Fifty-three minutes is how long Filippo Preziosi spoke to the press at Ducati's 2012 Wrooom event at Madonna di Campiglio. The Ducati Corse General Manager spoke extensively on the work that had gone in to the Desmosedici GP12 to be debuted by Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi at Sepang, on the data gathered by Ducati's riders throughout the 2011 season and in the post-race test at Valencia, on the Bridgestone tires and the problems they caused for engineers, on the lessons learned from comparing a carbon fiber chassis using the engine as a stressed member against an aluminium twin spar chassis, and about the approach taken to solving the problems encountered during the 2011 season. But despite his extended and fascinating presentation, he gave virtually nothing away about the actual bike itself.
Preziosi responded with his usual impish humor to questions about the angle between the two banks of cylinders, saying only that he will reply to that question when Honda will tell him what the V angle is of their RC213V. He was just as cagey about the displacement of the engine, merely alluding to the fact that displacement need not be an issue, as even the 800cc bike had had plenty of power. It was, he said, "enough" and that they would find out whether the displacement was large enough the first time the bike hit the front straight. Beyond that, he tiptoed around details, the full extent of his disclosure that "the only components which are used from the previous bike are the front so the fork and steering [assembly]. All the rest is totally new."
But there was still plenty of meat in his presentation, if you were prepared to dig. The key to understanding the changes to the bike starts at Valencia, and the original twin spar chassis used at the post-race test by Valentino Rossi. That bike was meant to provide a baseline, a starting point from which the targets for the bike to be debuted at Sepang were drawn. It was the GPZero - Preziosi expressed his gratitude for whoever coined that phrase - that allowed them to work out what changes would be needed; the Valencia test bike was "a reference bike," Preziosi said.
And though Preziosi was not very forthcoming on the changes, he did describe in detail the process and goals for those changes. Throughout 2011, in their pursuit of a setup, Ducati's riders had persistently bumped up against the limits of adjustments - all too visible given the sometimes extreme setups that both Hayden and especially Rossi had tried out at some tracks. "We were using the bike always on the more extreme end of the adjustment," Preziosi said, "and this did not allow us to go where our riders desired or where it was necessary to be competitive.
The new bike would be different, with the extreme adjustments most often used taken as the median of the range of adjustment. If, Preziosi gave as an example, the wheelbase of the bike was between 1422mm and 1470mm, and the bike was always being set up with a wheelbase around 1465 or 1470mm, then the range of wheelbase adjustment would be shifted so that 1470 was the median value. The wheelbase, Preziosi stressed, was not the real issue, but he had selected that parameter as an easily understandable example. "I don't want to give you too many technical details," he said, "but just to give you an idea of what we have done."
To allow all of these adjustments to be moved to their median values was an almost Sisyphean task: motorcycle setup is such a complex series of interactions that fitting it all together required a lot of incredibly difficult engineering calculations. It had required a lot of changes, too: "We change the chassis, the frame. We change the tank, the seat support. We changed the engine, the swing arm. We changed some of the engine casting, so that it can be fixed in a position which we consider more suitable."
This is the bike that will be used at Sepang, Preziosi said, and this will form the basis for 2012. It was not necessarily the final bike - Preziosi expected a few minor changes between Sepang and the first race, with perhaps one or two new parts being designed on the basis of the data from the first races - but it was a much better starting point than the GP11. "We may introduce some new things," Preziosi said, "but they're not going to be entirely new bikes. They're not going to overturn the concept of the bike; this will remain the same."
The change in approach - and especially the switch to a twin spar chassis, rather than the 'frameless' design which used the engine as a stressed member - had been forced upon them by the engine allocation rules, Prezioso emphasized once again. "We decided to use the perimeter frame to be able to reposition the engine without having to use new engines," the Ducati Corse boss explained. The perimeter frame allows the engine to be moved and repositioned freely, depending on the development of the rest of the bike. If Ducati needs to move the engine, they can, without being forced to start from pit lane.
These design decision themselves had been a consequence of the peculiar nature of the Bridgestone tires. "There is a single [tire] supplier, so our challenge is developing the best possible bike for that specific type of tire," Preziosi elucidated. "In the past, we spoke with the tire supplier, and they designed the best tire for a specific bike," Preziosi said, "today, we have to build the bike for the tire."
Interestingly, Preziosi also hinted at changes coming from Bridgestone for 2012, saying that the direction for development was "to bring them into line with the needs of the championship." Preziosi stressed this had nothing to do with demands from Ducati, but was in response to pleas from all of the MotoGP riders which had been made throughout 2011. He praised the appointment of Loris Capirossi to liaise with Bridgestone on the issue, as the Italian veteran, who retired at the end of 2011, has long years of experience in MotoGP, and had been working with Bridgestone since 2005. Bridgestone themselves were also being more responsive, Preziosi said, much more responsive than in the past. "I'm sure starting from the first winter test that we are going to see something new and something interesting," he told reporters.
Preziosi was optimistic about the 2012 season, stating that Ducati had faced great challenges in the past and performed the impossible. He was confident that the hard work and commitment by the engineers, team members and riders would pay off in 2012, though he was careful to temper expectations a little, pointing out that Yamaha and Honda had 30 years of experience in building perimeter chassis, and so had quite a head start on the Bologna factory. But that very experience was also an advantage, he said, pointing out that while the Japanese factories may have all that experience of aluminium twin spar chassis, Ducati had experience of both the twin spar chassis now, and the carbon fiber 'frameless' concept. He also contended that the 'frameless' chassis had not been the problem, as validated by the data from Valentino Rossi at Valencia. The two chassis concepts - frameless and twin spar - had felt very similar, Rossi had told the engineers, which Preziosi believed meant that both concepts were valid. It would theoretically be possible to return to a 'frameless' chassis in the future, but the engine rules made it improbable for at least the next few seasons.
Though the GP12 bike was very different from the 'reference' bike tested by Valentino Rossi at Valencia, the two would be hard to tell apart, he said. The difference between the bike with the twin spar chassis and the bike with the carbon fiber chassis had been strikingly visible, Preziosi said; the difference between the Valencia bike and the Sepang bike would require very close study to spot the difference.
Preziosi was also keen to affirm that the new bike was a Ducati, and not, as one journalist put it, "Valentino's bike". "In the media, people tend to 'Valentinize' everything," Preziosi quipped. But Rossi himself is always keen to point out that he is not an engineer, and that it is his job only to give feedback as clearly as possible to the designers, telling them how the bike behaved. It is the responsibility of the engineers to design the bike based on that feedback, Preziosi said, adding "the bike which is going to be racing is going to be a Ducati bike."
The Ducati boss also said that the additional testing would make developing the bike a lot easier. During 2011, the riders had been forced to treat Fridays and Saturdays as testing days, gathering data rather than looking for setup. Now, with extra testing allowed, Rossi and Hayden would be able to test in between races, instead of at the races, giving them more time to concentrate on being competitive. Preziosi thanked both Rossi and Hayden for their patience in 2011, and had some particularly fulsome praise for Nicky Hayden. "Nicky has very often been for us an example," Preziosi said, praising his professionalism and attitude when finding himself in situations which he had little control over. When he met with his young engineers, Preiziosi said, he would hold Hayden up as an example of how results can only be achieved by carrying on, even in times of great difficulty.
So will the Ducati Desmosedici GP12 be competitive for Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden to start fighting for podiums and wins again? What is clear is that the bike has undergone a fairly radical revision, though one that will not be immediately visible to the untrained eye. The starting point, the base setup that Ducati riders missed throughout 2011, should be vastly improved, and the fact that both Hayden and Rossi will be able to do real testing outside of race weekends will help. The gap should be much closer to both Honda and Yamaha, but, as Filippo Preziosi was keen to point out, neither Yamaha nor Honda have been sitting still during the winter either. 2011 was a disaster for Ducati - though once again, Preziosi emphasized that the data gained was crucial and highly valuable; 2012 can only get better.