The “Lorenzo Affair”—the bizarre story of the Spanish rider signing to Honda—has put Ducati in the spotlight around the world. Not for the reason the engineers of his Reparto Corse would have liked, but for the drama surrounding the misunderstanding between Lorenzo and a portion of Ducati’s top management. Let’s call it politics.
This noise plus the credit given to a simple fuel tank cover to explain Jorge’s resounding victory at Mugello completely shadowed the figures that show how much better the 2018 Desmosedici is compared with its predecessor. Putting the numbers from 2018 and 2017 side by side after the Dutch GP, the evidence is undeniable.
2018 to 2017 Desmosedici statistics comparison: 3 vs 2 victories; 1 pole and 2 fast race laps to 0; 83 leading laps to 33. Riders’ points total after Assen: 2018 fewer than 2017
At this point in the season, riders with full factory support –read Dovizioso, Lorenzo and Petrucci—have won 3 races against the 2 of last year; they have obtained one pole position and the fast race lap three times against none of the above in 2017; more astonishing is the comparison of laps made leading the race: 83 to 33. However, when comparing the points obtained by the three riders after the same number of GPs, the sum of these is lower in 2018 than in 2017.
Apart from pure statistics, probably the most significant proof of Ducati’s step forward is their competitiveness at historically adverse tracks like Jerez, Mugello and Assen. Remember that in Spain, Dovizioso and Lorenzo crashed into each other while riding in second and third, and that Dovizioso lost control of his bike at Le Mans while leading. It appears that there is no issue with engineers not doing their job properly.
“I’m really satisfied because I think that we made a real improvement over the winter test,” stated Gigi Dall’Igna when we started our chat inside his truck office at Assen. “I would say even moreso, not only during the winter test, but also with the development that we introduced in the first part of the season…We are quite happy.”
How good do you consider your bike actually to be?
“I think that we have a good balance in terms of performance of the engine and the rideability of the bike in general. Our electronics also perform well. I think that we have a good compromise, which I think is the most important.”
But which area would you underline compared with last year?
“Maybe with the chassis we made some good steps, but also on the rideability of the engine.”
This means electronics or engine, pure mechanic?
“Both – electronics and also engine.”
“I am quite curious to see how this year’s bike will perform at a complicated track like Sachsenring; I’m looking forward to get there”
Having witnessed how much the 2018 Desmosedici has improved Ducati’s performance at traditionally unfavorable circuits like Jerez, Le Mans and Assen, are you excited to get to circuits that historically have been “the worst,” like next week in Sachsenring?
“Yes, I am quite curious. I’m looking forward to getting there.”
Unlike F1, in MotoGP you can’t test future performance through simulators…
“That’s right. It’s possible to do some simulation, but far from the precision they get in F1. The dynamics of a MotoGP bike, of any bike in general, are a lot different than car dynamics.”
I imagine you heard Marc Marquez after the race in Barcelona saying that riding behind Lorenzo looked like he was riding a Yamaha. How do you understand this statement? Is this good? Is this bad? Has Ducati turned into a Yamaha?
“I would say that our bike at the moment is quite good for a lot of different riding styles and also different tracks. It’s important to give the riders the tools for them to show their potential independently how and where they ride. I think that we have a good compromise.”
“Has our bike has turned into a Yamaha? I would say that at the moment it’s quite good for a lot of different riding styles and also different tracks; it’s been a triumph for everybody that works in the Ducati MotoGP project.”
The other day I heard a statement from an Italian colleague that attracted my attention. He said that Lorenzo’s major success was not his victories in Mugello and Barcelona, but having been able to “to make a Yamaha out of the Ducati” because this is what he has wanted since day one of his arrival to the Ducati garage. Do you share this sentiment?
“What I think is that Jorge’s success is a triumph for everybody that works on the Ducati MotoGP project. And I have to add that in the end, what is really important and what really matters is to get these results.”
You just mentioned the people who work on Ducati’s MotoGP project. I have to confess that it is because of these people I asked to have a few minutes to chat with you. After hearing for days that Lorenzo’s winning click was related to a fuel tank cover, I wanted to ask you about how the engineers at the Reparto Corse feel? Do they feel it’s a fair statement?
“First, I have to say that we talk and have talked too much about that. Second, that fuel tank cover is only one of probably 100 improvements that we did on the bike. It’s obvious that just with a different fuel tank shape we could not get these kinds of results. It’s the complete package that gave Lorenzo the possibility to fight for the victory.”
“It’s obvious that with only a different fuel tank shape, we couldn’t have achieved the results we had in Mugello and Barcelona; that fuel tank cover is only one of probably 100 improvements that we did on the bike.”
In your opinion, how much of Lorenzo’s “click” has been mental and how much technical?
“For sure the head of the rider is one of the most important things for him to perform, this is clear. But the head of the rider has to be “fed” with the technical evolutions of his bike. If the rider feels confident when he rides the bike, his head works positively and he starts to improve, improve, improve, and at the end you can have such results like we had at Barcelona and Mugello. So the technical development of the bike and the mental shape of the rider develop together.”
I’ve gone over Lorenzo’s quotes since the beginning of the season. It was an interesting exercise because I could see that a big switch happened between the Texas GP and Jerez. After Austin, his moral was very low, but already after the first practice day in Jerez his speech changed radically. The 2018 Desmosedici started to perform well in Jerez, Le Mans, to win in Mugello, Barcelona… If I remember right, between these two races Pirro did a test in Mugello. Was there any link between these two facts? Was Michelle’s test responsible of that turning point?
“Could be… Honestly, it could be.”
Talking about Lorenzo, it’s a must to ask about the mess (because it has been a mess) around his dismissal from Ducati, or better said, his signing with Honda. Weeks have passed since all this came out in Mugello, but it’s like a never ending bleeding wound that keeps filling the headlines. The last chapter is Jorge saying that Ducati knew since the very beginning what he needed and that if took 18 month to get it, it could have been because of two reasons: one, the lack of capability of their engineers or, two, Ducati put other priorities in front of his needs… What do you think of all this?
“…I think everybody should talk a lot less…Everybody…There is no story anymore, finished, end. A page has been turned. We all should look forward. We have a job to do and this is what we are concentrating on.”
Certainly what goes on in the head of the rider is one of the most important things for his performance, but he has to be continually “fed” the technical evolutions of the bike.
Will Lorenzo get full support despite knowing he will be a major rival next season?
“Of course he will, the same way he has gotten full support since the first day he arrived on our team. And don’t forget that Jorge is still a big investment for our company and it would be stupid in many aspects not to do our maximum for him to succeed. We will support him exactly the same way we will support Dovizioso.”
How is Dovizioso doing? Andrea has switched from the spotlight position he had last year back to being the “shadow”. How does he feel?
“Honestly speaking, I see him really well. Dovi has been really competitive in most of the races. He won the first race and at Mugello he finished second…Yes, true, he crashed twice, once in Le Mans when he was in the lead position and also in Barcelona when he was third.”
Don’t you fear that his confidence could be affected by these episodes?
“I don’t think so. He understands why he made these mistakes, which is important.”
After the Barcelona failure, Dovizioso has insisted that the tire behavior has changed compared with last season. That behind the mistakes he had, he was trying to ride like he did last year, which in his opinion is not possible with the current tires…despite Michelin ensuring the equality between this year’s and last year’s tires. What’s your opinion?
“Honestly, I think that the rear tires are not the same as last year’s, although, as you said, they are the same on the paper. My feeling is that something changed. I’m talking about a small change, not a big change.”
Do you have data on this, or is it just feeling from the rider?
“We can see it in the data that we have; there is the feeling but also some numbers [to support it].”
As an engineer, you can work on electronics, you can experiment in the wind tunnel, you can do whatever, but in the end it all depends on these two black rubber donuts fitted on your bike. How frustrating is that?
“Look, I’ve been doing this job since 1992 and it’s long time ago, basically from the beginning. I have realized that the most important thing on the bike are the tires. So it’s not something new; it’s ‘take what you get or don’t play.’ What you have to do is understand the tires and adapt the bike to them.”
So when it comes to design a bike, the starting point should be the tires?
Was the current tire issue the same with Bridgestone?
“No, the situation at the end of the Bridgestone era was more stable. But I expect that at a certain moment we will have the same stability also with Michelin. When you start with something new, like it was the case of Michelin, you have to find out which is the good compromise and this entails having to change things; this is normal. I think that starting from now, the situation has to be more stable.”
“On the paper for sure Lorenzo and Dovi look like a more important team than Dovi and Petrucci, but all my life I have always tried to do the best with what I have. It will not be different next season.”
Let’s talk about the future. Let’s start with 2019: we have Honda with Marc and Lorenzo and Crutchlow; we have Rossi, Viñales and possibly Pedrosa at Yamaha; we have Dovizioso and … All these riders are MotoGP winning riders. Does it look very exciting on the Ducati side?
“On paper, Lorenzo and Dovi look like a far more important team than Dovi and Petrucci, but all my life I always have tried to do the best with what I had. It won’t be different next season. As he had showed last year, Dovizioso is a rider that can win the championship and I’m quite convinced that Petrucci is a good rider. Is there anybody who said at the beginning of last year that Dovizioso would perform how he did? I think that we will be competitive, that we can fight, this is the most important thing.”
What about Miller and Bagnaia? Do you trust them?
“I not only trust them, I think that these riders can be the future of Ducati.”