It was a high profile breakup between a star MotoGP rider and his longtime crewchief. Their relationship was over a decade old, during which the two walked nearly in lockstep in racing. The Sepang test this week will be "a new era" for the rider as he goes racing for the first time without his trusted adviser.
This story, by the way, is not about the breakup of Valentino Rossi and Jeremy Burgess.
Alberto Puig was always going to be a difficult fit for HRC's MotoGP's puzzle. Strong-willed and clearly not a people-person, he pushed his agenda above all and that agenda's name was Dani Pedrosa. Puig's over-reaction to Kevin Schwantz's comments last year are a fascinating sketch of the man.
Pedrosa and Puig really were almost one being. Dani has long been Alberto's star project, he's acted as Pedrosa's manager, crewchief and chief adviser. They travel together, eat together and were in almost constant contact. It's an old story I witnessed with my own eyes: after Pedrosa won the 2010 Indy MotoGP race, a photo op comprising of the winner's team and bike were arranged on the front straight. Even though he'd just won a MotoGP race, Pedrosa was seemingly uncomfortable and unable to feel satisfied with his win until Puig arrived for the photo. Prior to that, Pedrosa simply looked around, very agitated, and kept asking "Donde esta Alberto? Tenemos que esperar a Alberto." ("Where is Alberto? We must wait for Alberto.")
At HRC what matters most are a rider's results. Does HRC keep aged, favored old champions on the factory team when they start to slow down? Not really. It's difficult to envision that HRC would keep a Valentino Rossi or Loris Capirossi late in their career.
But it wasn't age that doomed the Puig and Pedrosa pairing at Repsol Honda, it was simply that despite all the finagling, drama and histrionics, two other riders walked into the Repsol Honda team, and walked away with the MotoGP title. When Casey Stoner and Marc Marquez won their MotoGP championships their success doomed Puig's future and may well doom Pedrosa's too. Pedrosa survived the incident with Hayden in '06 and also "boat gate" with few repercussions. But now the political winds are no longer blowing at Pedrosa's back at Repsol Honda as strongly as they once were.
It's just not the way it works at HRC: good riders like Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso were ushered out of the factory Honda MotoGP team on exactly those grounds. Fight for the title or else.
While Pedrosa, up to this point, may be renown as a rider who has come closest to the top level GP title without winning, there is little doubt what most US fans consider his most infamous act: knocking down teammate Nicky Hayden at Estoril in 2006. Where does an act like that originate? Chaz Davies, Leon Camier and Casey Stoner all went through variations of the Alberto Puig school of racing early in their careers and have told stories of Puig telling them that if a competitor is proving tough to pass then you're to "hit him".
So Puig is gone and Pedrosa is now on his own to liaison with his crew and make good on old promises. Yet, he's no spring chicken: Pedrosa will be 29 years old in September. It's rather late to be cutting the apron stringsbut that's exactly what these first tests without his most trusted confidant will feel like.