The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda.
Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more.
He went on to become Dani Pedrosa’s personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.
But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces.
Suppo approached the role of team manager very much from a marketing perspective. Puig is much more of an ex-racer, and is much closer to the Japanese engineers than to the marketing and media side of the operation.
Though Puig’s ability to manage a team is beyond question, he faces some unique and severe challenges in managing this specific team, the Repsol Honda team.
Puig is a no-nonsense character who can be abrasive, and he already has a problematic relationship with the two riders in the Repsol Honda team.
Though he was Dani Pedrosa’s manager for a long time, he spent last season criticizing the Spaniard in his role as an expert commentator for Spanish broadcaster Movistar. Puig criticized Pedrosa’s approach and attitude, and may have a few fences to mend on that side of the garage.
But Puig’s relationship with Marc Marquez’s side of the garage is even more troubled.
Puig has long regarded Marquez’s personal manager Emilio Alzamora as a rival, and having the two in the same garage when Puig still managed Dani Pedrosa was a major challenge for HRC.
Both Puig and Alzamora were more concerned with preventing the other side of the garage from seeing their respective riders’ data than with cooperating towards a common goal.
Tensions came to a head after the Australian Grand Prix in 2013, when Marc Marquez was disqualified for not making a compulsory pit stop.
That failure was an indirect result of the lack of communication within the Repsol Honda team, with Alzamora wanting to keep Puig away from Marquez, and Alzamora also distrusting Livio Suppo and then chief mechanic Cristian Gabarrini, all of whom he regarded as holdovers from the Casey Stoner era forced on them by Honda and Suppo.
Alzamora won that particular battle. The following year, the remnants of Stoner’s crew were forced out of the Repsol Honda team, and Marquez was reunited with his full former Moto2 team.
Alberto Puig had stopped managing Dani Pedrosa, and moved on to other projects with Honda, but the tension between the two remained, as Alzamora was also managing the Estrella Galicia Moto3 team, and excluded Puig from involvement.
Puig has also had his moments in the past with the Repsol Honda team. As Dani Pedrosa’s manager, he was severely critical of Nicky Hayden when the American was Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda teammate.
There were frictions during Hayden’s 2006 championship year, but they came to a head in 2008, shortly before Hayden left, with Puig claiming Hayden “could not set up a bike”, while Hayden hit back in typically polite and measured style, asserting that Puig “basically runs our team, he runs HRC”.
With that history behind him, Puig is being thrown straight into the deep end. His first order of business as Repsol Honda team manager will be to negotiate new contracts with Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
The long-standing enmity between Puig and Alzamora will complicate negotiations with Marc Marquez, though Marquez has repeatedly stated he is very happy with Honda, and has no intention of leaving.
Whether Puig will be keen to keep Pedrosa on after spending so much of 2017 criticizing is also open to question.
But finding a replacement for Pedrosa could be tricky, as Marquez is perfectly happy with Pedrosa as a teammate, and he – and especially Alzamora – could view any replacement as a potential threat, especially given Puig’s stellar reputation for nurturing new talent.
With the appointment of Puig, HRC have brought in a superbly competent and proven manager. But they have also set themselves some interesting challenges along the way.
Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Photo.GP – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.