The Monster 2016 MotoGP Silly Season Primer, Part 2: Ducati in Search of an Alien

Though much of the attention during this year's Silly Season will be on the Yamaha and Honda garages, which we wrote about yesterday, the more interesting stories are to be found in the rest of pit lane. With Yamaha and Honda looking likely to remain virtually unchanged, the other factories in MotoGP could see a lot more changes.

The garage likely to generate the most speculation is that of Ducati. Since the arrival of Gigi Dall'Igna as the head of Ducati Corse, the Ducati Desmosedici has been transformed from a career killer to championship contender. Or at least we believe it has: last year, the Andreas Dovizioso and Iannone grabbed eight podiums between them, and came close to a win at the first race in Qatar, Dovizioso coming up just 0.174 short of Valentino Rossi. The GP16 – or the Desmosedici GP, as Ducati have deigned to call it – is meant to be even more competitive, benefiting not only from a year of refinement, but also from experience with the spec Magneti Marelli electronics.

Last year, at the launch of the GP15, Dall'Igna said the goal of Ducati was to win a race that year. They did not, but the overall competitiveness of the bike led many to question whether the problem might be the riders the factory team have. Both Dovizioso and Iannone come with impeccable pedigrees, both having won multiple Grand Prix, Dovizioso also having won a MotoGP race and a world championship in 125. Yet neither has managed to pose a consistent threat to the established hierarchy on the Desmosedici. They have been there or thereabouts, and sometimes looked seriously dangerous, as they both did at Qatar, and Iannone did at Phillip Island. But are they the right riders to mount a campaign for the 2016 MotoGP championship?

Wanted: E.T.

That is the question which Ducati executives must be asking themselves. The fact that they have signed Casey Stoner as a test rider is another sign of just how seriously they are taking this challenge. Philip Morris and Audi have put a lot of money into Ducati's racing program, the changes Dall'Igna has made to Ducati Corse have turned the organization around, now it is time to deliver. With question marks over Iannone and Dovizioso, Ducati are now turning to the open market to see if they can find a genuine MotoGP Alien to bring them their first win since Casey Stoner climbed off the bike at Phillip Island in 2010.

Who will they go for? As we wrote yesterday, Jorge Lorenzo is at the very top of their target list. Gigi Dall'Igna has an excellent relationship with Lorenzo, and knows him well from having worked with him in 250s, when Dall'Igna was head of Aprilia's racing department and Lorenzo was winning championships for them. A good personal rapport is important, but not sufficient to tempt Lorenzo over. Large sums of money might help, but even they may not be sufficient. As we discussed yesterday, the one thing which drives Lorenzo above all else is ambition, and a lasting legacy at Yamaha may be a more appealing prospect than gambling on Ducati.

An additional factor in Lorenzo's choice would be that he would not be able to take his entire crew with him. Wilco Zeelenberg is a key part of Lorenzo's success, supplying pointers to Lorenzo, but also to crew chief Ramon Forcada about where Lorenzo's strengths and weaknesses lie at a particular circuit. Zeelenberg is a Yamaha employee through and through, and will not leave Yamaha to go to Ducati. Forcada, likewise, is more tied to Yamaha than to Lorenzo, and would be more likely to stay at the Movistar Yamaha team to work with a young prospect like Alex Rins than move to Ducati with Lorenzo.

In search of a hotshot

If not Lorenzo, who? There is no doubt that Ducati will approach Marc Márquez, but the Spanish youngster has many ties that bind him to Honda. Though Ducati could probably outspend HRC if it came to a bidding war, it is unlikely they could create enough of a difference to make Márquez an offer he could not afford to refuse. The most likely role for Ducati will be as a bargaining chip in Emilio Alzamora's negotiations over Márquez' salary.

Márquez' current teammate Dani Pedrosa could prove a more fruitful target for Ducati. Should the Spanish veteran be bumped from the Repsol Honda squad, he would make an excellent addition to the factory Ducati team. Pedrosa has what Ducati needs: proven talent, the ability to win races, and excellent feedback to help develop the bike. His disadvantage is his size, which on the roomiest bike on the grid would likely be exaggerated. Making a Desmosedici to fit Pedrosa could well be a deterrent for Ducati.

Maverick Viñales is a more likely target for Ducati, and along with Alex Rins, is probably the hottest prospect on the rider market. Viñales could be tempted away from Suzuki, especially with the kind of money which Ducati could afford, but the Spanish youngster could not expect to command the kind of salary a proven winner like Lorenzo or Márquez. Though Viñales has been deeply impressive during testing, he is yet to score a podium in MotoGP, and consequently still has to prove that he belongs in Alien territory with the established Big Four.

The new Schwantz?

That may change if he starts to get podiums and wins on the Suzuki, but at the same time, it would create more problems for Ducati. It would increase the already major interest which HRC has in the Spanish youngster, perhaps causing a bidding war between the two factories. But it would also make Viñales more likely to stay where he is, and put his trust in Suzuki. If the glory of being the first person to win on a Ducati since 2010 would be considerable, just think how well the first winner on a Suzuki since 2007 would be received. If Viñales starts scoring the results many believe he is capable of, the comparison with Kevin Schwantz will become inevitable. Even though Viñales' style is much more like Eddie Lawson or Wayne Rainey than is like Revvin' Kevin.

Of course, if Viñales doesn't get the results they expect, then that leaves Ducati to wonder again if it is the bike or the rider, leaving them in exactly the same place they are now. In that case, they would have to look further afield for a replacement.

Ducati Junior

Or perhaps closer to home. Both Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci have posted strong results during testing, the Ducati GP15 working exceptionally well with the common software from Magneti Marelli. The Pramac team has for some time now been serving as the de facto Ducati Junior team, bringing on young talent ready to make the jump to the factory squad. That it works is demonstrated by Andrea Iannone, the Italian having spent his first two years in MotoGP with the Pramac squad, before moving up to the factory team in 2015.

Petrucci, who will be in 26 in October, is perhaps the least likely candidate, mainly because of his age. However, the Italian had a much stronger season in 2015 than Scott Redding did, while Petrucci was on the Ducati GP14.1 and Redding on the supposedly superior Honda RC213V. Redding will have to switch that around in 2016 to have a shot at the factory seat, and his race simulation at Qatar was extremely impressive. On the basis of that, Redding would have been in with a shot at a podium, had the race been held during the test. If he can repeat that in ten days' time, then he will put himself in the hot seat for the factory ride. At 23 years of age, he would make a strong partnership for the future with the 26-year-old Iannone.

The danger for Ducati in hiring Redding to ride alongside Iannone is that neither are known for their ability to develop a bike. Both are fast, but they rely more on bravery and talent than intellect and analysis, and it is precisely in that area where Ducati will need to retain some focus. Casey Stoner – one of the most incisive and brilliant minds in racing – can pick up the slack as a test rider, but having someone on the bike week in, week out, providing the kind of detailed feedback which can move the bike forward is extremely valuable.

Brains as well as beauty

This is where Ducati's dilemma lies. Andrea Dovizioso is capable of just this. One of the most analytical riders on the grid, and one of the best at both understanding and describing exactly what is going on with a motorcycle, the success of Ducati is due in no small part to the feedback they have received from Dovizioso. He has value as a factory rider precisely for this reason. Ducati could do a lot worse than keep him

Could Ducati persuade Casey Stoner to make a full-time return to racing? As much as they would like to, he has repeatedly told the media he has no intention of racing, and his injuries and home life are such that he has no real need to go back. He no longer has the driving ambition to go out and prove he is faster than anyone else, at least not in sufficient measure to do the physical training with the kind of dedication he knows is needed to be competitive. He has found a fulfilling role at Ducati, helping coach all of Ducati's riders, and providing valuable input on the Ducati Desmosedici (input which is actually listened to, in contrast with his time as a test rider with Honda). So he has little to gain.

Predictions:

Ducati Factory
Andrea Iannone
Dani Pedrosa/Scott Redding

Pramac Ducati
Danilo Petrucci
Scott Redding/Loris Baz

What of Suzuki, Aprilia and KTM? How about the satellite seats that need to be filled? More on that tomorrow, and the next few days.


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Total votes: 65
Total votes: 181

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Comments

i'd like to see him on an m1, could've won several titles had he raced one.

Total votes: 91

Pedrosa to Ducati in 2017, it makes the most sense for both.
You heard it here first. :)

Total votes: 72

out of all the aliens, Pedrosa is the most likely to leave. Him and Casey are close, so let's just say there could be communications between the two throughout the year.

2) I think its about time HRC put Marc in his place, and gave him some inter-team competition from someone with as much youth and vigor as himself. Vinales or Rins.

3. Ducati will make Pedrosa a sizeable offer, one which HRC will not be willing to match. And it will put Pedrosa as the go-to proven race winner inside Ducati, meaning although there is no #1 rider at Ducati, you can bet that if Pedrosa is signed he will merit the attention he deserves.

I cant for the life of me see Jorge going to Ducati before 2018.

Total votes: 59

Will Ezpeletas recent dealings pave the way for that Stoner fellow to commit to a couple more years?

Total votes: 70

about this for a long time... to beat an alien you need a whole season (Doohan/Rossi) but to beat 4 aliens you need an alien.

Putting Stoner on as a test rider can't make the factory riders lift their game to alien status, if they were at that level they would already be there. Putting Stoner on the Duc and letting his lap times known is simply designed to attract another alien.

Your alternative is to nurture one. Not impossible and they must be looking at MV very closely.

Total votes: 76

I can't see Casey racing again, but I can see him taking on a role similar to what Alberto Puig had with a young Stoner and Pedrosa.

Deciphering the words coming out of the rider's mouths, test riding the bikes, giving Ducati feedback they can actually use, and handing the riders back a bike they can go faster on.

It would be quite a circle to complete if he were to end up in a similar mentoring role as his own mentor.

Total votes: 73

Stoner got up to SPEEDY speed so quickly at recent tests, and surely has room to go even further. This is a great role for him, not only developing the bike, motivating Iannone, but also showcasing it. For Vinales. Suzuki can't afford to keep him. He will want to get on a race winner of a factory bike as soon as possible, and the Ducati is it.

Iannone will retain his seat. Dovi is not going to be on a factory bike next yr unless it is a KTM. Redding or Petrucci? Not unless they are beating Iannone consistently, and I don't see it. I don't see Lorenzo leaving Yamaha unless we see an upset from Rossi this season and Rossi hunkering down for 2 more years. Unlikely. I don't see Pedrosa going to Ducati either, I see him at Suzuki after they lose Maverick. And Ducati grabbing the speedy kid.

Van der Mark ought to get into the show ASAP. He is just building bad habits unless he is on a race winner of a new CBR next season, in which case he is building bad habits and a good resume. And Rea isn't too old yet btw. They are just as interesting as a Petrucci to me.

Total votes: 71

His last outing on the RC was mighty impressive. Give him the chance that Josh Hayes never got.

Total votes: 62

Hello, first comment for me here and I have to say, it's a really good place to read news and opinions on motoGP.
Delighted to have found you.

Regarding the idea of Pedrosa at Ducati, there's on thing that comes to my mind : his really good relationship with Stoner.
They are kind of friends but most of all, they work really well together, I remember Stoner saying they often worked in the same direction, asking for the same evolutions, close set-ups and more similar riding style than it appears.
It might not be a coincidence that Pedrosa had his best season in 2012.
So who knows where would the two of them working together lead Ducati ?

Total votes: 66

Should Ducati be trying to buy a fast rider, or develop their own alien. Stoner was considered fast, but probably not a marquee rider at the time he signed with Ducati, but he was young, brave and talented. He adapted to a recalcitrant rocket and made it his own. Could a young brave rider on the way up still be fresh and malleable enough to refine their riding style to get the most out of the beast. Dovi may be good intelligent rider that gives good feedback, but as a factory rider, he also needs a bit of mongrel and fight for wins. Otherwise he would maybe be a better test rider. It will be interesting to see where it all ends up and add another layer of intrigue for the year ahead.

Total votes: 72

I think the quality of a rider to develop a racing motorcycle is a bit overemphasized, especially under the current conditions. A rider has to be really to devoid of any cerebral content if he cannot communicate where his motorcycle is under steering or lacking sufficient grip or how it is making its power etc. Ultimately the fix comes from engineers and in this era of electronics (and if Yamaha has its way it will have robots riding its bikes very soon and do away with human beings) and reams and reams of data being available to the techies using software or mechanics using their tools to rectify things, I would suppose that it is fairly logical to assume that riders do not need mega development skills. The tenures of Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi bear testimony to this. Casey Stoner's motorcycle was what Rossi inherited and he rode it like he was riding the motorcycle on egg shells whereas Casey Stoner rode the same motorcycle to victory towards the end of the previous season not once but thrice. So here is the conundrum. Casey Stoner does not need to develop the bike, he just rides what is given to him whereas Rossi has to make the bike comply with his demands. The second is Casey Stoner was brilliant at developing and setting up the Ducati and therefore won the races but since he was leaving Ducati he undeveloped all that he had developed so that Rossi will look the fool. That is one conspiracy theory for you.

The second is that Marc Marquez sided with Lorenzo because he was keeping the doors of perception open. Pedrosa is now an old warhorse that looks less and less likely to win too many races leave alone and world championship. So help countryman Jorge Lorenzo to win the title so that he could shift to Honda in 2017 if Pedrosa is out or Marquez can move to Yamaha if Rossi's career comes to an end or just to keep it going Rossi turns into a Suzuki rider to prove that he can develop their motorcycle for them and then Vinales can go to Ducati. Rossi could also go to KTM to prove his proven capabilities of motorcycle development where you have an Andrea Dovizioso who will join him there so that he can also give inputs into motorcycle development for KTM. I believe the only reason why a rider prefers a bike is because he is capable of riding it fast (it suits him) and a factory may want a fast and proven rider (because it suits them). Sometimes this quest finds wrong results like Rossi and Ducati, not made for each other and not makeable for each other. I think certain riders can ride around certain kinds of problems that a bike has but cannot around another type of problems. Development? Hardly a variable that you should like into when choosing your rider.

Total votes: 108

What makes a good development rider is giving consistent feedback. Think of a blinded test where the rider has no idea what's been changed, if anything. A good development rider will take a few laps, come in and list out everything that's different in detail. The top riders in the world can do this. The riders who aren't good for bike development will come back complaining about everything when nothing was changed. Then there's good development riders who are sensitive but just aren't fast enough. Hint: tire engineers gravitate towards good dev riders.

Sounding like a broken record here... Stoner's genius, again, is his ability to get on with the bike he has and not the bike he wishes he has. Fighting the vehicle is the fastest way to go slow, which is what happened with Rossi on the Ducati. No conspiracy. Ducati were incapable of making changes both Stoner and Rossi asked for. Stoner left for Honda, Rossi was emasculated.

If we want to question development abilities, I think perhaps Marc Marquez is a good target. He won on a Honda vacated by Stoner. Since then, Honda must have been developing the bike around Marquez and now Honda is struggling. Have to respect Pedrosa for not causing a big stir on the development direction of the bike. It'll be interesting to see how the season unfolds for Marquez and Honda.

Total votes: 68

Do Stoner and Pedrosa have a really good relationship? I know there isn't any animosity between the 2, but I've never really seen them or heard of them doing anything to suggest they're buddies.

Is there actually anything to suggest that Stoner being somewhere would entice Dani? I have seen no real evidence.

Total votes: 70

There have been mentions of some sort of friction between them in mat Oxley's FAST STUFF. But that was one sided, Stoner mentioning Pedrosa having trouble just having eye contact with him, not talking to him etc. Now I don't know if it just during their time as teammates. But I have never heard of anything that actually shows them as great buddies. Atleast nothing from their times as team mates...

Total votes: 62

Recently on social media, i have seen Stoner refer to him as a friend, photos of them in bars after hours, and Stoner being very complimentary of Pedrosa's riding talent. Maybe they didn't get off on the right foot initially, which caused the stories, but they seem to be pretty chummy to me. Hard to know for sure I guess.

Total votes: 62

Perhaps young racers should concentrate just as hard on learning the technical aspect of racing as they do on maintaining physical condition.
For Scott Redding et al to get where they wants to be, it seems that some time spent within the team learning to understand what the machine is doing would be just as valuable as time on a mountain bike or in the gym?

Total votes: 73

What about Moto2? Zarco looks an enticing prospect. He's probably being groomed for Tech 3 but I would like to see him on a Pramac next year.

Total votes: 64

Zarco is slated for Ktm's motogp outing. Atleast that was the speculation behind him not stepping up to motogp. He keeps a strong relationship with KTM. Clever considering how difficult it is to get a motogp seat...

Total votes: 62

Ducati can use Stoner to lure a top rider into the team. Ducati should have Stoner testing as often as possible while putting in times to beat the times that Marquez and Lorenzo are doing on their team's motorcycles. If Casey can do this the riders will come knocking.

Total votes: 69

That aptly sums up Ducati's current situation. Their established and brilliant factory rider's always seem to fail at the final hurdle.
Dovi reminds me a lot of Alex Barros back then and needs a bike that has demonic stopping capabillty, which the current bike/Michelin front currently does not support.
Joe Maniac has certainly developed consistency and a rational head over the course of the past year, yet I feel something is genetically short of ET status within his make up.
That said, it all comes down to the first 4 race results for the pair of them. No wins and no podiums and Ducati will have to 'snooze or lose' in the game of musical chairs.
Redding's early season results will weigh heavy.
Were I Gigi, I would already be surreptitiously trying to get Phillip Morris and Alex Rins on board for 2017 and beyond.
They also need to look at the Moto3 racers and establish a conveyor belt of talent on tap, there are plenty.
Which brings me to an off topic point and the intermediate class of Moto2.
It should be debunked with great haste and redefined to an all manufacturer 500cc, 81mm bore, twin cylinder class.
Save costs whilst balancing the GP conveyor belt.
What a spectacle that would be, at the same time facilitating bumpless transfer from M3, M2 through MGP.

Total votes: 61

Why do Ducati not develop a bike for moto3? A desmodromic 250cc could prove to be strong vs the established players, and it provides a path/grooming towards MotoGP and the factory. They could also build a chassis for moto2 similar to the way bimota operates.

Total votes: 52

Ducati has come a long way since Gig has come on. The top times are now filled with Ducatis. Just a couple of years ago they jammed the bottom of the time sheets like a plugged toilet. Factory included.

Now the bike is decent enough. Dovioso is now on his second factory team. He started strong and is a good rider, but may be too analytical for his own good. Iannone has steadily improved even getting decent results while injured. He may yet become a certified alien. There plenty of others hungry for a factory ride but as many have said, looking at the lower classes may be the answer. Marquez may be locked by Honda, Lorenzo seems to be their biggest target but I think he wants to stay at Yamaha. Pedrosa could move, but I think at this point Ducati and others may be looking for potential for the future because they have a solid lineup of right now and what was not knocking Dovi, but he has been up here for a while. Last year may have been his last big factory shot.

Total votes: 55

From last year's performance, the Ducatis appear to be good enough to win races. All that is missing is an exceptional rider to replace Dovi; crazy Joe is very close, and needs to be re-signed. Of the established aliens, I only see Marquez and Stoner with the skills/style to win on the Duc. Lorenzo and Pedrosa are too smooth, and Rossi is no longer fast/brave enough. Since Marquez is not going anywhere, I would offer the world to secure the services of Stoner. Otherwise, take a chance with one of the young prospects - Vinales, Rins, even Redding...

Total votes: 58

The first thing I need to see is if Ducati has figured out a way to make a rear tire last an entire race. Perhaps the switch to Michelin is exactly what they needed.

Countless races, going back 3-4 years, have shown where the Ducs would've had a respectable result but the tires were so roasted that the rider does everything he can just to finish.

The difference I see, pre-Gigi vs. now, is that the tires go off near lap 15 rather than lap 5.

Total votes: 58