So far, 2013 has proven to be one of Ducati's toughest years in its long history of racing. The front lines have been defeated – only one podium between MotoGP and WSBK, with Ayrton Badovini third in Moscow – but the arrival of Audi is, albeit slowly, changing the guard inside the headquarters. With much at stake beyond bragging rights, the factory is facing both a technological and financial challenge to step up the pace and catch up with its competitors.
While in MotoGP the bike's development path remains the greatest question mark, the opposite situation troubles the WSBK front. The 1199 Panigale – much more competitive in a Superstock configuration – cannot evolve significantly due to regulatory restraints, and Ducati is still mulling over who could possibly tame such a fickle beast.
With both Carlos Checa and Badovini approaching the end of their contracts (Checa suffering a fractured pelvis in his crash at the Turkish round, which many say will probably spell the end of the 40-year-old’s long career), Ben Spies and Chaz Davies have been linked to the Italian factory for next year. The American is somewhat reluctant to switch back to production bikes, even though he made a stunning debut in WSBK in 2009 by winning the title. But Ducati's MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti is keen to shuffle the cards after Spies’ disastrous 2013 season with only two races completed on the Desmosedici and increasing tensions between the rider's entourage and the team.
Davies, on the other hand, has been targeting the factory Panigale ever since BMW's retirement announcement that followed the Russian round. The Brit's recruitment, however, has been delayed by a conflict of interest between two sponsors, one backing up the rider and the other the Alstare team, both of which are energy drinks. Davies at first veered toward Suzuki – which has two available seats – but, as the energy drink brand linked to Alstare bided its time to renew, his contract with Ducati has been practically sealed.
Many details, however, are still blurry because of the growing strains between Ducati and Alstare team manager Francois Batta. The Belgian is keen to vitriolic claims, and has already publicly scolded both Ducati Corse General Manager Bernhard Gobmeier and SBK Project Director Ernesto Marinelli. Alstare and Ducati have one year left on the contract, but an early, inimical rescission – the former blaming the bike and the latter the riders – is looming with only one race left on the calendar. The two parties are meeting this week in Bologna to hold yet another discussion, and the much of the outcome rests on the recruitment of Gigi Dall'Igna, the engineer behind Aprilia's success and a true general in disguise. Under his guidance, Batta and the sponsors may see their faith in Ducati restored. With one catch: the ongoing power struggle inevitably will slow down the reorganization of the troops for the army in red.