Ducati’s double-barrelled MotoGP strategyby Mat Oxley on 30th April 2019
How Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci are working together to give Ducati the edge in wheel-to-wheel battles. And why this new strategy might add fuel to the aerodynamics fire
Team-mates have always been a big deal in motorcycle racing. Or team-hates, as some people call them.
The old saying goes that your team-mate is the first guy you have to beat because he’s the only rider on the grid with the exact same equipment. So, if he beats you, you’re in as much trouble as your ongoing contract negotiations.
Internecine garage wars have been waged so many times over the decades that we don’t have time to even scratch the surface of all the tales of skulduggery and downright hatred. But here are a few words from Wayne Rainey, who in 1991 prepared to defend his first 500cc world title from reigning 250cc world champion and new Marlboro Team Roberts Yamaha 500 team-mate John Kocinski.
“There’s nothing worse in life than having your team-mate kick your ass, because who do you blame?” Rainey recalls. “John was thinking he was going to kick everybody’s ass. I didn’t know if he was going to do that or not, but he was going to have to go through me to do it. I started working on him the very first lap of the very first test. I always made sure that at the end of the day I was quicker than him. I didn’t care what it took for that to happen. I knew if I could do that enough to John, it would be enough for him to stop thinking about me and start blaming everything else.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Take the 1991 French Grand Prix as an example: Rainey dominated, while Kocinski crashed out and was so embarrassed by his exit that he played unconscious. After the race he told me, “I could’ve done more with the turd that was floating in my toilet bowl this morning than I could’ve done with that motorcycle.”
Kocinski lost his Team Roberts ride at the end of the following season.
These days it’s nothing unusual to see team-mates circulating together in practice, so they can learn from each other, compare settings and so on. But this year the factory Ducati team is taking garage cooperation to a whole new level with Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci riding side by side to fine tune the Desmosedici GP19 for elbow-to-elbow combat.
What happened during 2017 and 2018 convinced Ducati that it must think of a better way of beating Marc Márquez than simply running two huge talents. Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo ended up fighting each other harder than they fought just about anyone else; more team-hates than team-mates.
How about signing two riders who would work with each other, rather than against each other? This concept makes a lot of sense, so long as there is a sustainable hierarchy between the two riders. Which there is at Ducati, for the moment. Dovizioso and Petrucci train together, work together, think together, ski together and use the same physical trainer and sports psychologist.
“We are using a different approach in terms of riders this year,” explains Ducati Corse general manager Dall’Igna. “Last year we saw the good points of our riders being in competition, but now we want to understand if we can achieve a better overall result if our riders work together.”
This concept makes particular sense now, because riders often race inches apart at very high speeds, which has a major effect on the dynamics of a motorcycle.
The first problem is turbulence; due to MotoGP’s crazy speeds and aerodynamic attachments. After the Circuit of the Americas race Jack Miller told us he could easily have powered past Cal Crutchlow on the back straight, but didn’t dare, due in part to the turbulent wake flowing from Crutchlow’s bike. It stands to reason that added aero can create a bigger wake and more so-called dirty air.
“When these bikes go past each other at close quarters it blows,” said Miller.
Ducati asks its riders to ride close together at race speeds to gather detailed data that tells its engineers exactly what kind of instability is caused by the turbulence, which gives them a better chance of solving or reducing these problems for the race.
The second problem is braking while in the draft. Increased speeds and aero effect can cause motorcycles to create a bigger vacuum at their rear. This is good when the following rider finds his way into that vacuum, where drag is drastically reduced and acceleration massively increased. Getting a good draft from another rider feels a bit like you’ve pressed the turbocharger button!
However, this positive turns into a negative when both bikes hit the brakes. The lead bike has always had drag to help it decelerate, but once again, drag is increased by the aero attachments, which riders appreciate as much during braking as they do in acceleration. As a result, the negative for the chasing rider is bigger than ever, because suddenly he must deal with drastically reduced drag and stopping power.
Crutchlow had this problem at COTA, while chasing Valentino Rossi. “When you follow someone the bike doesn’t decelerate enough,” he said.
When Dovizioso and Petrucci ride together they can simulate these situations to deliver obvious benefits; although some argue that banning radical aero might be an easier way to solve the problem.
“The first approach with our new philosophy gives us good feedback in terms of bike development because sometimes it’s important for the riders to do some laps together,” adds Dall’Igna. “Because during the race you are not alone, you have a lot of riders around you, so the behaviour of your bike is different. That’s why it’s important to check what happens.
“For sure, what we did with Andrea and Danilo during the tests at Sepang and Losail would not have been possible with Andrea and Jorge, because they were both in competition, so it was not possible to do that. All this wasn’t my plan, it’s Ducati’s plan. We all reached the same conclusion: that this is a better approach in terms of rider philosophy to try and catch the target of winning the title.”
And what happens if Petrucci finds another few tenths and starts battling with Dovizioso, potentially taking away points from Ducati’s biggest title hope? “If Andrea and Danilo start racing each other it will be difficult to continue with this approach,” Dall’Igna grins.
This year Ducati has also changed its approach to bike development, now that the Desmosedici that Dall’Igna created in 2015 is nearing peak performance. For example, last year Dovizioso and Lorenzo used different types of frame.
This year there is none of that. Dovizioso and Petrucci use identical machines, because this allows Ducati engineers to make direct and therefore more precise comparisons when using data to search for those final few thousandths of a second.
“Both riders have the exact same parts, the only differences are ergonomics,” says Dall’Igna. “You need a lot of data to follow the right way when you are using the statistics approach to set-up. And if both riders have different parts you cannot use the statistics approach to solve problems. Also, it’s important because one rider isn’t enough to show you the way.”