2016 Jerez Thursday Round Up: Jorge Lorenzo, Yamaha, and Ducati Speak at Last

It has been three years in the making. Ducati have been chasing Jorge Lorenzo for a very long time, almost since the moment Gigi Dall'Igna took over as head of Ducati Corse. Dall'Igna came to Ducati with a master plan. "Ducati had a plan when we started with Gigi at the end of 2013, which was to develop a competitive bike and - once the bike was competitive - to attract one of the top riders," Ducati MotoGP boss Paolo Ciabatti told a specially convened press conference on Thursday.

The candidates who qualified as "top riders" (for the linguists, this is the English phrase the Italians use where English speakers would use the term Alien) are few and far between. Ciabatti made it perfectly clear what he meant. "With all due to respect to all the other riders, including the two Andreas, there are a few riders who have been showing their potential. They are able to win championships. Obviously if you look at history in the last six years three times Lorenzo, twice Marquez and once Stoner. So obviously to be sure to be in a position to fight for a world title we needed to aim for one of the two riders which are Lorenzo and Marquez."

Picking an alien

One interesting detail: before talking to Lorenzo, Ducati had first asked Casey Stoner if he would like to make a full-time return to racing. "No," Stoner replied. "I am fine like this." He is happy as a test rider. That opened the door for Lorenzo.

But not for Marc Márquez. Though Ducati talked to Márquez, it was clear that the Spaniard was closely aligned with Repsol Honda, and tempting him away from HRC would be a lengthy and difficult task. That left Jorge Lorenzo as Ducati's main priority.

Talking to GPOne, in one of their GPOneCar videos, Paolo Ciabatti revealed some of the details of how the deal came about. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna had kept in contact with Jorge Lorenzo, having spent a lot of time with him when the Spaniard was in 125s and 250s, riding Derbis and Aprilias. They had been speaking for some time, but a couple of weeks before Qatar, Ducati had started to believe it would be possible to secure Lorenzo's services.

Yamaha's decision to offer both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo new contracts before the Qatar race – ironically, a move made at the behest of Lorenzo, who had said publicly that he wanted his future sorted before the season opener – forced Lorenzo's hand. When Rossi signed, all attention shifted to Lorenzo. Ducati made Lorenzo an offer, and an agreement reached during the two American rounds. Sources told MotoMatters.com that agreement had been reached before the race in Argentina. Ciabatti told GPOne that the contract was signed between Argentina and Austin.

Why oh why?

Why did Lorenzo go? "I think there were probably three factors that helped him make that decision," Lin Jarvis told the pre-event press conference in a refreshingly frank performance. "He probably got an extremely good proposal, probably better than ours. I think the Ducati is currently a very competitive bike, so it's less daunting to make a change. In addition to that, probably to be the number one in the future team was probably something that was attractive," Jarvis said. Number one status was not something Yamaha was able to offer. With two "top dogs", the only option Yamaha had was to treat both riders perfectly equally.

Valentino Rossi explained it best, when he spoke to a packed Yamaha press conference. "For me, the very good thing about Yamaha management and all the guys that decide for the team is that they are able to manage two top riders, especially because they keep us always at the same level," Rossi said. When Lorenzo had joined Yamaha in 2008, he was treated exactly the same as Rossi, despite the fact that Rossi had already won two titles for the Japanese factory and had been with them since 2004. But the same held true when Rossi returned to Yamaha in 2013. "When I came back in 2013, also if Lorenzo was the world champion, Yamaha put me in exactly the same level. So always in Yamaha in all these seasons, it was 50/50. This is the key to making the team work, so I don't think it's for this reason. "

The Malaysian thing

Though Yamaha tried to treat both Rossi and Lorenzo equally, the unfortunate events at Sepang took their toll, and played a role in Lorenzo's decision. In the press conference, Jarvis acknowledged that Sepang had had a major influence on the atmosphere in the team. "It definitely influenced the end of the last championship and it certainly influenced the mood inside the garage," the Yamaha boss said. "Prior to Sepang, we'd had Jorge and Vale back together for three and a half seasons at that stage, and honestly, the relationship had been going very well. Of course, they always competitors, but the team coexisted very well and we interacted very freely with each other. After Sepang that changed. This is an absolute fact."

That did not mean that Jarvis felt he had any choice in the way he handled the situation. "Would I change the way I handled or Yamaha managed the situation? No. We believe that the way we managed a very difficult situation was the very best that we could do under those circumstances." Ultimately, though, whether Jarvis or Yamaha believed they handled the situation correctly is not important. What matters is how Lorenzo felt they handled the situation. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the aftermath of Sepang was a factor in his decision. Whether Lorenzo is justified in feeling wronged is a different question, of course.

I am legend

Having observed Jorge Lorenzo over many years, and having covered MotoGP professionally since his second year in MotoGP, it seems to me that one Lorenzo's prime motivations is a desire for recognition. He wants his achievements to be acknowledged and respected. That, more than anything, is what may have affected his decision to leave Yamaha. Whether Yamaha showed enough appreciation for his title is a matter for interpretation. But what is certain is that Lorenzo feels that a certain section of the fans, and a certain section of the media, have denigrated his third world title. That championship was the hardest of his career, and he feels he deserves respect for the way he secured it.

To me, the situation was best summed up by Paolo Ciabatti. "Ducati is a special company," he said. "We are quite small in size but we are very much focused on performance and racing and passion. All the people at Ducati, including the workers on the production line, share the same passion. I think that this feeling of passion all surrounding what Ducati does will be one of the factors that Jorge will appreciate very much. Obviously the Ducati fans are really cheering for the brand more than the riders in principle, but the riders that were able to achieve exceptional results for Ducati then they become also heroes for our customers, who are fans. So if I can say, among all the riders the heroes for the Ducati fans are Fogarty, Bayliss and Stoner. So I think that the opportunity for a rider like Jorge to become a hero or a symbol for a company like Ducati is maybe also one of the reasons that made him think that it was the right time to make a change in his career."

Ducatisti are passionate people indeed. The brand really is bigger than the riders. When Valentino Rossi joined Ducati, there was a very strong core of Ducati fans who vehemently opposed his coming to the factory. They feared that Rossi would eclipse the brand, that he was bigger than Ducati. If Rossi had been successful at Ducati, Rossi would have taken the credit. When he proved to be unsuccessful, it was Ducati who were given the blame. Rightly so, as it turned out.

That would be very different for Lorenzo if he succeeds at Ducati. Yes, Lorenzo would be hailed as a hero by the fans, both MotoGP fans and Ducatisti alike. But he would be hailed as a hero together with Ducati, not given the glory, while ignoring the bike which got him there. If Lorenzo wins on the Ducati – and that is still an if, and not a when – then he will be another Fogarty, another Bayliss, another Stoner. That status is precisely the recognition he craves.

Out of the shadow

It is also not a status he can achieve at Yamaha. As long as Valentino Rossi is at Yamaha, Rossi will always be the main draw. Rightly so: Rossi has had a massive global impact, and played a huge role in making the sport as big as it is today. His record is second only to Giacomo Agostini, and it was achieved against much stiffer competition. At Yamaha, Lorenzo is very much Valentino Rossi's teammate, even when Lorenzo is world champion.

At Yamaha, he is also just one of a long chain of champions. Giacomo Agostini, Kenny Roberts, Eddie Lawson, Wayne Rainey, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo. All names to conjure with, but none of which make Lorenzo unique. Riding a factory Yamaha is a major advantage in pursuit of a title: seven of the last twelve MotoGP titles have been won on by a rider on an M1.

Winning on a Ducati is very different: 2010 was the last time a Ducati won a race, and 2007 since a rider other than Casey Stoner won on the Ducati. Should Lorenzo win a race on the Ducati, he would receive massive acclaim. Win a title, and he would enter the realm of legend.

The power of organization

Can he win? Gigi Dall'Igna believes he can. Dall'Igna believes he has built a racing motorcycle capable of winning a MotoGP race. Or rather, he believes he has assembled a team around him which has helped create a motorcycle capable of winning. When told Lorenzo called him a genius, Dall'Igna rejected that label. "For sure I don’t think I’m a genius," he said. "I’m convinced that I’m able to help all the people that work with me to give the best from his job. Probably I’m surrounded by genius because I’m convinced all the Ducati people have a very, very high level. So I think that the job that we did in the last two, three years is not only me, but because we are a real group that works together, with a target to achieve, and this is the main reason why we are able to evolve the bike in the right direction."

This is indeed Dall'Igna's strength. When he became boss of Ducati Corse, Dall'Igna worked first on improving communication, rotating engineers between internal departments, test team and race team. He got the engine department talking to the chassis department, who talked to the electronics guys. Together, they built a bike that is obviously competitive. Whether the decisive engineering breakthroughs actually came from the brain of Dall'Igna or not, we may never know. But we can be certain that Dall'Igna made it possible for those engineering breakthroughs to happen.

Looking ahead

How was Lorenzo's move viewed? Overwhelmingly positively, almost unanimously so. Cal Crutchlow summed the general feeling up perfectly. "At the end of the day, I think its fantastic for the sport. I think it’s good for the fans, I think it’s good for MotoGP. It’s good for people to see something different. Maybe he’ll run away with the championship, maybe he’ll finish 10th I have no idea. And that's the good thing about it."

It also blows MotoGP's Silly Season wide open. Despite the fact that we are just three races into the 2016 season, all the talk is of next year, and who will be going where. There are far, far more questions than answers at the moment, and although it is tempting to start slotting riders into empty seats, like a gigantic form of musical chairs, at the moment, we know very little beyond some wild speculation.

Every rider I asked about their future told me they had multiple options, most of which were good. Most managers I have spoken to recently have told me they are considering multiple riders. So as tempting as it is to say Maverick Viñales to Yamaha, Andrea Iannone to Suzuki, Pol Espargaro to Marc VDS, Dani Pedrosa to KTM, it is nothing more than speculation.

Pick a card, any card

Lin Jarvis may have acknowledged Yamaha's interest in Viñales, but Davide Brivio today told me that their first priority was keeping Viñales at Suzuki. The argument for Viñales remaining is remarkably similar to that for Lorenzo going to Ducati: Yamaha may be Viñales' best chance of a MotoGP title, but if he were to achieve the same at Suzuki, he would join an elite list of names. Barry Sheene, Kevin Schwantz, Kenny Roberts Jr, Maverick Viñales. That is quite the list.

But it is far from settled, and fevered negotiations will continue for at least the next month, and probably longer. The time frame for making a decision is roughly the next three to four races. After Barcelona, Ducati will likely be in a position to decide which of the two Andreas will stay (Dovizioso appears to be the current favorite, but do not write Iannone off), Yamaha will be closer to signing a replacement for Lorenzo, Suzuki will have a better idea of whether they will be able to hang on to Viñales, and who they will place alongside him. Between then and now, be prepared to hear a lot of wild speculation, and inaccurate guesswork.

But first, Jerez. An intense and mighty track, and worthy of more attention than this piece has granted it. Back in Europe, racing feels a lot more real, somehow. It all starts on Friday. That will prove a necessary and entertaining distraction.


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Comments

One thing I've wondered is if whether Jorge is also thinking that if the Ducati handling is close to competitive, the punchy motor might give him a little edge in competing with Marquez? For all the Rossi talk, Marc is really the guy he has to beat in a "normal" year, right?

yeah man, i definately agree Marquez is the guy Lorenzo has to beat right now. Pedro is a bit lost with the set up(Jerez might change that) & Rossi will finish in the best fashion he can--1st or 4th.

Throw Vinales in the mix, couple other riders as well-Duc or even a non rcv factory bike & the podium might look a bit different. Maybe even a tech3 bike??

In practice we'll get to see how much Jorge follows the Ducati(i would), Lorenzo is probably too professional for that:)

He was asked in the press conference if he had spoken with Casey about the Desmo, he said "no". I believe him, but like my wife says, "why did you do that Dan?" um, i just did --- sweetheart the deal was to good to refuse. I got the frame, motor, rear suspenion  & front, wheels, wire hareness for  a measly sum of everything, it's a bargain. I really dont think you understand me & bikes, you might have to go-im sorry, it's me not you(he he).

I need to be in red, i need a duck. Ill qwack that thwottle like im cwackin a duck turd:)

The Monday after Valencia is on the calendar.

Those two rode against each other from 2008 to 2012, and while Stoner's pass on Lorenzo at LS in 2011 completely knocked the fight out of Lorenzo, they had many close duels, with no complaints from either.. they've shared the tarmac at the edge of physics and sanity many times.

So, forward to Sepang tests 2016, and Stoner was the fastest of the Ducatis after a three-year absence from the paddock.  Give Lorenzo some credit for being able to judge what that would mean for times for a race-honed rider, and also for knowing what Stoner was working with - and working for.  They are both consummate professionals in this game.

Stoner might race again, as a wild-card, for the fun of it - but he is quite evidently more interested in moving to another phase of his life and pursuing a long-held interest in gaining more knowledge and expertise as a developer of race machinery.  I suggest, Lorenzo might just know Stoner well enough to believe in this, and possibly to believe that he has a valuable asset on his side for his Ducati adventure.

It's not just wild conjecture: remember, two of the best crew chiefs/tuners of all time: Jeremy Burgess and Warren Willing - were demon riders before they turned to the mechanical side.  Cristian Gabbarini has attested to Stoner's technical 'feeling'.

Now - if Ducati secures Cristian Gabbarini as Lorenzo's crew chief... the circle is complete. And the rest of the motoGp paddock should be very, very afraid.

Hi, David. I must say that I enjoyed the questions you asked Mr. Jarvis during the press conference. I couldn't help but laugh as JL99 appeared to do the same.

Excellent analyses, David. One of the best I can remember - really wide-ranging exploration of the different factors behind Lorenzo's move. Thank you.

David,

Did Casey being the test rider for Ducati have anything to do with Jorge's decision? It seems to me, that if I was Jorge, I'd want to 'chat' with Casey and illict his info on the GP16, to see if it was capable of winning the WC. Any info on that angle?

"But what is certain is that Lorenzo feels that a certain section of the fans, and a certain section of the media, have denigrated his third world title. That championship was the hardest of his career, and he feels he deserves respect for the way he secured it."

 

don't you mean title number five... We all know Rossi going for number ten, yet this kind of thing is so engrained in our vernacular that even the best don't catch themselves doing it. It's more than a feeling im afraid.

I've just watched it & as you've said David, so many more questions??

Great wrap up so thanks. I will watch the presser again, Jarvis was quite frank??

 

Vinales sitting in between Lorenzo & Jarvis looking like a kid in a candy shop(happy)- has he already signed?? I know Lin said they are looking at/and or discussing options with different riders and WE would be the first to know, i have a feeling it may be done(im probably wrong, it just looked that way)?

Personally, i would like to see Maverick Vinales stay with Suzuki.

 

He did have a sly smile during the conference. I wondering if it's now down to negotiating the right amount of money to sign?

Lorenzo pulled the trigger way too soon in the season.   Sure Yamaha put a time limit on their offer as is standard,  but so what,  like they wouldn't have made him a similar offer 3-4 races down the line?

Jorge made his decision 3 races in to a brand new season with new electronics, new tires... way too early to tell how trully competitive the Ducati is on a wider set of tracks.   He could of let the dust settle a while and made a much better informed decision a few more races in. 

Wanting a new challenge to stay motivated is one thing... but jumping ship without at least knowing how far you're going to drop is another,  especially with the youngest ever WC leading at the moment.

Oh well... I suppose high tolerance for risk is one defining shared characteristic of all top racers.

Kind of surprised noone in the PC pushed him on this though.

drop??????  How many podiums from both factory riders could have/should have in the first few races versus Rossi signing and when was the LAST season they even deserved a podium???

ha ha ha ha ha, you must be joking.  THE BIKE IS competitive, it may not be at the level of the M1 but it is competitive.  Much as I ended up thinking VR was a c#ck I really appreciated the fact he tried a different bike.  In his prime JJ has just demonstrated that he too has big big big balls.  Good luck to him.

Well, you can't really count Qatar as that's considered a Ducati track. So that leaves the results of Argentina, where they should've finished 1-2, and probably same at Austin. That's a great start, and exactly 3 data points of information, from tracks not considered typical.

Jorge could easily have waited 3,4,5 more races to make a much better informed decision and still had both Yamaha and Ducati serenading him.

So, HAHAHAHAHHAHA, no, I wasn't joking, just making a reasonable point.

roger that. I got it :-) A few weeks ago I wrote the same that JJ should wait but for different reasons. I could be completely wrong but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the decision was influenced by Stoner, in one way or another. I now appreciate JJ announcing the decision early as it means he and the team know where they stand and can just get on with it.

The modern era championships (4 strokes) breaks down like this:

7 Yamaha
6 Honda
1 Ducati
 
Honda and Rossi would have at least swung that heavily in Honda's favor if Rossi had stayed.  I personally think he would have bested Ago's all time win total many years back if he had never left Big Red, and would have a couple more championships to his name at least.
 
But all those numbers show is that they are heavily dependent on a "top rider" as pilot.  
Honda, who spend a significant amount of more money, some estimating 20 million more per year or more than the next factory (Yamaha), are always the ones to beat.  Yamaha have been the real geniuses during this era because some years Honda have spent double what they have.  What Yamaha has been able to achieve, beating Honda, who in a way think MotoGP is their series, is truly remarkable.  A far cry from their status in 2002 when the modern era began.
 
I am reminded of Dennis Noyes, and his truly remarkable insight, as well as his ability to translate this to text.  A true great.  His article on the Japanese 4, that I read 12 years ago, bears repeating sometimes to those who have never read it.  Honda is NASA.
 
Good luck to Ducati and Lorenzo.  Gigi reminds me of Masao Furusawa.
 
 

Is it just me? I cringe every single time I read Alien, "top rider" is a FAR better description. 

Let's take a more or less random sample of the MotoGP grid, all the B riders: Barbera, Bautista, Baz and Bradl. Out of that select group, I would call Barbera the top rider. But it certainly contains no Alien.

An Alien is someone "out of this world", or "from another planet", or "never encountered before". It has much more of an absolute value, it invokes more flamboyance than the mostly comparative and somewhat pedestrian denomination "top rider".

Disclaimer: This is just this language lover's opinion. smiley

Excellent read.  Oxley just did a piece on JL's dad and his racing schools.  I had recently finished the Rossi book also by Mat Oxley and the contrast between VR and JL's fathers is telling.  In their styles, their motivations, etc.