"You do not fight to win races, you fight to be in the Top 10"
Cycle World discussed several topics with Paolo Ciabatti, sports director of Ducati Corse. In this season the MotoGP brand has created probably the most advanced Desmosedici in its 15-year history. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo won seven Grand Prix together and apart from three or four exceptions, there were no tracks in the championship where Ducati could not claim the prize.
In this work, there is the merit of test pilot Casey Stoner. Two-time MotoGP champion helped the brand in 2016–2018. Last season help was very limited: Stoner arrived only for the February tests in Malaysia. For many months he was inactive while his operated shoulder was healing. This summer the parties decided that the cooperation would not continue. It did not go very smoothly, but this did not affect the friendship:
“I left Ducati in 2007 and returned in 2013, so I didn’t work with Casey at all when he drove for us. When we had the opportunity to return Casey back, the GP 2015 – it was a new bike, designed under the guidance of Gigi Dallinha – was already out. We showed the potential of the bike, because we were constantly on the podium or close to it.
“We have a very good tester rider, Michele Pyrro, who does a great job. Obviously, we cannot expect Casey to do the same kind of work. First, Casey lives in Australia. Michele lives just 40 minutes from Ducati. Casey is a fantastic rider, incredibly talented. In January 2016 he was able to ride a bike and immediately became as fast as the top riders. He is supersensitive in terms of understanding the bike.
“Our success is a combination of factors: Michele's hard work, on which preliminary development; Casey's extreme talent, who sits on a bike and immediately comes to the limit; plus the work we did with the factory riders.
“Casey is not the simplest person in terms of his character, which is very black and white, but I think we had mutual understanding and mutual respect with each other. This is my treasure forever".
From Lorenzo, the team waited much more than from Stoner. In 2016, Ducati lured out of the Yamaha defending MotoGP champion. With him, the brand wanted to return the title, but instead it was in the foreground Andrea Dovitzioso: in two years Desmo Dovi scored 10 victories against three in Spartan. Lorenzo didn’t complete task #1, but there were reasons for that:
“When we signed Jorge, we clearly said: now, if we do not succeed, we have no excuses. We took the world champion and paid him very well, that is, waited for him to compete from day one, which did not happen. The first season was rather disappointing and very difficult, but Jorge never gave up, he always drove himself and our engineers to improve the bike.
“The result is GP 2018. GP 2017 was a very good bike – we won six races with Andra and competed with Marquez until the last stage in Valencia – but I still think the bike of the 18th is better. This year we could have won a couple more races if we had no unnecessary accidents. They also became the reason why we could not come to the last stage, still fighting for the title.
“I think the victory in Mugello was a combination of factors. Of course, Jorge modified his riding style. It was visible in Austria. Jorge was never clearly tough. If you watch the race at the Red Bull Ring, it really fought - hard, on the brakes, - with Marquez. Jorge Jorge, that after so many years, being a smooth rider on the Yamaha, was able to change his riding style.
“On the other hand, we improved the bike. Everyone is talking about a gas tank with Mugello, but the tank was just an extra ingredient. That was a combination of an improved bike, Jorge's motivation on the ring, which he knows very well, and the fact that we already knew that we would take different roads at the end of the season.
“It was a perfect way to show that he is a champion, as he says, and this is true, so he was able to win at Ducati. His two years at Ducati would not have been so good without success. In Mugello, he won the perfect way, two weeks later he repeated it in Barcelona, and again, after a hard battle with Marquez in Austria. I think he could win a couple more races, but we lost a little time in injury in Thailand".
Having lost the racer of the level of Lorenzo, the mark has definitely not become stronger, but this may give an advantage to Andrea Dovizioso: with Danilo Petrucci it is unlikely to reach the critical moments. The team will not have to extinguish fires and firemen, as was the case with Dovhicioso and Lorenzo – pilots with almost 20 years of confrontation:
“When both riders compete, as they did last year, we probably lose opportunities because they are fighting each other. Sometimes this situation is not perfect if you want to focus on a set of points as big as possible when trying to beat Marquez, who basically does not make mistakes.
“Here we have such an idea for the next year. I say this with all due respect to Danilo, but Danilo will have to grow one more step. In the factory team with all the support of unnecessary engineers and with maturity, he will have the opportunity to always be in the Top 5. But of course, his main target is not to beat Andrea. If he has the opportunity to win the Grand Prix, we will be more than happy, but he is not in the same position as Jorge and Andrea".
Alvaro Bautista from Angel Nieto Team checked the Lorenzo motorcycle under combat conditions: he replaced a colleague in the Australian GP when he dropped out of the championship with an injury. Among other things, Bautista was surprised by the gearbox: it works unusually (because of it the pilot fell three times on the weekend), but very smoothly compared to Desmosedici 2017. Its advantage is almost not felt, but the factory teams have no extra advantages. The so-called DST EVO (evolution of the Ducati seamless gearbox) is very difficult, it is not given to private teams:
“One of the reasons why Alvaro could not beat the podium to the last lap was that he made a mistake on switching several times. I can't get into the details. First of all, if I knew the details, I wouldn’t tell you. Secondly, I don't know... But I know, this is a more complicated checkpoint that needs some kind of adjustment during the weekend. The riders need to get used to it, because it does not have the same direct feeling as from more traditional seamless gearboxes.
“World Cup winnings are our only target. We were second last year, second in this. We want to win! We know this is difficult, because Honda here is historically one of the best motorcycles. This is a huge company with great resources, and their riders won five of the last six championships. Mark is extremely talented, so we need very good riders and any possible improvements to help them fight.
“That is why we are doing things that seem to mean nothing, but only by picking up half a tenth here, half a tenth there, you get what you need in order to basically fight Marquez and Honda. This is what you expect from the factory team. If we were a satellite team, it would simply mean that time and money are wasted. And this is technically difficult, because you do not fight to win races; you fight to be in the Top 10”.