One of the most important jobs in a MotoGP team is undoubtedly the crew chief, second only to the rider. He (or she) will have his (or her) finger in all the different pies in the MotoGP pit box and is the first person the superstar rider will speak to after a session. So when we were offered the chance to have a chat with Jose Manuel Cazeaux, Alex Rins’ crew chief, we grabbed it by the balls, because if anyone knows what’s going on in Rins’ side of the Suzuki MotoGP garage, it’s him.
44T – First of all, can you describe what role you play in the Suzuki MotoGP team… what does ‘Crew Chief’ mean?
JMC – The crew chief position is a bit different. It’s about being wholly responsible for one rider and all of his crew. So you take care of all of the technical aspects that are related to the bike of your rider. So suspension set up, geometry, tyres, electronics. And we also talk about tyre strategy and how we manage them over the weekend.
Another important part of the crew chief job is to give technical feedback to the factory, because you are the link between what the rider says and the engineers in Japan.
44T – How much of the data from Alex and the team at the circuit goes back to Japan, and what development does that lead to?
JMC – A lot, because the rider is like another sensor on the bike. In fact you could say he is the most important and the most sensitive sensor. He can see, he can feel, and he can hear every single thing on the bike.
And when you are racing with other people on track, that’s when you can see the biggest differences. He can see if the bike is turning better or worse than the competitors, breaking better into the corners or accelerating better.
Recently, he noticed some vibration in some corners, so we shared the data with Japan, and the feedback we got from the factory was that we have some vibration at a very certain frequency. This is something that we worked with the factory to try and help, and now we don’t have this problem.
The other, more simple thing, is when the riders sees something on another bike. For example the famous rear device to lower the bike. Alex saw this on Miller’s bike at Malaysia, and he noticed he (Miller) could accelerate very hard with this. After he’d seen this, we talked to the team, talked to the factory and tried to make an estimation of how much we could gain by using a device like this. Now they have started to try and develop something for us.
44T – Suzuki’s MotoGP bike is obviously a good all round package, but what would you say it’s strengths and weaknesses were compared to the other machines?
JMC – Every bike has strong points and weak points. I would say that in our case, we have one of the most equilibrated bikes. We don’t have extreme weaknesses, and we don’t have extreme strong points. I think we are fairly good in all areas.
But it depends on which competitor you make the comparison. If you make a comparison with the Ducati, for sure we are weak on straight acceleration in high gears, because they have so much power. But this is not a weak point compared to Yamaha, for example.
In terms of acceleration during the wheelie phase, where the limit is the wheelie not the engine, at the moment we have a weak point compared to everybody because of the rear device. They can lower the bike, so that they can accelerate.
But soon, we will be able to try it and maybe use it. When these first appeared, we thought about using them, but because of the nature of our motorbike, we decided to avoid it. But in the end, we’re at a disadvantage because we are lacking acceleration, and we need to be competitive.
44T – So how long before we see one on the Suzuki and why can’t you just bolt one on? Would it have any negative effects?
JMC – Yes there are negative effects like everything. You are fitting a device which is extra material, so this means extra weight. And we know how sensitive MotoGP bikes are for weight and weight distribution, so it would take us time to find the new sweet spot.
But I hope we will have a prototype to start testing soon. Maybe between these two Austrian races. As soon as we have it we can start collecting info. This doesn’t mean we will race for the first time with it, it will depend how big the negative effects are, and how fast we can fix them.
44T – What changes do you make to a MotoGP bike from one round to the next, and from one circuit to the other.
JMC – We need to make fairly big changes because there are two big differences from one circuit to another, the track layout and the asphalt. One of the biggest changes we make is the gear ratios, because of the lengths of the straights, and the corner speeds. We change internal gearbox ratios, primary gears, and final drive ratios. We have to find the combination that suits the circuit layout the best.
And then, depending on the asphalt (so level of grip) and the layout, you will set up the suspension. Obviously the way you brake in Assen is different to the way you brake in Austria for lots of reasons. This is why we change all of the suspension settings, as well as geometry.
But we are lucky because it is rare that we go to a completely new track. When we come to a race weekend we have data, so we can set the bike up for what we need.
Usually all we are doing during the race weekend is fine tuning. We always need to make changes depending on the level of grip, because that is something that always changes.
44T – How much data get shared between the Rins side and the Mir side of the pit box? Is there any secrecy?
JMC – This always depends on the team, but in our case at Suzuki the philosophy is to have everything open. Because we believe that this will increase the level of both of the riders. The more they share, the better chances you have to perform at a high level.
When Alex got injured in Barcelona, Joan (Mir) had to race alone and not having the data from Alex was a disadvantage. There is always one corner that one rider is better than the other, so you can always learn something from the other rider; this is the first advantage.
The second advantage is tyre usage. If one rider used one compound and the other use another, you can compare the data and make a better decision.
44T – Last year was good, Alex was third in the championship and you had a strong start to the year, but I can see that you’ve had some difficult rounds with a few DNFs. Can you put your finger on why that is, and what are you working on to try and resolve it?
JMC – There is never only one reason. If you analyse last year, Alex had a very strong preseason. He was feeling ready to fight for the championship and then after the covid lockdown everything changed. He had a big injury to the shoulder, then he had to do all the season in a different mode; it wasn’t instead of attack mode. Despite that he had some good results.
This year, he felt without the injury, he could go into attack mode and fight for the championship from the start. Maybe this created some mistakes, from too much pushing.
But all mistakes are different, if you look at the one from Portimão, that’s different to Le Mans, which is different to the one at Jerez. We analyse this internally, and we try not to repeat these things. Some are because of the rider, some are because of the team.
In the second part of the season our objective is to finish with a high average points score, that can give us optimism for next year. Because of how the season has been up to now, we are too far back in the championship standing to fight for a strong position a the end.
44T – You’re talking to us from Austria right now, just before the Styrian GP. What’s your goal this weekend?
JMC – For the team, our goal for this weekend, just like the second part of the season, is to score high points. But Alex has had a lot of pace over the weekends this year, and not concluded the weekend with a good result. So my target for him, as his crew chief, is to start finalising on Sunday what he has built over the weekend.
In the past it was opposite, he was not so good in the weekend and then unbelievable in the race. Now we are doing better on Friday and Saturday, but for one reason or the other, not Sunday. And sometimes it is luck, we cannot blame Alex for other people’s aggressive riding.
So yes, we want to be strong all weekend, and carry that over for a strong result in the race.