until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


‘I’m not angry’ – Alex Briggs on the break-up of Rossi’s crew

by Simon Patterson
10 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The final round of the 2020 MotoGP season at the Portuguese Grand Prix last month marked the end of Valentino Rossi’s time as a factory rider.

The nine-time world champion bowed out of the works Yamaha team and steps down to satellite squad Petronas for next year.

However, it also marked a potentially more significant move for the 41-year-old, with the departure of some of the crew who have been by his side since he made his debut in the premier class with Honda in 2000.

Rossi inherited the largely Australian squad who had previously worked with Daryl Beattie and then five-time champion Mick Doohan at Repsol Honda.

That team of people has remained with him through switches first to Yamaha, then to Ducati and back to Yamaha – but will not follow him to Petronas in 2021.

Instead, with the independent squad bosses keen not to disrupt the outfit they’ve assembled around Fabio Quartararo, Rossi will be joined only by his crew chief and data engineer.

And while some of Rossi’s old crew will remain a part of the factory Yamaha outfit, long-serving mechanics Alex Briggs and Brent Stevens will bow out and leave the MotoGP paddock behind.

“I’m not unhappy, or angry, or disappointed” :: Alex Briggs

Some fans initially expressed shock and disappointment at the news that Briggs and Stevens wouldn’t be joining Rossi next year, but the veteran mechanic told The Race in an exclusive interview that he has accepted that the future will bring something very different for him.

“I’m not unhappy, or angry, or disappointed, or anything like that,” Briggs said when he sat down with us.

“In racing, things like this happen all the time. People come and go, and I’ve been really lucky to have been here for the time I have.

Alex Briggs 2013

“I’m not disappointed, but I’m sad in some ways because of the people I won’t see week in and week out.

“It’s hard to know what you’re going to do tomorrow, but that’s the feeling I had then and I still do now.

“Since Jerez [the opening races in July] I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to do and what comes next, and I’m at ease with it.

“Lockdown at the start of the year was amazing for me. I was reading Twitter seeing all the poor people in England and Italy and feeling terrible for them, and I was having a great time. I hadn’t been at home that long since I was 15 years old maybe.

“The only difference now will be that I need to do a little bit of work here and there to keep some money flowing in, but I have enough fingers in enough pies and I just have to push them in a little deeper.”

While he might have come to peace with the news that he won’t be in the paddock in 2021, Briggs also conceded that it wasn’t exactly the way that he wanted to bow out.

Having been with Rossi since his debut season on a 500cc two-stroke in 2000, the Australian admitted that he would have liked to have seen out Rossi’s career to the end.

Valentino Rossi Alex Briggs

“Maybe when I look back, I would have liked to think that when he stops it would have been a great time for me to end too, but that’s just not the way it is,” said Briggs.

“Then again, if I had an extremely good offer from someone else I might have considered to stay – but what is a good offer? It’s not just money, it’s the conditions, it’s whether I would be able to use what I know.

“To just be a mechanic and not use any knowledge but my mechanical nuts and bolts wouldn’t be enough for me to stay anymore.

“There’s racing knowledge as well that I would have enjoyed giving to young riders or young mechanics.

“South Africa 2004 is the pinnacle of everything of course” :: Alex Briggs

“We had a few meetings back in Jerez in his [Rossi’s] motorhome about what was going on. He was trying to keep us together as a group, as you’d imagine, but it just didn’t really work out.

“I told him that if I wasn’t going to work for him, I was going to stop anyway, and that was true barring something really special.

“Initially we had meetings and he talked about what was happening, and then following that there was a possibility of something else changing, thanks to [Rossi’s long-time associate] Uccio [Salucci].

“He did a bit of negotiating, but in the end it just didn’t happen in the way people would have liked it to, from a story point of view.”

While it might not quite be the ending Briggs had planned, there will be lots of good memories for him to look back on from his storied career.

“The best things are the memories of all the people I’ve worked with and all the stories,” he said.

“I can’t even remember all the stories. I was talking to my wife last night on the phone and she said ‘you should talk about this, or talk about that’ and I had forgotten about it! After 28 years and 465 races, it’s easy to forget some stories.

Alex Briggs 2008

“It’s mainly the memories of the fun things we had done. When we win races, people always think that’s the highlight. It is, but I always feel happier for the rider than I do for me.

“I’m happy when the bike finishes and the wheel doesn’t fall off, and I transfer a lot of my emotion to the rider.

“But South Africa 2004 is the pinnacle of everything of course.”

Valentino Rossi Yamaha Welkom MotoGP 2004

Briggs was one of the key staff who joined Rossi in his switch from the dominant Honda to the then-unproven Yamaha, and that story ended in triumph with victory at Welkom in his debut with his new team.

It was also a move that cemented the status of Rossi’s ultra-loyal crew.

That was something of a novelty at that point, with mechanics rarely – if ever – following a rider to a new team.

“That’s the worst thing you can ever do to a rider – tell them they don’t matter” :: Alex Briggs

Briggs said that the whole team was ready for a change, for many of the same reasons that Rossi himself decided to move.

“It was dead easy to move to Yamaha,” he recalled.

“We had started to grow a little frustrated as a team with Honda. When we first joined, they were very much a team where everyone was going in the same direction and the engineers and the mechanics were all going in the same direction, but over time that evolved into engineers and the garage; two groups.

Valentino Rossi Honda Valencia MotoGP 2003

“He obviously felt that as a rider too – you’ve read all the things he said about Honda giving him the feeling that the bike was so good and it wasn’t so much up to the rider.

“That’s the worst thing you can ever do to a rider – tell them they don’t matter. Do that, and you need to find a new rider – and that’s what happened.

“We didn’t tell anyone, really. We got to Valencia and JB [crew chief Jeremy Burgess] went into a meeting with the Japanese, came back into the garage and said ‘right, I’m off!’

“They called in the next person, which was me, I went into the bus, I talked to the boss and told him, and you could tell he was thinking ‘shit.’ We went one by one and told him.

Mar 31 : How Rossi and Yamaha defied the odds in 2004

“The only guy who wasn’t working with us at the time was Brent. He was working with Carlos [Checa] at Yamaha, and he had come to us and told us that he was thinking about leaving because he wanted to work with us.

“We got on well together, we had done a few airport trips together, and he wanted to be in our group. We said ‘mate, don’t move! Stay exactly where you are!’

“Then we negotiated to get him onto our side of the garage so that he could become the manual for the bike. Racing bikes don’t come with a manual, and he was our connection to the past and how things were done.”

Nearly a decade later, the crew again moved with the rider when Rossi switched from Yamaha to Ducati.

Alex Briggs at Ducati

While many might see the time there as the low point of his career, it’s actually a time that Briggs remembers not quite with fondness but without any regrets.

“In my mind it was as easy to make the move to Ducati, because I didn’t really know where we would go at Yamaha if he left,” he said.

“They were going to give us a two-year deal, and we thought that maybe that meant our careers would end after two years – but it could have ended after two more at Yamaha too.

“I’m not at all famous or special, it’s just fame by association” :: Alex Briggs

“We had the romantic feeling that we would do the same thing, and if the circumstances had been a little different I think we could have.

“But it didn’t quite work out that way. Still, I’ve got no regrets.

“My biggest frustration wasn’t actually Ducati – it was a few years ago at Yamaha, when I thought we had a rider and a motorbike that could win races and possibly even a championship, and we didn’t.

“I found that extremely frustrating. There are reasons that I think we could have done better, and those things could have been fixed.”

A key member of the Rossi inner circle and perhaps the most accessible thanks to his active social media presence, Briggs has cut something of a niche for himself in his time with Rossi as possibly MotoGP’s most famous mechanic.

One of the friendliest people in the paddock as well, he’s quick to revert to a little self-deprecation when it comes to describing his Twitter fame, despite building up well over 50,000 followers on the platform.

“I’m not at all famous or special, it’s just fame by association,” he said.

“A lot of people are dead keen to find out a little more about him [Rossi] or to get some insight, and I’ve been a way to do that.

Alex Briggs

“I started to enjoy showing people another view or another angle of the sport they love.

“Initially when my friend Suzi Perry started me on Twitter I didn’t even understand it, and I only continued with it because I remember when I was a young motocross rider as a kid, I would do everything I could to find out what other people were doing – not just the riders. When I read technical things about how to do things like lockwire on your grips, I loved it.

“I thought that there is going to be someone exactly like that who would love to see inside. I was starving for it as a kid, and I knew there would be someone else.

“It quickly became obvious because I ended up talking to a lot of people and really enjoying it. Some people think it’s a cesspit, but I never see that, because I’ve just created a place where people are happy.”

Dec 08 : MotoGP's mad year: 2020 season review

While his social media output might change slightly as he switches from working with Valentino Rossi to reducing his golfing handicap and manufacturing his own clubs next year, he also concedes that he’s likely to still pop up now and again in the paddock if time permits as one chapter ends and another starts.

“I’ve already been emotional a couple of times talking to people, just because it’s ending,” he said.

“It’s not a sad thing, and I don’t know why – I think it’s just knowing that it won’t happen again. It’s only sad because it was good – if it wasn’t good you wouldn’t be sad.

“A lot of people have told me on Twitter that it’s sad and it’s upsetting – but it isn’t for me.

Valentino Rossi Yamaha Portimao MotoGP 2020

“I’ve always had two great lives, one at home and one working here. Now I’m just going to have one great life at home. I almost can’t wait for that aspect of it.

“But I think I’m going to be busier than some expect. A few people have asked me to do some public speaking, some events, maybe even a small possibility of some guest appearances on TV.

“Let’s wait and see – some of them might happen, but I don’t need them to happen.

“If I’m just working two days a week at the golf club, I’ll be happy.”

In part two of our exclusive interview with Alex Briggs later this week, he reveals the inside story of what Valentino Rossi has been like to work with for 20 years

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