While much of the focus at Assen this weekend has been on how different Valentino Rossi's new Ducati Desmosdici (dubbed the GP11.1) is from it predecessor, the GP11, perhaps the more intriguing question is how close the GP11.1 is to the GP12. The differences between the GP11 that Rossi was riding two weeks' ago at Silverstone and the GP11.1 he has at Assen are huge: when asked by reporters what parts from the GP11 were used for the GP11.1, Ducati team boss (and head of the test team) Vito Guareschi reeled off a very short list: "The wheels, the brakes and the front forks." Everything else, he said, was different.
The GP12, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish altogether. The difference between the 2012 machine tested by Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi last week at Mugello and the 2011 machine which Rossi is riding this weekend is just two parts: a modified crankshaft to give the engine a shorter stroke, bringing it inside the 800cc maximum capacity, and longer conrods to fit the relocated crankpins. Everything else, Guareschi revealed, was identical, the bike being an adaptation of the GP12 which Rossi had tested and been so pleased with at the Jerez test.
That test had planted the seeds of an idea in Ducati technical guru Filippo Preziosi's head. With Rossi so enthusiastic about the 2012 bike - a machine which had started life on Preziosi's drawing board in 2010 - if it could be adapted to comply with the 2011 rules, then that would be one possible way of helping make Rossi competitive again. After the test, Preziosi altered the crankshaft and connecting rods, and put the new, shorter-stroke engine on the dyno to test reliability. It was then put into the hands of Franco Battaini at Mugello, to ensure that it all worked, while Rossi continued to test its big brother, the GP12.
Once the reliability of the engine had been tested to Preziosi's satisfaction, he gave the go ahead for Rossi to use the new bike at Assen, and given Rossi's 2nd place during Thursday's only practice session (the second one canceled due to oil on the track), the experiment appears to have worked. Rossi was delighted with the bike, praising the rear of the bike, and saying the feeling with the bike was already much better. He admitted than he was once again enjoying riding the bike now, something that was clearly visible out on the track.
Guareschi told reporters that the goal of the switch had been twofold: to improve the performance of the bike this year, and to gain valuable data for the 2012 machine. By switching to the chassis layout they will be using on the 2012 bike, Ducati can get a headstart on next season, and iron out some of the problems which are likely to raise their head due to switching to a radically new design. All the data being gathered from now until the end of next season have also forced a change of plan as far as testing is concerned: the original schedule was for Ducati to test their 1000 after the Mugello test, along with Honda and Yamaha. But with five of their eight days already used, and data coming from the 800cc iteration of the bike, instead, Ducati will wait until after the Misano race, to test some new updates due around that time. With nothing new to test - and only three more test days - using two days at Mugello would have been a waste. Honda, it seems, agrees, and will reportedly also not be testing at Mugello.
Guareschi's admission that the Ducati GP12 that Valentino Rossi tested last week at Mugello is so incredibly close - or more accurately, identical except for two, admittedly major, engine components - would seem to be a violation of the MotoGP testing rules. But as we have explained here before, what they have done is entirely legal. The wording of the rules prohibits riders from testing "machines eligible for MotoGP" but a 1000cc MotoGP bike (or 900cc, or 930cc, or whatever capacity Filippo Preziosi has determined is the most efficient at using the available fuel) is not eligible for MotoGP, as the rules stipulate that the maximum capacity for MotoGP machines is 800cc.
You may say that this is a violation of the spirit of the rules, - though it is not so much violating it as abducting the spirit of the rules, raping its wife, killing its kids, emptying its bank account and dumping its body in a cess pit - but the fact of the matter is, the Grand Prix Commission (and most importantly, the MSMA, who make the technical regulations) have spectacularly failed to take any of this into account when drawing up the rules. When the category switched from 800cc to 1000cc, the only thing that was changed was adding eight extra days of testing for the 2012 machines, the factories considering that they had covered all bases.
But Valentino Rossi riding a 2012 machine with a couple of parts to make it eligible for 2011 has raised a large number of questions that could have been avoided. MotoGP statistician Dr Martin Raines had a simple and stunningly elegant solution to the whole mess. If the Grand Prix Commission had merely added eight extra days of testing, specifying that any of those days could be used for either the 2011 or the 2012 machine, whatever a particular factory felt was needed most, then we would not even be having this debate.
In other words, as GPOne pointed out, the problem is not that Ducati are violating the rules. The problem is that nobody spent any time thinking about the rules, and thinking about the possible consequences those rules have had. Ducati have merely applied some intelligence to the situation, and used it to their advantage. Expecting a MotoGP team to do any otherwise is rather naive. In the words of GPOne.com "he who thinks, wins."