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MotoGP, Cecchinello: "I hope Liberty Media will attract extra-sector sponsors"

INTERVIEW - "Today the only manufacturer to have them is Ducati, it's a shame because the show is there. LCR will soon renew with Honda, which after the 4- and 2-wheel merger is working a lot. Zarco did not surprise me, he is fast and has experience."

MotoGP: Cecchinello:

Lucio Cecchinello is never one to stand still and he even takes advantage of downtime, such as a car trip, for an interview. "How am I? Well, the health is there and so is the passion,"he greets us. Lucio has been in motorcycling for more than 30 years, first as a rider and now with his team, LCR, he is rolling up his sleeves to climb the results ladder again together with Honda. Yet another challenge he is sure to win.

Lucio, how do you see Honda right now?
"I am very happy with the fact that there has been an additional impetus to get organized in the best possible way to become competitive again. We already saw the first signs last year, and in recent months there has been a considerable increase in human resources with the inclusion of young engineers and from the Formula 1 project, particularly in the aerodynamics and engine sectors. HRC underwent a major transformation by merging the 2-wheel and 4-wheel departments three years ago, this merger process has allowed for a more rapid transfer of people. In addition, I guess, there was also a reformulation of budgets."

Specifically, from your perspective, what has changed?
"For example, if before only one evolution part came that the official team tested, now four come in and are available to all the riders at the same time. In fact, HRC has adopted the same policy as Ducati with Pramac and KTM with Tech3. The manufacturers have understood that the more sharing of data and information there is, the more development is accelerated with less risk of making blunders."

At Portimao we saw that Honda was bringing up the rear, did you still sense encouraging signs?
"It is the chronometer that judges the quality of the work. If I have to look at that, I can say that the RC213V 2024 was clearly faster in Valencia, Sepang and Qatar, while we were a bit surprised that we were not as fast in Portimao, we took a step back. It' s true that we were faster, but it's equally true that the others improved as well: we need to catch up, to accelerate development further to be able to close the gap. The concessions will allow us to work through the season and hopefully allow us to gain something."

"Honda still needs to work on aerodynamics and chassis."

What are the strengths and weaknesses of the new Honda?
"The bike has definitely improved: we have a more powerful engine and more stability under braking.The amount and ease of the Honda riders' crashes has also decreased, I feel like I can say that now they have more control of the front, they don't find themselves on the ground without knowing why anymore. These are all positive signs, and Zarco really appreciated the speed of corner entry. However, we are not yet competitive in terms of aerodynamics and we still need to work on the chassis because in fast corners we still have a gap to make up compared to our competitors."

Zarco has been surprising in his adaptation to the Honda, he has often been the best. Were you also surprised?
"I was definitely pleased, but we knew we had taken an experienced rider who had ridden several bikes - from Yamaha, to KTM, to Ducati - and had been fast on all of them. We were not concerned about his adaptation, also because he had already ridden with us on the Honda in 2018 and we remembered that as soon as he came in he set times to be in the top 6 or 7. Johann made a decision that may be questionable, because he left a winning bike for one that needs to improve, but he did it because he had already ridden a Honda and because we offered him a two-year program. He told me several times that he had positive feelings riding the Honda and this allowed him to face the challenge with more motivation, or less doubts."

"I feel good with Honda, soon we will discuss contract renewal."

LCR's contract with Honda is expiring: are you already discussing renewal or are you looking around? KTM contacted you last year.
"In all honesty, I'm comfortable where I am. We haven't formalized the renewal, we haven't talked about it yet, but my intention is to discuss it in the next few weeks, before the summer. I preferred to start the championship to allow them to focus on the new season and then talk. We have been working with Honda since 2006, and without criticizing anyone, we are the only team that has never stopped working with HRC, while eight others have. We are the only ones who have stuck it out over these years, it doesn't mean it has always been easy, however, we have always found a reasonable compromise to continue together."

In these nearly 20 years, have you seen Honda change much?
"As I said before, the change was felt with the merger between 2 and 4 wheels. As is the case with all big companies, especially Japanese companies, they have their times. We are talking about a mammoth company and a different culture from ours. We are beginning to see the first fruits, I know it has been more than two years, but in Honda before doing something they study it well.Even in Formula 1 it took them a few years to fine-tune their engine, but now it is unbeatable."

"What do I ask of Liberty Media? The ability to attract extra-sector sponsors."

You mentioned F1, how did you react to Liberty Media's takeover of Dorna?
"I started racing in MotoGP in 1993, Dorna entered in 1992, in all these years I could see and touch the massive work of reorganization and evolution of the championship that they did. From the 1990s to today everything has changed and in all aspects. Sometimes it is easy to criticize, it happens everywhere, but as far as I am concerned Dorna has done a great job. In order to do it, they associated themselves with investment funds, then non-operating partners, they left all the management in the hands of the current managers. Now I see Liberty Media as potentially a more pro-active investor, and I believe that on the strategic part of communication, not on the sporting part, it will be able to give a boost to the championship."

"We are extremely strong in Southeast Asia, but we are lacking on the American continent, especially in North America. I think Liberty Media can add great value to the MotoGP product globally."

Do you see this as a change with potential?
"Absolutely, as one more step we can take to make our product more and more attractive. In the last period, Dorna has made significant efforts to try to offer more and more content to our fans and more entertainment over the course of the weekend, Liberty Media will help further."

As an independent team owner, what would you need?
"We should not hide the fact that MotoGP right now is mostly supported by fuel, lubricating oil and energy drink companies, only Ducati manages to have extra-sector sponsors. MotoGP lacks the appeal to be considered an attractive vehicle for other companies besides the ones I mentioned. Commercially, we see that we struggle to be considered by the big multinationals that are in the IT, telecommunications, clothing, and wellness sectors. I hope that Liberty Media can be that platform that will be able to provide visibility to possible extra-sector investors."

How can this be achieved?
"By everyone working together to keep our product extremely fascinating from the sporting point of view as it is now, because we can say anything but that MotoGP is boring. It gives great excitement, entertainment, it has very high potential, and Liberty Media certainly made its considerations before making such a big investment. The only thing you have to be careful of is to consider that the MotoGP audience is different from the Formula 1 audience. You have to hope that they don't implement policies for which tickets and TV rights reach costs that then cause them to lose audience instead of gaining it. We have a different target audience, younger, with a different affordability."


Translated by Julian Thomas

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