Ducati: it's going to take time


You can imagine the gasps of disbelief when Ducati unveiled its GP13 atop a mountain in the Dolomites last night: the bike is pretty much a GP12 with a new paintjob. How can that be? Surely the Ducati needs a total redesign more than any other motorcycle on the MotoGP grid?

That is indeed true – at the end of 2012 Ducati were no closer to the front than they had been at the start of 2011, when Valentino Rossi arrived to take over from Casey Stoner.

Yesterday morning someone asked Nicky Hayden – entering his fifth season with the Bologna brand – what he wanted from the GP13. A softer engine and less understeer, please, he said; which is pretty much exactly what he had asked for the previous few years.

So why haven’t Ducati addressed his requests and totally transformed the engine and chassis of the Desmosedici for 2013?

Because Ducati’s new owners Audi aren’t given to rushing into things. Audi worked the same way when they bought glamorous but troubled Italian car brand Lamborghini a few years ago – they didn’t start changing things until they knew exactly what they wanted to do, then they made some welcome improvements to the cars.

This season will be Audi’s first full campaign with Ducati and that’s why they haven’t turned the bike upside down. During the coming season they will watch and learn, analysing data and feedback from Hayden, new team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and new Pramac Ducati riders Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone. Expect a few updates during the year, some of them quite important, some of them not so important, as Ducati/Audi try to find the right way forward.

Only this time next year, when MotoGP’s new rules come into force, will we see the first real Ducati/Audi MotoGP machine.

So don’t expect too much from Ducati this season. As Dovizioso said at the staggeringly opulent (and Marlboro-funded) team launch in upmarket Italian ski resort Madonna Di Campiglio, “there is no magic wand for the riders or for the team. First we need to understand exactly what we need, and then we need to develop new parts. We must be open-minded, 360 degrees, about what the bike needs. We have to use a methodological approach and then work very hard to get the bike right”.

Dovizioso was keen to impress upon us that we shouldn’t take too much notice of his early results on the GP13, while Bernhard Gobmeier, the first high-profile German to be installed at Ducati by Audi, also wanted to focus on the medium- to long-term.

Gobmeier, the former BMW World Superbike boss who takes over from Filippo Preziosi as Ducati Corse general manager, confirmed that the Desmosedici hasn’t undergone any major changes over the winter. In effect, the GP13 will be something of a test mule.

“Before we fully explore the current bike’s potential I’d hate to go to something new and unknown and then do experiments with that,” he said. “For 2013 we are also working on the engine to improve torque delivery and the rideability. The key to the riding behaviour of modern MotoGP bikes is in the software, so we have a lot of ideas about how to improve the riding dynamics, handling and control of this ‘beast’. There are more changes to the software in the GP13 than in the hardware.”

Despite Audi’s grand plans for Ducati, they say they don’t want to change the brand’s nationality from Italian to German. Gobmeier was also keen to stress to the Ducatisti that the Desmosedici’s ‘sacred’ 90 degree V4 will remain the heart of the machine. “There is nothing wrong with it, exactly the opposite in fact.”

So if Dovizioso and Hayden finish seventh and eighth in Qatar on April 7 don’t be too surprised. It’s going to take time to exorcise the big red Duke.

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