Gresini and Cecchinello: Two decades as grand prix team bosses

Fausto Gresini and Lucio Cecchinello, two veteran grand prix motorcycle racing riders and managers, talk to Motorsport.com about their history and the current state of the sport they work in.

Gresini and Cecchinello: Two decades as grand prix team bosses

In a championship which can't exclusively count on the brands and must also give the private teams the means to thrive, Gresini and Cecchinello have managed to overcome the difficulties and continue nowadays to persevere with their own teams.

Both have extensive experience running independent teams, although while Cecchinello's LCR squad remains in that status to this day, Gresini Racing is currently in charge of Aprilia's factory effort.

As the sport's independent class has been back in the spotlight this year, with the privateers' first grand prix victories in a decade, we proposed a joint chat to two men who shared the tracks for two years (in 125cc in 1993 and 1994) before writing their parallel story as team managers.

What came out of it is a deep mutual respect and a common determination to continuously improve the championship they dedicated their lives to.

What do you admire in each other?

LC: When I was 14 or 15, in my room, there were posters with riders from back then: Carlos Lavado, Martin Wimmer, Eddie Lawson... and Fausto Gresini.

I admired him very much as a rider, then he founded a team which became, in my opinion, the main independent team. He showed that a private team could aim for the title too, and he inspired many team managers, including myself. Fausto was inspiring to me, as a rider and as a team manager.

FG: Thank you for these nice words. I remember when Lucio started riding and I was at the end of my career. I don't know how he managed being his own team's rider and manager.

I have a lot of respect for what Lucio did as a team manager. It's already hard to have one career, so doing both at the same time was impressive to me. I think he was hungry, determined and aggressive, both as a rider and team manager. I have a lot of respect for what he did. I'm certainly not hiding the fact that I'm carefully looking at Lucio, because he is an example for all of us.

Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal, Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Gresini Racing Team Team Principal
Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal, Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Gresini Racing Team Team Principal

Photo by: Gold and Goose Photography

You created your respective teams 19 and 20 years ago. How do you reflect on the person you were back then?

FG: I realised very quickly that I could be a team manager – that's a job you learn with experience. Maybe there was a little recklessness too, because you need to throw in a lot of energy and take risks to do this job, like when you ride.

Riding a bike is dangerous but being a team manager is too, even though the risks are different: every day, you're facing the reality of a company. I'm sure that Lucio has about as little free time as me, i.e. virtually none. If we have something in common, it surely is determination. Only riders have it.

LC: I completely agree, I think there surely was a great deal of recklessness when I threw myself into this, especially at the start when I had everything to do with no experience. I had to sort out problems every day.

I often think of one example: it's like when you are a rider and you take a very fast corner, not knowing if you'll make it. It's the same here: sometimes, I start a year but I don't know if, economically, I'll make it to the end.

Obviously, there's always optimism – when you're a rider, you don't tell yourself you might crash, you tell yourself you'll make it through. My way of thinking is just as positive: I throw myself into it, because I know that I'll make it somehow.

How was your rivalry when both of you were managing an independent Honda team?

FG: It's like with your teammate when you're a rider: he's the first one you need to beat. He is a reference, he pushes you to rise ever higher, he motivates you to do better.

We thrive on competition, always, it pushes us to forge ahead, to never be content with what we have. We always try to improve and get the best riders. That's how our competition is and we live it with deep respect.

LC: When I joined MotoGP in 2006, Fausto was more of a reference than a rival. He had already won races and fought for the title. For me, it was already an achievement, being able to stand next to him.

However, we live in a competitive environment, so deep inside, I wanted to surpass him someday. When we worked with Honda, he always did an exceptional job, he always was a reference for the brand.

Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal
Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal

Photo by: Gold and Goose Photography

Your teams are now in different situations. Fausto, how do you reflect on the situation of the LCR team, with just one rider entered in MotoGP?

FG: Frankly, I wouldn't like to be in Lucio's shoes, for his situation is much more fragile, much riskier when you have one rider instead of two. Sometimes, I notice Lucio is worried, and I understand him.

With just one rider, any misfortune can put you on the back foot, and everything is focused on just one person. I wouldn't like to be in his shoes, and I admire him all the more so as you need even more strength.

LC: Sadly, I can't do otherwise – the economic options are what they are. It's already a miracle to be here after so many years with a single rider. I still want to enter two riders, that's my aim, but for now, it is far from being easy.

Fausto decided to support a manufacturer's official programme. Could that be an option in the future for LCR?

LC: I'm not ruling anything out. Fausto made an important decision from an entrepreneurial point of view. I'm certainly not ruling out his decision.

If I were to have an opportunity too, with a serious programme, I would consider it, even though I must say that in 30 years of competition, I've done 23 with Honda; before closing that chapter, I'd think thoroughly and there would really need to be an offer from an important constructor.

Stefan Bradl, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Cal Crutchlow, Team LCR Honda
Stefan Bradl, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Cal Crutchlow, Team LCR Honda

Photo by: Toni Börner

Do you think the championship is going in the right direction?

FG: Things have changed a lot since 2000, our field also went through hardships during the crisis. Sponsorships and figures have changed. The scenario is completely different, a lot less rich than it used to be.

Of course, our world has changed, too. Dorna gave us the opportunity to work our business differently. We made it and I'd like to think that we've become kind of a big family, with Dorna and all the teams, because these times were not easy.

Now, we're through the most critical stage and we're looking ahead with confidence. Nowadays, the rules are just right and allow any brand which would be interested in joining the championship to take on more accessible and controlled costs.

LC: Reflecting on my three decades in racing, there was a regulatory stability between the mid-80s and the beginning of the 2000s, then the four-stroke engines came. The first years went quite well, but then, the rules got quite confusing. When the displacement was reduced to 800cc, the engine's rpm wasn't limited and engineers sought power with more rpm and very expensive technologies came.

Faced with bikes that were too expensive, Dorna tried to go back to 1000cc to have independent teams running stock engines in the CRT category, then there were the Opens - basically official bikes that were sold.

Then they changed the rules about the tyres, the amount of fuel… In the last few years, the rules were confusing and MotoGP followers couldn't quite understand what was going on anymore. Dorna was asking the constructors to lower the costs for independent teams, which no longer had the funds to survive, because the equipment was too expensive.

In the end, this fight had a positive effect – a good compromise was found and some very expensive technologies were made available to everyone. Ducati is now extremely competitive, Suzuki is coming back and competitive, Aprilia is coming back, KTM is coming, and I wouldn't be surprised if Kawasaki came back one day or BMW joined in the future. All of this favours the constructors' return and a better show.

Stefan Bradl, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Cal Crutchlow, Team LCR Honda
Stefan Bradl, Aprilia Racing Team Gresini, Cal Crutchlow, Team LCR Honda

Photo by: Gold and Goose Photography

How many riders do you think there should be on the grid for the situation to be good, and what direction should we follow for the future?

FG: I reckon we have the right figure. We don't need more riders, we need the right riders, like now, with the right bikes in the right conditions.

Training the riders for MotoGP and teaching them to ride those bikes at the maximum is not easy, and that's the point of the small classes.

LC: I need another rider, so I'd lie if I said that I agree with the current figure, so 22 or 24. But not more than 24 because then, there are more risks. In the future, I think we need to do even more to make our sport safer. In that area, we fully support Fausto regarding what he lived through in his career.

I've got a personal opinion – we can do a lot for safety, because the technologies exist, even though they're very expensive. We can broaden the use of airbags, maybe have them out of the helmet to protect the cervical vertebrae. We could make the bikes dramatically lighter, because a heavy mass thrown at 360 km/h is a deadly weapon.

Maybe should we reduce the displacement, have turbo engines or follow KERS-like technologies like Formula 1 to try and make the bikes 30 percent lighter. Everything that can be done for safety is, in my opinion, the main focus to have in the future.

FG: Dorna has constituted a group of highly qualified people who travel to racetracks all around the world. The attention paid to racetracks is certainly rising, just like the one paid to details. Clearly, where there is speed there is danger, but I have to say that many things have been done for safety.

It's obviously not enough and will never be, but the attention from everyone – the organiser, the teams, the constructors, the riders, the manufacturers - is substantial. A fantastic job has been done and there still is much to do.

LC: From my point of view, there should be some kind of gentlemen's agreement for all rules to go towards safety – and environment, I'd say.

FG: Absolutely, safety and environment go hand in hand.

LC: These are two values that could also re-position MotoGP, in order to sell it as a product. Because the problem is that we're considered lunatics that put lives at risk.

FG: In reality, we are researchers, because we're developing the product for the future. The information we gather is used as a base for tomorrow's bikes, for them to be less polluting and safer in terms of tyres, suspensions, brakes…

I'm very proud that I'm able to take part in the development of what will be tomorrow's bike.

LC: There is a motto which I sometimes think about and I reckon everyone should reflect on: riding against others must be our sport, riding for others must be our mission.

Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal, Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Gresini Racing Team Team Principal
Lucio Cecchinello, Team LCR Honda Team Principal, Fausto Gresini, Aprilia Gresini Racing Team Team Principal

Photo by: Gold and Goose Photography

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