Friday, February 17, 2012

Baker’s Dozen: Sepang MotoGP test

Phil Baker worked with MotoGP world champion Nicky Hayden (2004-10) and race winner Chris Vermeulen (2007-10) before setting up his own company, SA 1 Management. 

The US-based Brit currently manages Factory Yamaha MotoGP star Ben Spies and reigning Moto2 world champion Stefan Bradl, who is stepping up to MotoGP this season with LCR Honda. 

Got a question for Phil? Simply post your questions for the next instalment of Baker's Dozen within the comments section below... 

1. Q: 
What were the most interesting things, in your opinion, to emerge from the Sepang MotoGP test? 

Phil Baker: 
Everyone was waiting to see where the Ducatis were in relation to the Hondas and Yamahas. Although Ducati and Valentino put on a positive face, I was personally disappointed to see Vale over a second back and a distant fifth to the factory Hondas and Yamahas. 

I was also surprised at how visible the straight-line speed difference was between the manufacturer MotoGP bikes and the CRT bikes. I fear that we are set for two races in one this season, as the gap between the two is very significant at present.

I was really impressed with the way that Stefan Bradl adapted to his first time on the 1000cc bike, gradually closing the gap down to a second to Valentino in fifth. 

2. Q: 
Why does Yamaha have no title sponsor for its Factory team? How important is it to have one? 

Phil Baker: 
I am extremely impressed with Yamaha's approach on this. Unlike other teams in the past, they will not undersell the title sponsorship position. This ultimately undervalues the whole paddock and makes a mockery of such partnerships. It is important to have a title sponsor, especially if you are a smaller satellite team, but I like Yamaha's approach of settling for associate sponsors and looking in-house to subsidise their program, while at the same time constantly looking for the title sponsor. 

3. Q: 
How much are MotoGP riders paid? 

Phil Baker: 
This ranges greatly. I don't think it is any secret that Valentino sits at the top by quite some margin and then it dwindles down to some riders having to earn the majority of their money through personal sponsors. The climate for rider salaries has changed dramatically in the past three years and the knock-on effect drips down throughout the whole paddock. I can't give specific figures, but I can say that I believe that they all deserve every penny they earn. 

4. Q: 
What do you think about the CRT idea? 

Phil Baker: 
I understand the concept, but having been involved with the sport back in the 990cc days, I have to say it's not my preference. I understand the current climate requires us to look at cheaper and more affordable methods of racing, but this is the elite level of the sport and there is nothing like seeing a 'real' GP bike sliding through a corner. 

5. Q: 
Do you know what the 2012 Yamaha livery will look like? 

No, I don't. They keep this very close to their chest. I'm as interested as anyone else to see it. In fact, being the manager of two riders on different makes of motorcycles restricts me from being privy to information that might be advantageous to the opposition. 

6. Q: 
Can MotoGP ever be as big as F1? 

Phil Baker: 
Absolutely it can, but it has a few steps to make. MotoGP has a huge following already, but F1 has the edge in terms of wider global reach and overall presentation of the sport to the fans and, just as importantly, the potential fans who might be tuning-in for the first time. 

In the States, the sport is on Speed TV and therefore only broadcast to those already converted. Until the sport is on mainstream TV with commentators prepared to introduce the main 'players' and show more of what is happening behind the scenes, with commentary that educates at the same time as building-up interest, then we are set to remain in a similar vein. 

Hats off to Dorna though for looking and working on these issues, which they are very aware of. 

7. Q: 
Which of the celebrity visitors to a grand prix impressed you the most? 

Phil Baker: 
This would have to go to Brad Pitt. He is so passionate about the sport. It's interesting to think that although he is a hero to many, his heroes are the MotoGP riders and he loves to be in pit lane talking to the riders and crew members. He impressed me the most because he was there as a true fan, not just as a celebrity looking for air time. 

8. Q: 
How many races should MotoGP hold in Europe? Where else should it be? 

Phil Baker: 
Having more than a quarter of the races in Spain and Portugal is far too excessive in most people's eyes, and the sooner we can take three of those races to new countries the better. Thank goodness that we are going to South America next year, but we shouldn't rest there. We need to be looking at Russia, India, South Africa, Brazil and China once more. After all, it is a 'world' championship. 

9. Q: 
Do you think that WSBK is too similar to MotoGP in the eyes of those outside the sport? 

Phil Baker: 
No I don't think so. You just have to take a look from above at the paddock of MotoGP compared to WSBK and you can see the difference from the motorhomes and hospitality through to the team trucks and garage appearance. As far as the racing goes, WSBK can be more exciting at times, and when you have a grid of 25 to 30 bikes, this is inevitable. But from my view, the sound of the bikes, the speed and the overall skill of the MotoGP riders is a step above the rest. 

10. Q: 
How can MotoGP attract more sponsors? 

Phil Baker: 
This is the golden nugget! When I first moved to GP I was shocked at the relatively small number of global companies that were heavily investing in the sport. That number has now diminished even further and in my view the sport needs to develop its social media technology and expand its reach by focusing on core groups. These core groups can be the perfect demographic for large global companies who will then become involved. 

Unfortunately, there is no magic trick to make this transformation, but in my view, a company that spends 20 million dollars in MotoGP compared to 200 million dollars in F1 will ultimately end up with much better value in MotoGP. It's something I have often discussed with American colleagues who have just had the Superbowl, where companies pay 3.5 million dollars for a 30-second commercial. I tell them that the viewership of MotoGP equates to about 18 Superbowls in a year!

11. Q: 
Why didn't Ben Spies sign for the Suzuki MotoGP team for 2009? 

Phil Baker: 
At the time Loris Capirossi already had a contract in place and I was managing Chris Vermeulen. Chris had a contract that basically carried over for another year, as long as his position in the championship was at a certain level. It was. That meant Suzuki had three riders lined up for 2009 - two who already had contracts in place. Unless there was to be a third bike from Suzuki, they were already committed to their rider line-up for the following year. 

12. Q: 
Who is your pick for the 2012 MotoGP title? 

Phil Baker: 
Casey certainly looks very strong and after only 50 laps of testing was half-a-second faster than anyone else, but Pedrosa made an interesting comment when he said that these bikes required more physical energy to ride fast. This might well give the advantage back to the bigger riders, such as Ben and Valentino over a race distance. I think we will see a much closer championship than last year with Ben right in the mix. I also think that tyre wear will play a critical role and Ben is very good at preserving his. It bodes for interesting times. 

13. Q: 
What about the British riders? 

Cal has shown how good and strong he can be now he has a bigger bike. Having come from the 1000cc he can adapt back to his old style and I think he is going to have a great season. He looks in great shape and will hopefully surprise a few, now that he knows the tracks that much better. 

Looking at Moto2, the one who impresses me the most is Scott Redding. I think he has the potential to be a big star. If he can keep his head down and focus purely on the racing, then he could very well come through and win the championship this year. Bradley Smith is such a worker and has a great attitude to his racing. Time will tell if he has the talent to equal his work ethic. All in all, it makes for a really interesting year of Moto2! 


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