Ducati's winning secret


It’s going to be a weird weekend for Cal Crutchlow. He will be contesting the Indianapolis GP for Monster Yamaha but I suspect that journalists at his daily media debriefs will only be interested in asking him questions about the bike he’ll be riding next year.

If this was Formula 1, his team PR would probably commence each debrief with the words, “Please, ladies and gentleman, we’d appreciate it if you only asked questions relating to Cal’s performance on track this weekend. Thank you for your understanding…”

Or maybe MotoGP has already stooped to these levels and journalists will be told to do just that at Indy. I hope not. Crutchlow always likes to speak his mind and it will be a sad day if he does get muzzled. In fact I’d like to see anyone try to put a sock in his mouth because, like most top racers, he doesn’t respond very well to being told what to do.

There’s been a lot of talk over the last week or so suggesting that Crutchlow is doing the wrong thing by going to Ducati because he’s doing it for the money. Well, of course, that’s got to be a major factor in his decision. How could it not be? Back in the summer of 1992 I asked Kevin Schwantz what was most important to him: winning the world title or earning big money. He chose the money (and then he went and won the title the next year anyway).

If this attitude seems wrong, consider these wise words from three-time 500 World Champion King Kenny Roberts: “ten cents and a World Championship won’t buy you a cup of coffee”.

Racers have short careers and face even shorter times during which they can earn some serious money, times that are sometimes made shorter still by horrible injuries. So if you were a racer and someone offered you more than ten times what you were earning from your current employers that had already shown complete disinterest in keeping you on their bikes, would you really turn them down? Of course you wouldn’t.

Rumours suggest that Crutchlow will earn between £2.5 and £3 million for each year of his two-year deal, though these figures are almost certainly just guesstimations by journalists and other paddock folk. Ducati are paying him a lot of money because he’s a talented and hyper-determined rider and because their bike has such a diabolical reputation that no one will ride it for less than a big bag of gold (for all kinds of reasons, not least because his medical insurance premiums will surely go through the roof).

And what chance of podiums, wins or a shot at the title in 2014 and 2015? At the start of this season – the start of Ducati’s post-Rossi era – factory engineers told us that 2013 is a data-gathering mission and that the real upgrade in machinery will come for 2014. Therefore Crutchlow must have some hope that the GP14 will be a substantial improvement over the GP13 which suffers from exactly the same problems as the GP7, GP8, GP9, GP10, GP11 and GP12: crazy understeer and suspension pump on corner exits.

And this is in spite of several new chassis and this year a new engine, which is more compact than last year’s because it’s no longer big and stiff like the old engine designed to be an integral part of the chassis. Bit by bit the Ducati is turning into a Honda or a Yamaha, which might just be a factor of the control-tyre regulations which effectively require all bikes to be the same to work with the same tyre. One by one the Ducati trademarks disappear – the monocoque chassis and the stressed-member engine – but still the devilish behaviour persists.

Hopefully, maybe, just maybe, the penny will drop one day and Ducati will turn the corner, both literally and metaphorically. But so far it’s a mystery how they have failed to turn the bike around.

In fact Ducati already know exactly what is required to get them winning again.

“I don’t understand the behaviour of the Bridgestones,” says Bernard Gobmeier, Ducati’s new MotoGP manager. “Getting rid of the control-tyre regulation would certainly help us because the control tyre is totally different to the tyre we had in 2007 when Casey was winning. Bridgestone chose the safest tyre but unfortunately not one the one that works best with our bike. We’ve spent many years trying to adapt our bike to this tyre and we’ve not been so successful.”

Of course, MotoGP is unlikely to return to open-tyre competition, so Ducati have got to crack the secret of the Bridgestones, just like everyone else. Let’s hope for Crutchlow’s sake that they do just that, and very soon.

Click here to read more from Mat Oxley on MotoGP

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