Every successful MotoGP team has a hard-working director behind the scenes. And Yamaha Factory Racing's Massimo Meregalli may just be one of the busiest men in the paddock in 2011.
Meregalli was appointed Team Director of the Yamaha MotoGP team this year, and works with two of the most talented riders: the reigning champion Jorge Lorenzo and the 2010 Rookie of the Year Ben Spies.
Although Mergalli is new to the MotoGP team, he has vast experience with Yamaha, including being the manager for the Yamaha World Superbike team in 2009 when Spies took the championship in his rookie year.
He spent several years as team manager for the Yamaha Motor Italia Supersport Team, then spent 2005-2010 as TM for the WSBK team before joining the MotoGP crew.
Following is an interview with Mergalli from the Yamaha Factory Racing team:
Q. What are your first impressions having arrived in MotoGP from the World Superbike Championship?
MM: It's very different for sure. There are more people involved in the project here, MotoGP Factory racing is more important so everything is bigger than it was in my past. Having said that, practically working in the garage it's very much the same but as soon as you leave the garage and walk out into the paddock it's a different atmosphere. I was used to sharing information and talking a lot with the other competitors in World Superbike but here it is quite different. I don't know many people yet and I need to change that.
Q. On one side of the garage you have the reigning World Champion, on the other you have the 2010 Rookie of the Year, how is it working with two big talents?
MM. This is the best thing that could happen to me, to work with them is a pleasure. The atmosphere of the team is great. I can't say anything bad about either of them because it's working very well. I'm still getting to know Jorge personally but I get the impression he is a really good kid, very professional and very fast. I know Ben a lot better so I can judge him more. I have to say in the last two years he has grown a lot, already in 2009 he was very focused but I see him now in even better shape, calm and sure about himself and very dedicated to achieving his goals.
Q. As an ex-rider, how different is the racing environment now to when you were riding?
MM: We are talking about completely different worlds, I was riding ten years ago and in a different championship and at a very different level to MotoGP!
Q. Despite this do you bring something valuable to your role as an ex-rider?
MM: From a technical viewpoint no, but that is not my job. I do think that to be an ex-rider gives some added value in the respect that we know how a rider has to be treated. The rider is the most important element of the team, he shouldn't be spoiled but we have to give him all the trust needs and give him an environment within which he can perform to his best. This is the value that a Team Director with riding experience can give to the team in my opinion.
Q. Have you ever ridden a GP bike?
MM: No, never! I live in Monza, very close to the track and there have been times a few years ago when I've walked to the track in the morning through Monza park and thought that I would like to ride a GP bike there, Monza is where I had most of my victories when I was a rider so I have a special feeling for the track.
Q. What does title Team Director mean?
MM: My job is all about the team. When I'm in the office I'm focused on organizing all kinds of things from the logistics of transport to preparing the graphics of the team design for bike and trucks and the pit garage. When I move from the office to the race I am more focused on Ben's corner of the garage and Ben's crew whilst The Team Manager Wilco Zeelenberg looks after the needs of the Jorge's side.
Q. How is it working with Wilco?
MM: Working with Wilco is good, we've know each other for maybe ten years or more. We worked together for Yamaha in different classes when I was managing the Supersport and Superbike teams so we've already shared responsibilities in the past.
Q. Did you ever race against him?
MM: I think for maybe two years, he often tells me he beat me but I do remember a wet race where I overtook him once! He's a very straightforward guy and I like working with him. He did a great job last year with Jorge in his first year in MotoGP with the Yamaha Team.
Q. You're a very loyal Yamaha man with a long history working for the Japanese manufacturer…
MM: I think I signed my first agreement with Yamaha Motor Italia in 1987. There was maybe one year when I rode with Aprilia but apart from that its all been Yamaha. I spend more time with Yamaha than with my family! Fortunately I live very close to the office, Yamaha is part of my life.
Q. Away from the track you continue to train almost as hard as a current rider, why is that?
MM: I love to run and cycle, It doesn't cost me any effort and I find it fun. Sometimes it is difficult for me to stop thinking about my job, I am always thinking about one thing or another at home so I use these activities to have a break for my mind.
Q. Is it something you would like to do professionally?
MM: No, I've never thought about doing anything different from racing. This is my job, my life and my passion. It's hard to say that it's just a job, I am lucky to be in this environment, its automatic for me to put a lot of effort into it without being tired.
Q. What are your plans this year?
MM: Ben Spies, Kevin Schwantz and I are planning a marathon on the 10th of July in the Dolomites, I think it's going to be a really tough one! Ben is going to do the long loop, 140km, I will probably do the short one which is 100km. As you can imagine it's going to be tough in the mountains!
Q. Any races are you looking forward to in particular this year?
MM: Definitely Laguna Seca. When I was managing the Supersport team I was hoping to go there, I started in 2001 and that was the first year they didn't go. Then when I was managing the World Superbike Team Dorna had the rights to race at Laguna and so Superbike went to Miller Motorsports Park at Salt Lake City so I missed out again. Finally this year I get to go! I am attracted to the US, Laguna is a very special circuit and it reminds me a bit of Brands Hatch. For me Brands was the best race in the World Superbike Championship!