Ducati's Non-MSMA Entry Machines - A Great Gamble With The New Regulations
At Assen, Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti revealed to the MotoGP.com website that they, too, will be offering bikes for non-MSMA teams in 2014. While Honda is selling a simplified production racer version of the RC213V, and Yamaha is to lease M1 engines, the package Ducati is offering could turn out to be very interesting indeed. Instead of producing a separate machine, Ducati will be offering the 2013 version of the Desmosedici to private teams, to be entered as non-MSMA entries, and using the spec electronics hardware and software package provided by Magneti Marelli.
Although the current 2013 machine is still far from competitive - at Assen, the two factory Ducatis finished 33 seconds behind the winner Valentino Rossi, and behind the Aprilia ART machine - the special conditions allowed for non-MSMA entries make the Desmosedici a much more interesting proposition. Though the main difference between the MSMA entries (i.e. factory and satellite teams, using bikes run directly from the factories) and non-MSMA entries (i.e. privateer teams, using any bike they like) is in the choice of software for the spec ECU (MSMA entries get to write their own software, non-MSMA entries have to use the standard Marelli software), the amount of fuel (20 vs 24 liters) and the number of engines (5 vs 12), there are a couple of other differences which are also significant.
The first and most obvious difference is the use of the softer option tire, which is only available to the CRT teams, and which will continue to be available to the non-MSMA teams for 2014. One of the Desmosedici's biggest problems is that it goes well with a new tire, which still has plenty of grip, but fades badly once the tire wears and the rear starts spinning too much. The softer option tire could help cure part of the Desmosedici's problem, with more grip throughout the race, allowing them to maintain the same pace throughout the race. Nicky Hayden has repeatedly shown an interest in testing the CRT tire, and has stated his belief that that tire could help the Ducatis to go faster.
The second difference is that while the MSMA entries will be subject to an engine freeze, with no engine development allowed from the first race of the season until the end, that is not the case with the non-MSMA entries. Those teams have been given the ability to keep developing their engines throughout the season, to help get them closer to the factory machines.
The option to keep developing engines could allow Ducati a back door to help solve their problems with the Desmosedici. While much of the work done so far on the bike has been related to chassis stiffness, some of the weight distribution problems could be related to the engine design. While the 90°V layout is probably not the problem - the success of the Honda RC213V, which is also a 90°V, would seem to confirm that - the rest of the physical layout of the engine could be an issue. The Ducati lump is said to be larger than the corresponding Honda and Yamaha units, and the gearbox layout is less compact and much longer than its Japanese rivals. Thanks to the engine freeze for MSMA teams, any development on engine layout cannot be introduced until the following year. Supplying Desmosedicis to non-MSMA teams would allow Ducati to experiment with different engine layouts and test how they work in practice, getting the fundamentals ready to be included in the factory bikes the following year. With an allowance of twelve engines, two or three different layouts could be tested throughout the year.
Using non-MSMA entries, and accepting the limitations of the spec software, Ducati will be able to continue the work that needs to be done in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Although having a test team is valuable, having the opportunity to test changes in a race is even more useful. Providing the machines to teams at a cost - unknown at this time, but likely to be around the million euro mark, in line with the informal demands from Dorna - will also help cover at least some of the cost of this development. Racing with the softer CRT tire will help tackle another area where their current bike is weak, and provide yet more data on a key area of development.
Of course, using this approach is arguably a violation of the spirit of the rules, which are intended to keep factory support out of privateer teams. But to withdraw non-MSMA status from a team requires the support of the majority of the Grand Prix Commission members, and would be submitted by the MSMA, of which Ducati is a member. The Japanese factories are unlikely to demand the retraction of non-MSMA status from a team using the Ducati Desmosedici bikes, partly as a matter of honor, and partly as they also realize that the series needs Ducati to be competitive. Ducati's plan to supply non-MSMA teams with Desmosedicis is a de facto extension of their development program, and given the gap to Honda and Yamaha, it is badly needed.