valentino, Pedrosa, and Lorenzo, all together, and it's difficult to live through times with so many great riders all together. Doohan dominated when he did, then Rossi arrived. They took turns for a while, then Marquez was next up. They are phenomenal, when it comes to being complete overall. I think Marc's character is his secret weapon. He always sees the positive side of things and gives it his all during the 18 races."
Suppo: "Nakamoto had a soft spot for Stoner: he got a car and had a plate with the #27 made."
They could have ended up on the team together in 2013 if Casey hadn't retired.
"We were negotiating for 2013 with Casey, Nakamoto in HRC had a soft spot for him. He changed cars and had a plate made with the #27 for Casey. We tried in every way to convince him. He made him a really high offer before he even got the okay from the upper echelons in Japan. He thought about it but then declined. We knew it, it was a decision that had matured over time and, in my opinion, it had to do with the fact that, when the 1,000 arrived in 2012, he was convinced that he was more competitive. He tried t hebike and was enthusiastic. He came in third in Qatar because he had had a physical problem. He won two races in Estoril and Jerez. In my opinion, he had convinced himself that he'd win the World Championship easily, so I think his plan was to win another World Championship and then retire, but that's not how it went. Of course, forcing him to continue would have been counterproductive."
Suppo: "Nakamoto wanted to protect Casey so he didn't make him race, but Stoner got angry."
If Nakamoto had a soft spot for Stoner, why didn't he make him do wild cards instead of Pedrosa when Dani got injured? Stoner wanted to.
"The point is that someone like Casey is expected to win, and what would have happened if he hadn't? It would have been a disappointment for everyone. Casey hadn't been active for two years, so HRC thought it best for him not to race. Nakamoto, who was very keen on protecting him, thought he was not on the right level of competitiveness. Casey got very angry. He wanted to race. But sometimes in life you have to take responsibility, and Nakamoto did. Marc was in his third year of the World Championship, and the start was not amazing. I think this also made a difference. There were a number of things that impeded Stoner from being a wild card."
Suppo: "We wanted Stoner and Marquez in 2013. That was Nakamoto's plan."
What was your reaction when he retired?
"I felt bD about his retirement. I accepted it because it couldn't have been done differently. We knew he wouldn't have raced a lot, but we wanted a team with Marc and Stoner. We wanted to keep both, the champion with the rookie to help grow, but then things went differently. In hindsight, I have to also say that maybe the team with Dani and Marc was more balanced than the one that would have been formed by Casey and Marc."
Suppo: "Managing the Ducati riders? Even in my day, we were often criticized."
Besides Honda, you spent a long time with Ducati where, in general, managing riders has always seemed controversial from the outside.
"I think it's difficult to manage riders for an Italian team. The MotoGP has a large following and there's lots of tension. In my day, we were often criticized, even unfairly. I remember when we replaced Troy Bayliss with Carlos Checa. The Ducati fans got really riled up. When Troy went to Honda in 2005, he didn't do that great. We had suggested he go back to the SBK, which he did afterwards. He became a legend in the SBK, then he also returned in 2006 winning in Valencia because he was laid back there. Instead, while he was in the MotoGP, he wanted to prove he was great at all costs. He kind of had performance anxiety. In the SBK, with less pressure, he proved he was a great champion and remained in everyone's heart. He wasn't able to fully express himself in the MotoGP."
There was lots of criticism even when managing Lorenzo.
"Ducati has always been criticized. It's easy to criticize Ducati for making Jorge leave, but I challenge anyone in their right mind not to admit that, before Mugello, it was really difficult in 2018 to confirm a rider who was really expensive and hadn't lived up to the expected results. Then they were also unfortunate because when they decided to send him away, he started doing well. Maybe Jorge would not have been so great if he had known that they would have confirmed him. Riders have tricky minds."
Suppo: "Capirossi's being fired in Laguna Seca was a lie."
About Capirossi's being fired in Laguna Seca, what's your side of the story?
"It's obviously not true. The story of his being fired is different from what actually happened. In 2006, Loris saw Sete Gibernau become art of the team. He was the Valentino's antagonist at the time. His salary was higher than Loris', and he was really angry because he felt he had done so much for Ducati. Loris was better than Sete that year, also because the Spanish rider started on the wrong foot. Sete had to stop racing because of an accident in Barcelona and physical problems. At that time, Loris' contract with Ducati had to be renewed and, rightfully so, he decided to collect. He was right, so he tore up an excellent contract. Then, in 2007, the world changed because Stoner arrived, and everything changed. He got double the points. It was clear that he was much faster than Loris. We offered Loris six figures. It was considerable but lower than 2006. Carletto thought it offensive. Nothing was done about it, although I don't know how six figures can be considered offensive. But it wasn't true that we told Capirossi during free practice sessions in Laguna Seca we'd be leaving him home or that we would not confirm him."
We have to touch a sore spot, namely, the 2015 finale that was greatly debated.
"No need to talk about it. Whatever we say doesn't change a thing. Whoever was a fan of Valentino's will always agree with him and, vice versa, whoever was a fan of Marc's will say the same. Any one can interpret it as they like. For Vale's fans, this will always remain a dishonor, and I don't think it will ever change, making Marc indefensible. Ditto for Marc's fans. They're convinced that he hadn't done anything wrong and, obviously, this will increase over time. It will be a never ending story, and neither side will change its opinion."
Suppo: "Marc at Phillip Island in 2015 was only strategic, and also stole 5 points from Lorenzo."
Many, however, focus on Sepang, when instead everything probably began at Phillip Island. What do you think?
"Actually, it's a classic that you can't go fast throughout the race at Phillip Island. Marc had fallen the year before, while he was leading with an advantage and, before the race, we advised him not to push because the tires would have overheated. I still think that Marc was strategic in that race, also stealing five points from Lorenzo, who was Rossi's rival in the championship."
Suppo: "A return? An experience like Brivio's in Suzuki would be nice... should I send Kawasaki a resume?"
Do you think your story in the MotoGP is over? If a team like Kawasaki asked you to manage the return of the derivatives, would you do it?
"When I stopped with the MotoGP, I said 'never say never'. At the moment, I have no plans of returning, but you should always leave the doors open because you never know what can happen. An experience like Davide Brivio's - who's accompanying Suzuki from a managerial aspect - would be nice. That's a good idea. I'll send Kawasaki a resume."
How is your new entrepreneurial life going with Thok instead?
"I have to say that I'm happy with my new role. Twenty-two years in the World Championship have taught me a lot, but they also took a lot away. It's a profession and a very demanding life. I didn't see my daughter very much when she was little, and this is something that no one will be able to give me back. Being an entrepreneur at 53 is not easy, but it is a rewarding choice."
Do you have any contact between the world of motorcycles and that of E-MTBikes?
"They are two worlds with similar characteristics. Riding an E-MTBike gives you sensations that are similar to those of enduro bikes. Races are springing up, and it'll be important for us to well assess how to participate. It's a similar concept as the Moto2. It's not easy to make a difference."