For someone who is not from the country where Ferrari was born, it may be difficult to understand how far the passion of the Italians can reach. Especially when it comes to motorcycles and racing.
Donato D’Amato, 28, is from Salerno, in southern Italy. He bears a striking red tattoo on his right forearm: It’s Ducati’s coat of arms, as red as the blood that flows through his veins. He works as a technician in the Ducati machining department and passionately says he is “living a dream.”
Davide Cattabriga is 38 years old, from Bologna, and coordinates the mechanics of the production lines at Ducati. He has the Ducati Panigale suspension tattooed on one of his calves and the Superquadro pistons and cylinders on a forearm.
But the tattoo he is most proud of hides underneath his shirt, emblazoned across his chest: an image of the Desmodromic engine. He wanted very much to show it, but he thought it would be rude and incorrect to remove his shirt at his place of work. As in the case of D’Amato, Cattabriga affirms with passion: “This is a good year.”
In the hallways and offices, many Ducati engineers can be seen proudly wearing Andrea Dovizioso’s commemorative T-shirt for his victory at Mugello. It bears the inscription: “The success made in Italy,” a shirt commemorating the Italian rider’s triumph at the Italian GP…on an Italian motorcycle with an Italian engine. Inside Ducati’s headquarters, the walls and work areas are lined with posters of the rider from Forlí, the same picture used for the huge photograph that hangs proudly on one of the facades of the factory.
Welcome to Ducati Motor, Via Antonio Cavalieri Ducati, 3, in the western quarter of Bologna known as Borgo Panigale, a place where every one of the 1,200 employees—from the CEO to the custodian—are “infected with the red virus.” Perhaps ill, some might say, but hopelessly happy.
They say the devotion of the Ducati workers to their brand is the secret to a company in the middle of a challenge, whose analogy would be something like the biblical tale of David and Goliath. For example, 55,000 units per year is Ducati’s production. Honda, on the other hand, produces 12 million engines at its numerous worldwide plants over the same period.
In the same plant where the bikes you can buy in any Ducati dealership around the world are built, the Desmosedici GP17s are also assembled, in a separate section of the facility known as the Reparto Corse. These are the technologically advanced machines that brought Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci to the podium in the first part of the 2017 season. Competition and commercial winds blow the Ducati sails, especially in the United States, which continues to be Ducati’s biggest market in terms of unit sales.
There have been seven years of continuous growth, with a turnover in 2016 of 731 million euros and a profit of 50 million euros. Some say that this situation derived from the entry of Ducati Motor Holding into the Volkswagen conglomerate at the hands of Audi five years ago. But when the CEO of the German group visited all of the workers at Borgo Panigale, his words were very clear: “Ducati bleibt Ducati” (“Ducati will remain Ducati”). That is, Ducati would still be Italian. “We were given carte blanche, we cooperated and exchanged data with Wolfsburg [Volkswagen Group Headquarters], but here we continue to decide, they trust us to do well,” Claudio Domenicali, CEO of Ducati, explains.
The Germans paid $962 million for the company in 2012, but then the “DieselGate” emissions scandal three years later forced the huge VW conglomerate to pay $2.8 billion in fines to the USA’s Environmental Protection Agency, plus pledge more than $18.3 billion to rectify all of the VW automobiles affected worldwide by the scandal. In reportedly looking to “streamline” its bulging business portfolio, the VW Group was said to have instructed its banks to determine interest in Ducati, but the company’s supervisory board (which includes several powerful labor union leaders) quickly squelched that idea. In the meantime, the Italians, the proud heirs of a company founded almost a century ago in the basement of the Società Scientifica Radio Brevetti, continue to steer Ducati.
Ducati is a company that mixes a factory, a laboratory of engineering ideas (the only way it is possible to compete in both sport and commercial interests with the comparatively colossal Japanese brands), and a family united by “the blood,” in this case, the passion for a brand.
D’Amato, the man with the tattooed forearms, had a dream since childhood. “I’m from the south,” he says. “I dismantled scooters and imagined becoming a rider. In my village I worked in a steel mold factory, but one day I left everything and I presented a CV here. It took me a while, it took me some time, but I finally got to work here. I got into Ducati.”
For three years, D’Amato has been dealing with crankshafts and connecting rods. “For me it was like entering a family,” the Italian mechanic says with a passion shared by each of the workers we spoke with. “Ducati is special; I put my hands on pieces that will one day be decisive in the world racing championship. After winning in Mugello, the riders were here with us, humble, available… We are a team.”
Most of them ride to and from work on the same type of bikes that leave the assembly lines; the employee parking lot is packed with Ducati motorcycles belonging to the factory workers. “I have a Monster 821 and I go out to ride when I have free time,” D’Amato says. “How it sounds! You hear the two-cylinder from afar, it’s pure music.”
D’Amato also confesses that during the party in the factory to celebrate the triumphs, he took Dovizioso aside and said to him, “This year we will win, understand? It’s been 10 years since Casey Stoner did his job, 10 years we’ve been waiting for the second title. It’s on the way, and when we get there it will be ours, everyone’s.”
The party, the event, the family reunion—call it what you will—that took place in Borgo Panigale mid-June to celebrate Andrea Dovizioso’s double victory had no shortage of attendees. They were all there: riders, competition department engineers, production plant personnel, those in the administrative department, et al.
Sitting in the first row was Cattabriga, who they say is capable of performing miracles with a screwdriver. “I’ve been at Ducati for 20 years,” the Bologna native notes. “It’s something I carry with pride and passion. Yamaha’s racing department is as big as Ducati’s, but they do not have the Italian genius.” Cattabriga has two Panigales in his garage. At Ducati, he works with two friends from Calabria, Giuseppe Curia and Agostino Magliarella. “We have to work hard these days. The quality leap in MotoGP also depends on us…and the engineers of the Reparto Corse from the top floor.”
Curia and Magliarella tell us that when they go to the beach, they obviously bring their bright-red Ducati towels. “People are curious and ask if we are fans of Ducati,” Curia says. “When replying that we are much more than just that, that we work at Ducati, they look at us with admiration and respect. There is no need to say more.” The immense pride felt by Curia and Magliarella is readily apparent.
And that pride was surely soon to grow even larger for one of these three. Cattabriga, Curia, and Magliarella didn’t know it, but in the weeks following our visit to the factory, one of the three would be chosen to join the Ducati Corse race team’s MotoGP crew.