Blacklisted by Ducati: MotoGP factory team's PR crew closes door to our reporter


Oh dear, I’m in trouble with the factory Ducati team’s PR people for writing things they don’t like, so I’ve been blacklisted. Boohoo!


Don’t upset the factory Ducati team PR people, or they’ll come chasing after us in their red pyjamas


What’s the point of being a MotoGP journalist? I often think I’d be better employed doing something useful, like being a dustman.

But I love motorcycles, I love motorcycle racing, I love motorcycle racers and I love writing about them all, so here I am and have been since 1988.

In those days when I wanted to interview a rider I’d knock on his motorhome door and arrange a convenient time for a chat. If I wanted to interview an engineer I’d walk into his garage in the evening and fix a good time to come back for a chinwag.

MotoGP is bigger now, so all teams have PR (public relations) staff, through whom you must go to gain access to riders, engineers and other team personnel. These people are mostly helpful, firstly, because they want to maintain good relations with the press and thereby the public and, secondly, because they are usually decent people.

Inevitably there can be friction between the press and PR crews, because we want to find out what’s going on, to write stuff that informs and entertains you, the fans, while they sometimes don’t want us to find out what’s really going on.


Ducati has sometimes closed ranks in attempting to limit information to press


This leads to many amusing incidents between us, the riders and their PR people. Only occasionally do things get a bit ugly, like now…

Towards the end of each season, for the past 25 years or so, I arrange interviews with crew chiefs and engineers from each factory for a chat about the season: what made their bikes winners, or losers, and what they’re going to do make them better for next year.

I’m going through the same process now. Two weeks ago at Motegi I had a fascinating interview with KTM MotoGP project leader Sebastian Risse, who told me lots of stuff I didn’t know. I love learning these things, so I can try to do my job well, by helping fans better understand the racing and therefore enjoy it more.

I’ve got chats booked with engineers from Aprilia, Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha at upcoming races. But not from Ducati.

“The problem with the Ducati PR team is that it’s not just me they’re after”

The Italian manufacturer has refused to allow me to speak to any of its engineers. Throughout my 35 years in MotoGP I’ve written many things that riders, engineers, teams and tyre companies didn’t appreciate. That’s my job, to write what I believe to be right, not to blow smoke up people’s arses.

Michelin is a case in point. It’s a poisoned chalice being MotoGP’s spec tyre supplier, because whoever supplies tyres for the entire grid often gets more criticism than praise. I’ve given Michelin a hard time on several occasions and they don’t hold it against me (much), because I’m only doing my job. Ducati is the first PR crew that’s blacklisted me.

The real problem with the factory Ducati team’s PR people is that it’s not just me they’re after. They seem to be trying to control what MotoGP journalists write, more so than any factory I’ve known.

A colleague recently interviewed Jack Miller. During the chat the journalist asked the Ducati rider about his decision to switch manufacturers in 2023. The PR person sat with them (one-on-one interviews are always accompanied by a PR, voice recorder in hand, in case evidence is needed) didn’t want Miller talking about his plans to race a different motorcycle next year.

Miller then told the PR he would say what he wanted. Full respect to the Aussie, for keeping it real, as always. The interview continued and I can’t wait to read the result when it’s published.

Related article

A few weeks earlier, during the pre-British GP media conference, another colleague asked Ducati’s number-one title hope Pecco Bagnaia a question about his recent drink-driving conviction.

Following the conference the journalist was taken aside and berated by a Ducati PR staffer and later via Whatsapp by another member of the factory team’s PR staff.

It’s important to understand that what riders do away from the tracks isn’t out of limits when it comes to questions from the media. And a top motorcycle racer getting done for drink/driving is a big story, whether Ducati like or not, especially considering the company’s fancy anti-drink-riding marketing campaign.

What’s unusual about MotoGP is that nearly all the journalists that cover the championship are motorcycle-racing fans, so they are part of the paddock family and rarely go digging for dirt.

If MotoGP was a huge deal – like football, Formula 1, tennis or golf – the media centre would be full of national newspaper journalists who wouldn’t be so kind to the sport, whether they write for quality publications or muck-raking tabloids.

On Sunday at Silverstone, as far as I could see, there was only one national newspaper journalist present at the post-race media conference. Inevitably he questioned winner Bagnaia about the drink/driving incident, because that’s his job, whether you like it or not.

For this he received a withering look from a Ducati PR staffer. However, he was not taken aside for a rollicking, presumably because the PR knew that Ducati would suffer much more for chastising a journalist read by six million people than for berating a humble MotoGP freelancer.


Miller stated position to PR in no uncertain terms


Of course, if Ducati’s PR team had done their job they would’ve briefed Bagnaia before the British GP and told him, “Pecco, for sure you will be asked by journalists about the drink/driving thing that happened in Ibiza, so just say that you are very sorry for what happened, add that you have learned from your mistake and that should be the end of the matter.”

Instead, they presumably hoped the media would’ve forgotten about the incident, so he was ambushed by questions, which he handled reasonably well.

My own difficulties with Ducati’s factory team started with a blog I wrote about teams using illegal tyre pressures in May’s Spanish GP. An engineer from a rival team gave me the tyre-pressure sheet for the Jerez race which revealed that winner Bagnaia, Jorge Martin, Alex Rins and Andrea Dovizioso had run below the legal minimum.

I didn’t write the story about Ducati. The blog was about the general problem of teams running illegal front-tyre pressures in search of faster lap times. That’s why I didn’t mention Ducati in the headline, nor in the introduction, instead emphasising that “some teams” were running under pressure. I also explained why Bagnaia wasn’t penalised, due to an agreement within the MSMA. And the accusations of cheating didn’t come from me, but from the engineers I spoke to.

In other words, I was doing my job, just as any other half-decent journalist would: trying to find what’s happening and asking paddock people for their opinions. At later races I tried to get more pressure sheets, which most likely would’ve shown other riders running illegal pressures, but the post-Jerez business caused such a furore that my friendly engineer got the jitters.

Although I heard not a single word about my blog from Suzuki, Pramac Ducati or RNF Yamaha, Ducati was furious with me. At the next race at Le Mans I was invited into the factory’s juggernaut office for a meeting with a senior engineer and a senior member of management.

The engineer was perfectly reasonable, made his point and left it at that. Next the management guy’s face turned the colour of a Panigale V4 R, while he shouted and screamed at me. He later apologised for losing his temper.

MotoGP is a serious business, costing many millions, and people are under lots of pressure, but there’s no excuse for that kind of behaviour. I have also been on their side of the fence, writing PR material for Aprilia, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, Michelin, Dunlop and others over the last 30 years, so I know that the idea of PR is to keep the media on your side, not to alienate them.

Fast forward a few months to Misano, where Bagnaia wore a special home-race helmet paying homage to NBA star Dennis Rodman, who has been convicted of spousal battery, had multiple charges and accusations of domestic violence from wives and girlfriends, been reported for sexual assault by numerous other women and is “friends for life” with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un, who has let thousands of his own people starve to death while he spends billions on developing nuclear weapons. Coincidentally, he launched a ballistic missile towards Japan on the morning of last month’s Japanese GP.


Bagnaia has been questioned over the use of his Dennis Rodman tribute crash helmet, but has remained cordial with press


Bagnaia insisted he was wearing his Misano helmet in tribute to Rodman’s sporting successes, but you cannot separate the sportsman from the human being. Who would wear an Oscar Pistorius helmet, in tribute to his paralympic achievements, or a Gary Glitter helmet, in tribute to his glam-rock hits?

Of course there’s nothing wrong with Bagnaia being a fan of Rodman’s basketball playing, but don’t honour a man with such a hideous record of violence against women in front of nearly a billion MotoGP fans (Dorna figures).

Again, Ducati PR staff should have done their homework and advised Bagnaia that glorifying a notorious sexual aggressor isn’t a good idea, but they failed to do so.

The Aston Martin F1 team’s chief communications officer Matt Bishop had this to say about the Misano incident. “If any driver I worked with ever proposed to do so [pay tribute to such a person], I would very firmly urge them to reconsider.”

Related article

Later I received a message from a well-known motorsports PR woman, who had this to say: “I would never allow one of our riders to wear a helmet that pays tribute to someone with a questionable record, no matter how good that person was at sport. The fact that the topic is being discussed on an open forum illustrates quite clearly that the people employed to protect the brand actually haven’t.”

Indeed the topic was still lighting up social media over the Thai GP weekend, which isn’t good for Ducati. Social media is now a major focus of any PR’s work, because if you’re not clever enough to control the narrative your company may get badly burned by the public.

“On tenterhooks in anticipation of the Thai GP press conference,” wrote a popular fan Twitter feed last Thursday. “Just in case Pecco turns up with a special Gary Glitter tribute helmet… ‘But he did a really good song about being Leader of the Gang!’”

Infamous paedophile Glitter used to spend time in Thailand.

Meanwhile Ducati PR staff accused me of “creating a useless controversy” over Bagnaia’s helmet.

It’s worth adding that the big-shot management guy who lost it at Le Mans is fine with me now. Kind of. If we pass in the paddock following a Ducati victory we shake hands and exchange pleasantries. And Bagnaia’s behaviour towards me hasn’t changed. In media debriefs he answers my questions fully and politely, as he’s always done, so full respect to him for that.

“This is a disturbing development which impacts the fans”

So I have no issue with them, nor with Ducati, nor with its mightily impressive MotoGP operation and its awesome Desmosedici MotoGP bike. My quarrel is solely with its factory PR team whose approach to this affair is a textbook example of how not to do public relations, which, for avoidance of doubt, is “the practice of managing and disseminating information from an organisation to the public in order to influence their perception”.

Ducati’s PR people told me they are “free to decide with who we make interviews” when they denied me access to their engineers. This is 100% correct but the message they are sending is this, “Write what we want you to write, or we won’t allow you one-on-one access to our MotoGP staff”.

This is a disturbing development, which ultimately impacts you, the fans, for all kinds of reasons.

The thing is that I don’t like being bullied and I don’t like people trying to stop me from doing my job. Obviously after reading this blog Ducati may never grant me an interview with any of its staff ever again.

Do I care? Not really. I like the MotoGP paddock when it’s a friendly place, which is why I’ve been here for so bloody long. But I’m not rolling over for anyone.

If Ducati gets my MotoGP pass withdrawn I can always become a dustman.