Wrooom Tuesday Round Up - Day 1 Of Ducati's Long Road To Recovery

The first step on a long road. That's how you might characterize the second day of Ducati's preseason launch event at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy. Especially when seen from a distance, the result of only a select group of journalists being invited to attend the launch, and our names not being among them.

It may be the first step, but there is no doubt that it is a big one. The many new faces at Wrooom are testament enough to that. The numerous changes within Ducati Corse and especially the Ducati MotoGP team have been well documented, but at Wrooom, the scale of the change is made visible. The overall impression is of a team which is slightly less Italian, but also one of vast experience. New Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier may not be much older than Filippo Preziosi, the man he replaces, but the grizzled veteran Paolo Ciabatti, taking the place of a more youthful Alessandro Cicognani, highlights the seriousness with which Ducati, under their new owners Audi are taking the whole affair.

That is reflected in the entire approach. The bike unveiled on Tuesday night is largely unchanged from the machine tested at Valencia and Jerez by Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso, with no new bike due for the start of the season. This, Andrea Dovizioso told the press, was an inevitable result of making so many major changes to the team and the senior management: it takes time to get the organizational structure sorted before the team and engineers are ready to start making significant changes to the bike, based on a complete understanding of the machine.

Continuity, and a slower, more analytical approach appear to be the new course which Ducati intends to steer in MotoGP. The factory has seen the chassis of the Desmosedici change radically several times in the past four years, from the steel trellis frame of the 2007 bike to the carbon fiber subframe of 2008/2009, to the larger aluminium subframe used towards the end of the 2011 season, and then two very different types of aluminium perimeter frames for 2012 onwards. All these changes have made it difficult for Ducati to collect and analyze a stable set of data, Gobmeier told Speedweek.de, the different chassis making it difficult to compare data. The bike in its current form was not a million miles off the mark, what is needed is to make the parts work together better, and turn them into a more consistent whole.

The bike had two main problems which was Ducati's highest priority to fix, Nicky Hayden said. The first is understeer - a problem which has plagued the bike for a long time, and which sapped the confidence of Valentino Rossi while he was at the Italian factory - and the second, related problem is getting the bike to turn better. Both problems meant that riders spend too much time on the edge of the tire, unable to pick the bike up early, with subsequent heavy tire wear. Add in an aggressive response on the first touch of the throttle, and managing tires becomes a significant issue.

Gobmeier is due to reveal more of the details of Ducati's plans on Wednesday, but it is clear that much of the work will be focused on the engine management, using electronics, to make the bike much easier to ride and to handle. "It's clear that it isn't a case of building one specific new part, and we're running at the front again," Gobmeier told Speedweek. Instead, it is a matter of making a more thorough analysis and developing parts in a more focused and concentrated fashion. Too many changes had been made over the past couple of years, and made too fast and without sufficient consideration, Gobmeier said.

The past two years were a constant topic of conversation at Wrooom. Valentino Rossi's two-year stint at Ducati hangs over the event like Banquo's ghost at the feast. The failure of the nine-time world champion to be competitive on the Ducati raises a host of question marks about his period with the Italian brand. What is clear from all concerned is that the presence of Rossi at Ducati raised the pressure on the factory enormously. That they did their best to respond was clear, Gobmeier hinted, from the variety of new parts which Ducati had produced for the Italian, and the haste with which they were produced. From Gobmeier's point of view, this had often been counterproductive. Too much had been done via a process of 'trial and error', he told Speedweek, and parts had been produced almost at random, without any consistency of focus, and not always in the right direction. The feedback from Rossi and his legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess was not always 100% accurate, Gobmeier hinted to Speedweek, raising the example of Hector Barbera's ability to compete with Rossi on the chassis which Rossi had designated as unusable after riding it at the Valencia test in 2011.

Nicky Hayden saw both positives and negatives to Rossi's time at Ducati. The presence of the Italian had put an incredible amount of pressure on the factory, meaning many changes were made in short order. The switch to the aluminium chassis was one change which Hayden deemed that Rossi had made possible. That change had improved the feedback and feel of the bike, and was a change made necessary by the spec tire. However, the pressure created by the presence of Rossi meant that perhaps too many changes had been made throughout the season, Hayden suggested, leaving Ducati unable sometimes to see the woods for the trees. With Rossi gone, Hayden hoped that his input will play a larger role in the development of the bike.

The one man who could benefit from Valentino Rossi's period at Ducati is the man brought in to replace him. The fact that Rossi had such a hard time on the bike takes a lot of the pressure off him, Andrea Dovizioso told the press. Expectations were lower, leaving the Italian free to concentrate on learning to ride the bike and then trying to improve it. His first year would be dedicated to working to understand the bike, with the hope that this would help Ducati make the machine competitive enough to start challenging for wins, and hopefully a championship in the second year of his contract. "This is a long-term project," Dovizioso reiterated.

It was the long-term commitment to the project which had convinced Dovizioso to make the move to Ducati. He had spoken at length with both Filippo Preziosi and Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio, and they had persuaded him that it was the right move. Dinner with new Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier had reinforced that impression, Dovizioso said.

The loss of Valentino Rossi did have another major effect on Ducati's MotoGP team. At the unveiling of the bikes, it was immediately clear that sponsors had fled the marque, not just because of Rossi's departure, but perhaps also because of the two difficult years just passed. Insurance multinational Generali is missing from the fairings of the factory team, as is power company Enel. Italian site GPOne estimates the financial cost of losing Generali and Enel at some seven million euros a season, and fashion brand Diesel is also absent from the bike. Just how great a financial blow the loss of sponsorship is is open to debate, however. Valentino Rossi was rumored to have been offered 17 million euros to stay with Ducati for 2013, and though Ducati have Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone under contract, the salaries of the Pramac team, combined with the wages of Andrea Dovizioso (probably in the region of four million euros a year) still leave Ducati likely to come out ahead of the game.

On Wednesday, Bernhard Gobmeier speaks to the press about the engineering direction which Ducati will be taking over the next year. No doubt he will also address the degree to which Audi will assist, and perhaps hint at how much patience the German car manufacturer will show with Ducati. What Ducati do expect are more podiums than 2012, Gobmeier told Speedweek. The aim is to be competing for the podium every week, he said. There is clearly still some way to go to achieve that goal.

The first step on a long road. That's how you might characterize the second day of Ducati's preseason launch event at Madonna di Campiglio in Italy. Especially when seen from a distance, the result of only a select group of journalists being invited to attend the launch, and our names not being among them.It may be the first step, but there is no doubt that it is a big one. The many new faces at Wrooom are testament enough to that. The numerous changes within Ducati Corse and especially the Ducati MotoGP team have been well documented, but at Wrooom, the scale of the change is made visible. The overall impression is of a team which is slightly less Italian, but also one of vast experience. New Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier may not be much older than Filippo Preziosi, the man he replaces, but the grizzled veteran Paolo Ciabatti, taking the place of a more youthful Alessandro Cicognani, highlights the seriousness with which Ducati, under their new owners Audi are taking the whole affair.

Comments

More fodder for the great 'developer' debate

"The feedback from Rossi and his legendary crew chief Jeremy Burgess was not always 100% accurate, Gobmeier hinted to Speedweek, raising the example of Hector Barbera's ability to compete with Rossi on the chassis which Rossi had designated as unusable after riding it at the Valencia test in 2011."

Post-hoc justification or candid insight? The motoGp world awaited with bated breath the opportunity to compare Rossi and Stoner on the same bike. That evaluation is nowhere near complete, but dribbles of information continue to emerge. There never will be a definitive answer and the pairing of those two as protagonists will remain as one of the fascinating undercurrents of motorcycle racing for at least as long as the Agostini vs Hailwood debate has lasted.

Total votes: 74

Loss Leaders

Last week David's article concerning supplier price caps resulted in a spirited discussion of MotoGP's economy. Someone called Brembo and Ohlins' effort loss leaders.

If reports on other news sites is accurate, that Ducati is "unveiling" last year's bike at this year's event, beyond being contemptuous for David as a journalist, their riders that risk their CVs and those of us who support the game through Normgshire's notion of "fansumerism" this is an indication to me that Ducati is not serious about their MGP program and are treating the team as a corporate loss leader. It is insulting.

An interview with Nakamoto of Honda last week highlights that Honda built an entirely new bike mid season with which Dani went on to have a personal best season. Ducati, before Cs27, during with his teammates and after with VR46 has been a rudderless ship floundering for years. The riders, fans and grid deserve better.

That Ducati now says they were moving to quickly when even Casey Stoner had been on record stating that Rossi was suffering from the same delays he suffered from is disingenuous.

I hate to say this as a fan of Nickey Hayden, but his signing with Ducati was a sign of desperation indicating there were few options for him. Andrea has an unchecked ego and mistakenly feels he is worthy of a factory ride and Ducati was the only open door and Ben was just looking for a place to put out the 2012 fire.

Make no mistake, i am not a scorned VR fan with a vendetta over two bad years. Everyone deserves better.

Total votes: 71

Marketing

I remember reading an interview a few years back, in which one of the team principals claimed that the marketing departments had more influence over the minor styling upgrades for the unveil than the racing personnel. If the Ducati has become a monumental embarrassment, and many of the race team management have been replaced, are superfluous marketing optics going to make a difference? What good is a new set of fairings if the bike doesn't turn?

By unveiling last year's bike, Ducati appear to have kicked the marketers out of Corse (perhaps this explains the loss of minor sponsors?) and they will focus on what really matters.

Total votes: 73

Not really looking forward to

Not really looking forward to another season of ducati spin. Optimism whilst maintaining the bikes evolving just sounds like a serious case of denial as it has the last few years. The repercussions for the sport of another seasons failure, and the very real prospect of the sport losing the phillip morris millions should be enough for Dorna to intervene if they can. Perhaps another two yams and hondas would be a serious improvement in the racing.. Not convinced ducati will make it to the end of the season.

Total votes: 78

Let's not be pessimistic...

Plan for the worst; hope for the best.
I prefer to think that the Audi branding here is a sign that they are very much behind the programme. Why associate the brand with failure? It’s a strong message that they want to succeed, and no-one, even Ducati, will get in the way....
They are bound to be asking for time and patience. If Audi had a plan to do one more year and get out if the results didn’t happen, why bring in virtually a complete new team and what must be one of the most expensive structures in the series?
I doubt that the first half of the season will tell us very much we don’t already know/expect. I expect a ‘new’ bike for the second half but the big question is what/whether they can do anything with the engine configuration. Burgess talked about crankcases but the whole 90⁰ issue has to be on the table (I cannot imagine anything being off the table apart from 2 wheels given what’s at stake). Whether it can be as polished or ‘lucky’ as HRC’s efforts last year, time will tell.
They have riders with a varied style, experience, and age range – how that gets factored into the technical deliberations without changing too much too quickly I don’t know. The only way is to refine it down to testing and eliminating as much as possible, letting each rider select his preference, and then see what ‘rises to the top’.Having selected such a team that has to be plan, doesn't it?
The expectations of Hayden aren’t a surprise – he’s the old crew, and even the most motivated rider probably needs some ‘encouragement’ after what he’s been through.
The thing to remember about Rossi is that he left – and Preziosi was moved aside. Blaming the departed is inevitable (and it’s fairly gentle criticism). Rossi/Burgess could only use the parts they were given. It’s pretty clear that they were not given what they asked for when they asked for it. Burgess bemoaned the lack of action/turnaround that the Japanese achieve. Audi must be focused on this aspect if they wish to be seen to influence things correctly. Ducati/Italy has enough successful race/engineering capacity to do most of the rest. The fact that they have settled on the alloy beam frame speaks volumes. Surely the only way to fix that front end (assuming that there will not be a change of tyre rules/choice) is weight distribution….and the heaviest thing that’s bolted into position at present is……

Total votes: 77

Methodical

From reading this article, it sounds like the pressure of having Rossi on the team caused the whole factory to have an anxiety attack. Rossi seemed to have higher highs this year, but he had less consistancy this year. When he did get a higher placing it was higher than last year.

Nicky Hayden, who I call the hardest working racer in Motogp is just ignored. I am sure his input had fallen on deaf ears. Waiting to see how Dovi, Spies, and Iannonne do on this bike.

Back to the methodical. Audi seems to be taking an approach based less on emotion, and more on raw data. More of a Formula 1 like approach. This sounds good to me now, but I will hold my belief until I see it.

Total votes: 65

Translation: "We're screwed."

"...but it is clear that much of the work will be focused on the engine management, using electronics, to make the bike much easier to ride and to handle."

And what choice do they have? Dorna froze engine development for some stupid reason, so I don't even know why Audi's even bothering to try. 1.2 seconds per lap is not something you fix with electronics, and the suggestion that this is their grand plan over there just leaves me shaking my head.

Total votes: 70

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