Ducati was the first to raise the curtain on the 2018 MotoGP season that will start in a few days with the preseason test in Malaysia. The factory had a full house in Bologna for its project presentation. Expectations are high after a successful 2017 in which Andrea Dovizioso won six races and finished runner-up in the championship.
After that “satisfactory” result, logic suggests winning the title is the only acceptable goal. This was the perception in the room, despite the measured speeches Ducati representatives insisted on giving. Well, not all of them. The most direct in this respect was CEO Claudio Domenicali, who responded bluntly when asked if he liked the graphics of the 2018 Desmosedici.
“I like the bike that wins,” Domenicali said. “What makes a bike beautiful is it winning.”
This was a “no mercy” message to Gigi Dall’Igna, the director of Ducati’s racing department—Reparto Corse. Time may be running out for the Italian engineer; his multimillion-euro bet on Jorge Lorenzo has to show results.
The first round of this challenge takes place on March 18 in Qatar, but until then the focus is development. Preseason tests will show how well the winter work in Bologna has gone, confirming if the new bike has corrected the defects that penalized the factory riders in 2017.
Before leaving for Malaysia, Dall’Igna and I chatted about the 2018 bike, his expectations for the season, and a “sensitive” matter, the flight of Ducati engineers to other teams.
About The New Bike
The motorcycle that Ducati showed at the team launch in Bologna wasn’t the 2018 Desmosedici. The new bike is still under development and the first version of it will be seen in Sepang. The latest aerodynamics will be introduced at the second preseason test, to be held in Thailand.
“I would say it is too early to say how much we have improved compared with last year’s bike. We had some ideas and we have tested them on simulators, but simulations don’t always reflect reality. I would say we will have a clear idea after the Buriram test.
“In my opinion last year we did grow constantly and more or less in all sectors. There are few aspects of our bike that still generate problems to us like the one we faced in Australia. And they were especially remarkable because we had such good results during the season. That said, it is probably true we have concentrated our efforts in that area—in the situation we faced there. We will see if we have solved them.
“We have worked on the chassis trying to improve aspects from our 2017 bike that generated some problems last year. There are ideas that have to be confirmed. Therefore the tests in Sepang and Buriram will be important.
“Both riders will use the same chassis this year. Last year there was a little difference between the one used by Andrea Dovizioso and the one of Jorge Lorenzo. Dovi chose one we developed during the season while Jorge didn’t like it.
“I don’t think there will be a big revolution in the aerodynamics. We don’t have to risk as much as we had to when we were far from the top. On our side, the work will be more about confirmation than exploring new options.
“The rulebook has not changed, so from that point of view there is nothing new; it’s all down to the interpretation of it. Yamaha has developed something new and different; I don’t know yet if it has been homologated or not. I imagine we will see it in Sepang, and after that we will think about it.
“Our two riders have basically the same comments on the bikes. They report the same type of problems. Therefore it makes no sense to work on separate developments. I think the work we have done will help both riders equally to improve their performances.
“The first two tests will be used to define the new bike. As I said, we have ideas to test and verify. We have to finish these two tests with the 2018 bike. The last one should be more to set up the bike for the GP two weeks later.
“I don’t think the Michelins will be very different from 2017—more or less the same with some improvements at certain tracks. Therefore I don’t expect the tires to be a disturbing factor next season.”
After clinching second last season, Ducati knows the only positive result is victory. For Dall’Igna, this pressure is probably double because he has to show his insistence in hiring Lorenzo made sense. The Spaniard is “obligated” to win, which could change last year’s perfect team atmosphere with Dovizioso. With both riders seen as challengers for the title, it’s just a matter of time before the friction starts.
“I’m not more nervous than normal. What can I say? In these years, we have grown a lot and I think we have mistaken little in the things we made tech- and sport-wise. I will not say I would do again all that I have done, but probably I would change very few things. This allows me to look to the future with a certain serenity. What’s going to happen? We will have to wait and see.
“It is obvious I would like to have a no-limit budget, but let’s say that in this moment I’m happy, and I believe [the budget] we have should be enough to challenge for the championship.
“Problems between Dovi and Lorenzo? I hope with all my heart having to deal with two riders challenging for the championship. I think it’s a problem that all team managers would like to have. I welcome this type of problem.
“Honestly, I don’t see any negative point having two competitive riders in our box. It is obvious that it is more difficult to manage two riders that fight for victories, but this is part of our job. I repeat: It is a problem that any manager in the whole world would like to have.
“I think that at the end of last season Lorenzo had already made a big step forward in his adaptation to the Ducati. If he wins, nobody should be surprised. Okay, maybe he still misses some little things to be ‘the hammer’ he was in past years. I believe if we are capable of giving some little things he needs to gain some more confidence, he will be able to get there.
“Danilo Petrucci will start with the same base we will use in the factory team. Depending on the results he does and how his season goes, we will decide what kind of development we will do with him. But if he shows he is ready to win, we will give him all he needs.
“The rider market will probably be an important matter this season because the main riders finish their contracts. And the situation is not like in the past when there were just a few factories in the championship. Now there are six brands represented officially wanting the best riders. I expect this can turn into a problem.”
The Leak Of Ducati Technicians
This is an uncomfortable subject in the red house, especially after Filippo Tosi, an electronics engineer, joined HRC at the beginning of last year. Many at Ducati believe Honda wouldn’t have won the 2017 championship without Tosi. But he is only one ex-Ducati engineer who can be found in almost any MotoGP garage. The most recent defector left for KTM this winter.
“I think it is normal if the technicians of a factory that has shown certain performance are [approached] by other brands. We are the only European brand that obtains remarkable results so all the other Europeans want to take our engineers.
“It’s true that occasionally also the Japanese have hired some of our technicians, but it is part of the game. To see the Japanese needing to follow Ducati is a pleasure. They hire engineers from our staff, they follow our aerodynamics development… This means in certain aspects we are the reference in the championship.”