Petrucci: “I don’t want Ducati to put me against Dovizioso”

MotoGP

The rumour that Jack Miller will join the factory Ducati team in 2021 puts Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso in competition for the second factory Ducati seat. Petrucci tells us about his hopes for the 2020 season, his 2019 Mugello victory and his plans to do the Dakar

Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso

Petrucci and Dovizioso – their duel for a 2021 Ducati contract will strain their friendship

Ducati

The MotoGP rumour mill usually does its work in the darker corners of the paddock, where journalists, rider managers and team managers arrange secret assignations under cover of team artics, during which they whisper the latest news (and lies).

This year is different: FaceTime, WhatsApp and Zoom is where it’s all happening.

Last week the rumours were all about Jack Miller and Danilo Petrucci, specifically about the Aussie taking the Italian’s factory Ducati ride from the end of this year.

Ducati promoting Miller to its factory team is no surprise. The 25-year-old has got everything going for him: he’s super quick, he’s young and he’s light, which is important when the racing is so close that the tiniest difference in performance can make a big difference to results. Miller also grew up riding dirt track, like Casey Stoner, so he’s a master of using the rear brake as a go-faster tool, like Ducati’s 2007 MotoGP champion.

If Miller does join the factory squad then Ducati will have to get rid of Petrucci, or his team-mate Andrea Dovizioso, who has won 13 times more races for Ducati than Petrucci.

Sadly for Petrucci – one of the funniest, most engaging riders on the MotoGP grid – this decision would seem to be a no-brainer. However, it’s worth remembering that Ducati got rid of Jorge Lorenzo to hire Petrucci just two hours after the Spaniard won his first race for the factory at Mugello in 2018, so who knows what might happen in the coming weeks and months? Especially since Dovizioso has a frosty relationship with Ducati Corse chief Gigi Dall’Igna.

The latest Petrucci rumour has Ducati moving the 29-year-old sideways into its World Superbike squad, but what does the man himself say?

Related article

“If there is no place for me in MotoGP then I will look for something, but I haven’t thought about World Superbike,” he told the MotoGP Roundtable podcast. “I have more interest in switching to another speciality – I want to do the Dakar, because MotoGP and the Dakar are completely opposite worlds. I have already had an offer to ride a Dakar bike but at the moment I’m focused on MotoGP.

“In the past Ducati has offered me a World Superbike ride more than once, but I always tell them I can win in MotoGP. I don’t know if I’m ready to fight for the title, but if we go back to the start of last season I don’t think anybody thought I would win a race or fight for third place in the championship [Petrucci was third on points from Assen to Silverstone].

“I haven’t thought about a switch to World Superbike because I don’t think I’ve reached my 100 per cent in MotoGP and I think I can do more. For sure I like superbikes, but I’m not thinking about that. I’m going for the A-plan, I’m not looking at the B-plan. When the A-plan is not possible then I will look for a plan B.”

Fighting for his ride is nothing new to Petrucci. He has done one-year contracts with Ducati pretty much every year since the factory first signed him in 2015, to partner Columbian Yonny Hernandez at Pramac Ducati. And he first heard about Ducati lining up Miller to take his season during last year’s Grand Prix of the Americas!

“Already at Austin there was a rumour that Jack would take my seat. It’s not nice when you hear Ducati is looking for other riders, but this is life…”

2019 MotoGP Italian GP

Petrucci (#9) during his epic 2019 Italian GP battle with Márquez and Dovizioso

Ducati

What does concern Petrucci is that the COVID-19 crisis has removed his best tracks – Mugello, Barcelona and Assen – from the championship, which could hurt his chances of keeping his ride into 2021.

“I’m very disappointed because I’ll miss the races where usually I’m strong. But there is nothing I can do about that, so it’s another test for me: can I be fast at tracks where I’m not usually very, very fast? I have a big opportunity to prove to Ducati that I’m ready to fight for something bigger and I have to take that chance 100 per cent.”

His other concern is that his rival for the 2021 Ducati factory seat alongside Miller is a good friend.

“Sincerely I don’t want Ducati to put me against Andrea. I have a very good relationship with Andrea and I don’t want to be put in competition with him, because we are already in competition. All I can do this year is prove that I’m a rider who can win some races.”

When Petrucci joined Dovizioso in the factory team at the end of 2018 the former 125cc world champion invested a lot of time and energy in helping Petrucci improve. He did this out of friendship and out of his desire to have a team-mate that could help him beat Marc Márquez and Honda.

This suited Ducati’s new philosophy. Instead of having two winning riders – Dovizioso and Lorenzo – who could win races but at the same time take points off each other Ducati would have two riders who would work together with the aim of making Ducati and Dovizioso would champions.

This system worked well enough until last June’s Italian GP at Mugello, where Petrucci won a famous victory, passing both Márquez and Dovizioso on the last lap.

Dovizioso’s post-race face was of thunder. He had helped Petrucci and what had he got in return? But what else could he have expected?

Related article

The pair’s friendship was severely tested by the result. Not only that, the manner of Petrucci’s win also upset Dovizioso.

The trio attacked the first corner of the last lap together, Dovizioso sneaking past Márquez on the inside, only for Petrucci to squeeze inside both of them, forcing Dovizioso to take avoiding action, which relegated him from first to third.

“For sure I was really, really sorry because I needed to pass Andrea to win the race. Afterwards Andrea was very disappointed because he wanted to win the race and especially the problem was that he was in the middle between me and Marc.

“A few days later I told him I was really sorry, but we were still very, very hot from the race. We talked again at the end of the year in November when I repeated that I was so sorry and that I’d have preferred it if he hadn’t been in the battle.

“I was really sorry, but when we were racing all I saw was that space on the inside at Turn One. I didn’t think it was a very strong pass, but I felt that Andrea was not really happy.

“Our relationship is still good but maybe now we understand that when we close our visors we are like killers and we can’t look out for anyone else. During each race weekend Andrea and I always talk to help each other, until morning warm-up. After that we only think about how to stay in front of our team-mate and everyone else.”

The global health crisis adds a further twist to the Petrucci/Dovizioso duel, because the size and shape of the 2020 MotoGP championship is still a mystery. The racing is due to start at Jerez, Spain, on July 16, but that will only happen if there’s not a second wave of infections and deaths in Spain. The same applies to every other race, whenever and wherever they will be.

2019 MotoGP Italian GP

Petrucci (#9) during his epic 2019 Italian GP battle with Márquez and Dovizioso

Ducati

This is a real challenge for the riders, because how do you mentally prepare for something so vague and hazy?

Petrucci has worked a lot on his psychology over the last couple of years. In late 2018 Dovizioso sent his new team-mate to see his sports psychologist, who worked to improve his mentality, because as five-times 500cc world champ Mick Doohan says, “racing is 90 per cent mental”.

Petrucci went into the 2019 season believing in himself more than he’d ever believed in himself before. That was a positive. But at the same time, he had introduced a negative into his racing psyche. The pressure of his first factory ride and the stress of hearing the Miller rumours took its toll.

“At Austin, where Jack finished on the podium, there were already rumours that he would take my seat [for 2020]. I was really, really sad because I had reached my lifetime dream of a factory MotoGP seat and I wasn’t enjoying it. I asked myself, why? What’s going on?

“It was because I was thinking too much. At Jerez I told myself, OK, maybe you’re out at the end of the year, so just do your best, ride the bike and don’t think about all these other things. After Jerez I started finishing on the podium and doing some good races.”

Petrucci finished third at Le Mans, less than three tenths behind Dovizioso, won that unforgettable Mugello battle, took third at Barcelona and moved into third overall at Assen.

Related article

He was on a roll. But once again things went awry. The pressure and stress of performing at that level got to him again.

“After all the effort I put in during that part of the season and giving everything I had to fight with the top guys I felt really tired.

“In the second part of the season I became more nervous and I wasn’t focusing on the right things. From Le Mans to Sachsenring I was the second best points scorer behind Márquez, so I thought maybe I can fight for something bigger and I started to put myself under pressure – I was trying to not make mistakes, instead of focusing on riding the bike. And when you think like this you’re not thinking in the right way.

“I was fast, but always trying to do better can lead to making mistakes. I made some mistakes in FP3 and qualifying, which are really important to get good starts.”

Petrucci completed a super-fast race simulation during the final preseason tests at Losail in February and is working hard on forging a faster, stronger mind for the 2020 championship. He certainly doesn’t think Ducati’s 2021 line-up is a forgone conclusion – watching him and Dovizioso fight for the ride will be one of the big stories of the 2020 season, whatever it turns out to be.

You may also like