Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The problem at Ducati

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


The problem at Ducati

It is good news that Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso have re-signed with Ducati, because if Gigi Dall’Igna hasn’t forgotten how to design a racing motorcycle, then his 100 per cent brand-new GP15 should stop the rot at Ducati.

And there’s a lot of rot to stop. Think back a decade to when Ducati could do no wrong: they were winning MotoGP races and World Superbike titles, performing David versus Goliath feats every weekend. Now they can’t win a thing. Last season was the first in a quarter of century of WSB that they didn’t win a single race and I can’t even remember when they last won a MotoGP race. Hang on, I’ll look it up. It was Phillip Island in 2010, with a certain Casey Stoner on board.

When was the last time Ducati won a MotoGP race without Stoner on board? Back to the history books: it was Loris Capirossi at Motegi 2007, when he made the right call in a wet-dry race. There have been 118 MotoGP races since then. In other words it seems like Ducati have forgotten how to design a racing motorcycle.

I’ve recently had a few chats with several mechanics and engineers who have worked with both Ducati’s MotoGP teams and for the factory itself during the last three seasons. They all spoke of their time working on the Desmosedici while shaking their heads in frustration and raising their eyes in disbelief at the weirdness of it all. One mechanic, now back with his former employers, described each new day not working on the Desmosedici as “like waking up in paradise”. In other words, the bike is as much a nightmare to work on as it is to ride.

From their experiences, it seems like it isn’t so much that Ducati Corse has forgotten how to design a racing motorcycle as the company is suffering from some kind of ego problem: an unwillingness to believe that it’s doing anything wrong, despite the might of evidence against them, and an unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of people who’ve achieved much more MotoGP success than they have.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Comments

GP15 - real clothes for the Duke in the spring collection?

Hopefully Gigi has sufficient clout to overcome the entrenched complacency and restore the Desmosedici to the rank of contender once again. The anecdote about the profusion of 7, 8, 9 and 10mm bolts is probably symptomatic of Ducati's institutional problems - and one wonders if the uncomprehending engineer had ever done any actual wrench work himself, or if he does all his mechanical labor on his computer.
We'll all have to wait and see if Audi's resources and German efficiency will change the game. I suspect economic factors have also played their part in Ducati's MotoGP decline once Honda decided to take off the gloves and fully engage in all-out war. The loss of Bridgestone's exclusive attention in the tire arena was also likely a serious issue. Certainly the field is enriched with a European manufacturer - except for those who seem to harbor a visceral hatred for the marque.

Total votes: 33

Beating a dead horse here.

Beating a dead horse here. Anyway, I think we are all looking forward to the GP15 & hoping for the best outcome.

Total votes: 25

It's not just Ducati

I work in multi-national oilfield engineering company. Same thing; fresh out grads with no experience not listening to the 15 year experienced techs, some dinosaur managers not listening to the front line. It's endemic in many companies.

Great article, interesting read for anyone - not necessary for the bikes...keep it up

Total votes: 40

appreciation in failure

In racing world where everything is measured by result, people failed to appreciate manufacturer willingness to explore innovation and new technology...true that honda-yamaha mainstream tech such as in-line four, AL frame, etc still delivering best result at the moment... however new tech such as duc's carbon mono frame, proton KR 3 cyl, although they failed to deliver expected result it still bring excitement and fresh blood in world dominate by conventional technolgy, ... they know the prospect & risk of being different, so credit for them by trying to bring new value in motorsport...People only remember the success story like seamless trans,carbon disc,etc. which basically a refinement on existing tech...however more radical engineering attempt like ducati frame is much more difficult to develop, but people easy to assume it as failed-tech or garbage... I believe otherwise...all new tech simply not easy...it require more resources, time & patient to find the sweet spot...but racing is such a vicious world compare to R&D pace...after all, sponsors and spectator only want see the podium finishers.

Total votes: 26

The nostalgia of Ducati vs Winning

I agree Ducati has tried some very inovative ideas - Mono Carbon Frame, Carbon fiber swing arm, etc, and I applaud them for it.
But this isn't show and tell, this is racing.
Titles, wins, trophies, poll position, fastest lap, the top step, riders fighting to get on your bike, sponsors throwing money at you to have their stickers on your bike, your race team's reputation and your corporations legacy.
As they say - the proof is on isle four, in the pudding section.
Casey - bailed.
Marco - nearly broke him.
Spies - probably responsable for the early retirement injuries
Rossi - Ugh - went through more leathers with Ducati than he had in the whole of the rest of his career.
Cal - seems so happy
Dovi - happy to be in front of Cal

I think the 2015 Ducati is going to be rife with change and will run up front. Whatever they told Cal & Dovi was the right thing, now I just hope they weren't blowing sunshine up their asses.

Total votes: 22

innovation?

john britten's bike was pretty much the last true innovation that actually worked, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Britten for those who don't know him, innovations that don't work are just bad concepts with bad engineering

Total votes: 23

snel70

Allowing time for innovations to be perfected can change an apparent bad concepts with bad engineering to a wildly successful future direction. It seems all too easy to dismiss readily ideas that may offer genuine improvements.

Total votes: 14

Not to put down Britten's achievements

But a big part of the success of the V1000 was the huge power-to-weight advantage it held, not because of anything particularly advantageous in the chassis (although the chassis, or lack thereof, did create the bike's light weight). 160+hp in the early 90's was insane. A conventional chassis with that motor probably would have been a winner as well.

As for Ducati, the big problem they had with their innovative bike designs is that they never got any development. What they rolled out of the pits in FP1 Rd1 was probably what took the flag in Valencia. Stoner talked about new parts at Ducati meaning maybe some different spec forks (or even the previous year's!), or re-designed clamps. Small stuff. Whereas Honda and Yamaha are rolling out new spec frames and swingarms as and when needed. Whether that's a resource issue or to do with Matt was discussing in the article, they were and are never going to get anywhere if they're not constantly updating and improving the bike.

Total votes: 11

progress

Whether in racing or some other aspect of life, the moment we forget that the solutions we've found for the problems we face are not the best solutions, just the best solutions we've found so far, well that's the moment we stop progressing as a species.

Progress is painfully difficult. Professional racing as a test bed for progress is a double-edged sword--gotta keep pushing the technology envelope while at the same time providing results and putting on good shows.

It's our fault as spectators, really. We complain when a factory like Ducati tries something new and fails, then we bitch and moan in spectacular fashion when they stick to their guns and insist they're on the right track when we can all plainly see they're not. Then we applaud them when they're cajoled into adopting a more common motorcycle design by a rider/legend who's always ridden a motorcycle of more common design.

How many advances have we, as a society, missed because the wrong people were trying the right thing at the wrong time without sufficient backing to overcome early failure?

Total votes: 19

Missed oppertunities

May I recall a car manufacturer like NSU with their beautiful RO80 I gues this car was build about 15-20 years to soon, look at the engine it's using why did it not beat the regular 4stroke?? Now don't come up with the envirement bull...tt, because we have had two beautiful engine designs lost to that enviremental crap.

Total votes: 13

But...

it's all Valentino's fault! ;)

Total votes: 31

?

I'm curious what... Why???... It is nightmare for motogp mechanic to work on motogp bike? (isn't it "just fired" mechanic? ;) :) ) [Maybe it is just me - but everytime I touch and work on GP parts - I feel like I'm waking up in paradise] ...
Nightmare bike got podium this year and best laptime at PI tests?
...
...
...
"...it seems like Ducati have forgotten how to design a racing motorcycle..."
if it is so... They forgot it in one night. Between November 6 2011 - when they won race in Valencia and November 7th when exactly the same bike (but different rider) was 17th in tests ;) :)

Dall'Igna knows V4 kinematics. He will do it! :)

Total votes: 39

2011?

Minor detail is that Stoner was riding the Honda on Nov 6th 2011 - but you make a good point.
Stoner won 3 of the last 6 races in the 2010 season on the Ducati. He finished 2nd behind Lorenzo at Valencia on 7th Nov, almost 5 seconds ahead of Rossi. By the next day, the Desmosedici was a three-legged dog.

Total votes: 27

Control tire

Ducati abandoned the steel trellis for a carbon fiber monocoque and carbon fiber swingarm. They abandoned carbon fiber for aluminum twin spar and aluminum swingarm. They take bigger risks than the other manufacturers.

Ducati and Stoner were both knocked out by the same set of circumstances. They won their first GP title, and then people started screwing around with the rulebook. In 2008, Stoner complained bitterly about the tires, and Bridgestone changed them again in 2012. Stoner went home.

There is nothing wrong with Ducati. The rules have been unstable. Kawsaki quit. Suzuki quit. Stoner quit. Preziosi was forced out. Ducati have stayed around. Maybe that's their problem. Reasonable people would have quit, but Ducati is just too damn stubborn and temperamental.

Total votes: 38

Control stifles innovation

Sure the control tyre makes it very difficult for new technologies to be successful - because they have to work with a tyre that's designed for traditional tech - however, Ducati tried going to aluminium twin spar frames to replicate the traditional approach and they still failed.

If they want to compete in the current environment they need to change; they can't rely on changing the environment to suit their experimental tech.

Total votes: 21

Agree

Ducati's unrealistic expectations of favorable future rules changes is the most accurate assessment of the situation, imo.

Ducati have not adjusted to the control tire, but I reject the premise that Ducati forgot how to build race bikes. They were on the brink of some interesting developments in 2007, but they were caught out by a raft of rules changes. The same rules changes turned Kawasaki and Suzuki into deadwood. Yamaha adjusted best, winning the 2008 and 2009 titles, which explains why Ducati took a chance and brought them both to Bologna for 2011.

Ducati has not played its hand well, and as a result, they seem to be on the losing end of many battles within the MSMA. I don't disapprove of Gigi's hire, but Ducati are admitting that they want someone who can adjust to the whims of the GPC, rather than a mad-scientist with his own visions of fast motorcycles. Ducati's current strategy is a white flag, though, as you point out, it may be necessary to save their GP effort in the modern control tire era.

Maybe Michelin will shift the paradigm again in 2016.

Total votes: 22

2008 economy, Ducati mercurial

Keep in mind too that 2008 was not just impacted by rule changes. The economy of every market in the world fell like an Illmore. Ducati has a much smaller revenue stream than their competitors. Italy was much harder hit than Japan. I don't know the figures but safe to say budgets dropping were synergistically related w rule changes.

Odd thing comes to mind...LOVED the 998 and will dearly remember track time on one. Hated the 999 primarily for the choo-choo aesthetics. Look at how strong it turned out to be on track! Lousy street bike. Now look at the Panigale...BEAUTIFUL and full of amazing tech, great streetbike but unimpressive race bike. Ducati is SO Italian, tons and tons of heart and anything but formula bound. Lots of love for life (what other MotoGP pit garage would serve cured meats, cheeses and wine on Thurs of a race weekend and let fans join in?). Keep in mind how amazing it was that they came into the onset of MotoGP with such a blazingly fast motorcycle right off the bat.

They were very slow to make changes to the physical size of the engine. They put too much focus on the carbon fiber chassis that was not as tuneable and sortable as needed nor provided adequate feel. The advent of Bstone providing a fabulous tire and particularly one a good fit for their bike's needs masked a need for a development change that was needed.

New chapter is well underway. I CAN'T WAIT to see what riders are able to do w this all new bike! Ducati is able to do it well. If they hit the tire lottery w the Michelin and a certain rider has a sweet feel from the package we could see a red bike at the pointy end. The championship electronics could end up a tough fit for Honda or Yamaha relative to Ducati (Honda appears to have more to lose here from where I am sitting). Fingers crossed for the '4 bikes/2 manufacturer' applecart to come undone.

Total votes: 19

Another excellent appraisal

Another excellent appraisal by Mat Oxley. I had no idea how bad the situation was at Ducati before reading this. Looking on the bright side, I think Gigi Dall’Igna is just the man to set things right – his insistence while negotiating his contract on getting control on all of the racing operations is an indication that he knew from the outset all the issues that Mat described.

Total votes: 21

Watch out for that tree!

Great read and summation to one of the most enigmatic mysteries of the GP paddock. It's been over 5 years since it was apparent that the Ducati was sliding towards the back of the grid Casey Stoner or no Casey Stoner. Oxley's year by year list of results is an indictment no one at Ducati can be in denial about. At this present moment they are very much a has been in GP racing and if they don't turn it around for real that may continue to be the case. The real shame is that the same design egos/ethos that has hamstrung the GP machine has infected their road bike (frameless pig) and took them from regular title chasers in SBK to the same wilderness the GP team finds themselves in. I'm glad Gigi has free reign to change more than the bike. He knows how to design a bike and run a successful race program. If Ducati culture proves so intractable that he can't put them right then I really fear for their future in racing. Who else is there? They have the passion that's for sure and they have the technical ability to be contenders I feel. Maybe rather than grand expressions of supposed innovation maybe they should go a less glamorous path of incremental refinement. Honda and Yamaha are the pinnacles of the art & technology of GP machines through evolution instead of revolution. 2016 looks to be a year that all the factories will be reigned in some and readapt to new limitations. If Ducati can get a bike that can turn and be set up while retaining the sheer power their motors are known for they may find that trail of bread crumbs leading them out of the wilderness.

Total votes: 24

Not so sure about that...

Since the 1950s, Ducati's approach has been evolution, not revolution. Taglioni even said so. It's why, among many other things, Ducatis are still twins (GP bikes excepted).

By no means coincidentally, Taglioni liked to grow Orchids. There are no new Orchids, just refinements of existing ones. He applied the same philosophy to motorcycle design. Bordi didn't grow Orchids, but he was of the same evolution vs. revolution mindset.

'Course, they're not around anymore....

Total votes: 8

Fax machines, email, and detailed race reports

Never mind where the coffee machine is located, it has always seemed to me that part of the problem during the Rossi-Ducati years was that the crew chief and race mechanics were back home in Australia after every race. While I have no details of travel schedules or work schedules, I have read things indicating the normal pattern was for the crew to show up for the race every other week. I always wondered how that could work. At the same time, the Japanese factories face obvious logistics problems. I admit that I don't really know how they manage their schedules regarding technical development and feedback from the front lines.

I wish Ducati the best for the balance of this year and the future. Ducati is important to the overall health of MotoGP, IMO.

Total votes: 23

sounds true

What Matt has described is what I was wittering on about a week or two back regarding organisational development etc, not that I'm claiming any great kudos for insight, it's become more and more apparent that Ducati has BIG problems for quite some time. If Gigi does build a wonderbike for next year, which would be great, Ducati will still have the same underlying weakness to sort out. Four sizes of bolts? You can build a better bike for next year by saying to the engineer, 'that's stupid, two sizes max'. But if that engineer goes away saying he's only made the change because you made him do it, you'll probably find him coming back with a compelling reason for 3 sizes in 2016. And so on. Big change is a hearts and minds thing that has to start at the top and needs a critical mass of buy-in from the whole workforce. If Ducati's top brass are as they sound, that's one tough gig for Gigi (excuse the pun), not least because people tend to recruit people like themselves, or who will at least agree with them, so the rot won't be entirely limited to the top floor.

The other thing is that much of the talk is about sorting out the cornering, as though this is a single issue, 'once fixed it's fixed' type of problem. I'm not convinced. Honda and Yamaha have had near perfect designs for a decade but each year they need to fix something about their bikes. Clearly cornering is the big one for Ducati right now but to return to any kind of enduring competitiveness they need to get to a position where whatever the problem, they have sustainable capability to find a successful solution, as is the case with the Japanese manufacturers.

Like almost everyone else I really hope they can do it, for the health of the sport alone.

Total votes: 19

Absolutely excellent point!

Absolutely excellent point! The bike is the result of the disfunction in their race dept not the cause of it. You're right that Honda & Yamaha are very quick to respond to problems presented by new tires or tech regulations & in Yamaha's case simply responsing to the advances Honda keep churning out. Would Honda suffer an understeering bike for years? Unthinkable. Would Ducati solve the massive chatter problem Honda experienced at the beginning of 2012 by mid season so one of their riders could dominate the second half? Questionable. There's no doubt racing is in Ducati's blood but it sounds like some of the brains of their company are not getting enough of that bloodflow and are in danger of passing out. Dr Gigi to ER please!

Total votes: 18

Bolts

The anecdote relating to the use of four different sizes of bolt is very telling. You can see where the designers are coming from, using the correct size bolt for each application, racing however is about speed. That includes in the pit garage so you should need as few tools as possible.

I used to do a bit of classic preparation, it was hard to work on some sixties and seventies British stuff as you would need AF, Whitworth and metric spanners and sockets...a nightmare when you grab the wrong one in the heat of the moment and round off a nut!

Overall, this is a symptom of companies which purport to adhere to Kaizan principles but in reality it gets in the way of the ego's of their management.

Total votes: 21

Excellent

A splendid article as ever Matt.

Didn't Gerry Burgess also say that bike was a nightmare to work on? He was talking about something as simple as changing a wheel, you need one spanner on a Yamaha, multiple on a Ducati.

I was thinking about buying a used 1098; hmmm maybe not after reading this...

Total votes: 20

Nuff said

stick to a simpler beast..

Total votes: 15

It's about people, not tech.

Dall 'Igna has to impose his personality and leadership and achieve leadership via respect for his engineering ideas. Like Enzo Ferrari and Colin Chapman he needs strong people who are willing and able to turn his ideas into working reality.
He seems to have the authority and the budget, and he has put strong people in place like Tardozzi, with race and team leadership understanding, plus a will to win. If he can get their support of a different way of working then the results will come.
The nuts and bolt story is a good example - the Japanese taught the Western factories that lesson 50 years ago. If a young or old engineer thinks he doesn't need to listen to that kind of thing or enact it without his bosses approval then the speed of development will be hamstrung and Gigi will have start sacking rather than reorganising. Blocks have to be removed. Crankcase or nutcase, the only acceptable outcome is reliable speed, and if the speed isn't there it has be dropped/changed quickly. Evolution is only OK if you want 'orchids' - it's impossible to get Italy's preferred rose from one.
It seems that neither Stoner, Capirex, Rossi, or Melandri worked with a team that couldn't do it - it was because they wouldn't. After the Rossi/Burgess etc. comments of the past few years it rings very true.

Total votes: 12

Keep it Simple Stupid!

Keep it Simple Stupid!

Total votes: 10

Stoners book

I urge you to read Caseys biography - even if you dont like the guy - it gives a good insight into how Ducati operated pre-Gigi.

It is also a very enjoyable read and has given me a greater respect for the little fella that sacrificed a lot to be where he ended up.

I hope Ducati can turn it around, the more manufacturers at the top the better for the sport, and for us the spectators.

Cheers,

Dan

Total votes: 16

Honda's Ducati

Hard to work on and driven by form rather than function, the 1979 honda NR500 4-stroke oval piston with monoqoue frame, was honda wanting to prove their design concepts were competitive with the best of everyone else.

This has too many parralles to Ducatis form over function design approach to be ignored. After struggling wuth this bike for tough unsuccesful years, all of a sudden Freddie Spencer would surprise people to win the championship, but notably on a compete redesign which abandoned all these beffuttled concepts without prejudice.

If Honda hadn't let go off those ideas of form first they would never had emerged to be where they are now. Would've been good here to recap Hondas initial re entry to GP racing and the people and stories involved in turining it around and just how quickly it can be done.

Total votes: 3

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