The difference in perspective between team managers and riders is always fascinating. Team bosses always have an eye to the big picture, to the coming year and beyond. Riders are usually looking no further ahead than the next session or the next race. Anything beyond that is out of their control, and not worth wasting valuable energy worrying about. The future is a bridge they will cross when they come to it.
That difference was all too evident at the Ducati launch in Bologna on Monday. While the people in charge of Ducati – Paolo Ciabatti, Davide Tardozzi, and Gigi Dall'Igna – were already thinking of managing rider signings and sponsorship deals for 2019 and beyond, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were mostly concerned about the Sepang test and about being competitive in the 2018 season. New contracts for 2019 were on their horizons, but compared to their bosses, it was little more than a blip. First, there is a championship to win.
Andrea Dovizioso had spent the winter relaxing, and preparing for the new season. He starts the year as one of the title favorites, not a position he has been accustomed to. "A great sensation, and one I had lost in the last few years" is how the Italian described it. He did not feel the pressure of that sensation, but rather saw it as a challenge. Sure, he was one of the favorites, but there were a lot of competitive bikes with riders capable of winning. "The level of competitiveness has become very high in MotoGP in the last three years," he said. "There are many riders who can win races. It wasn't like this in the past."
More competition demands better consistency
With so many strong competitors, consistency has become the key to winning a championship. "It has become more complicated," Dovizioso explained. "If you want to fight for the title, you have to finish on the podium every race, or at least in the top five. Last year, we lost the title because at some of our difficult tracks we finished seventh or eight. Márquez never did that."
The Ducati Desmosedici needs improving, especially in the middle of the corner, but Dovizioso was confident that can be achieved. "For me it's clear where we need to be faster. I know very well what we need to be in that kind of track [such as Phillip Island," he explained.
But Dovizioso starts 2018 having learned a valuable less the year before. "If there is one thing I learned last year, it's that nobody has any limits. I made a mistake in thinking that I did," he said. "Now I know everything is possible. But that doesn't mean I will win every race!"
His main focus may be 2018, but he was aware that choices would have to be made for 2019 and beyond. It may only be January, but Dovizioso was not really surprised that the talk of contracts was starting already. "It's normal to speak about that already, because every year, like in Formula One, everybody starts a little bit earlier," he said.
"It will be important to hear about the decision for the future, so everybody is already thinking about that," he went on. But Dovizioso was also aware that he had to focus on testing, and being competitive in 2018, or all the talk of contracts would be for naught. "I am open and I am happy to speak about the future, but in this moment I'm focused on the tests. Because if you are not competitive and not working in the right way you can't make a really good result this year. And that is my goal and target."
Distractions and how to avoid them
It was important to avoid getting sidetracked by thoughts of 2019, he said. "For sure, soon I think, we will start to speak with Ducati about the future but we have to try to not lose the way in thinking about the championship. Because this is what we have to do. I don't know what I will do in the future, but it doesn't depend just on me. When it will be the right time, we will see."
In an interview with MotoMatters.com last year, Dovizioso spoke of how he had tried to banish distractions from his life, and concentrate only on what was important to achieve his goals. This year, the distractions promise to be even greater: increased media attention after a strong 2017, the prospect of a much stronger teammate if Jorge Lorenzo can continue his form from late last year, and contract talks with all twelve factory seats potentially open.
Was Dovizioso concerned that it would be harder to maintain focus with the increased distractions? "For sure it is completely different than last year," he acknowledged. "A lot of things are different. So it will be not easy, but that's the same for everybody. At the moment I'm not worried about that. I don't feel pressure about that also because I put pressure on myself to try to win the championship, so I don't care a lot about what the people or the media can create. Also because I don't follow that too much, because I don't think it's important to me."
Never read your own reviews
Ignoring most of what the media and fans write about him had been an important part of not getting distracted. "I don't follow too much what the media are saying, because most of the time maybe they are right, but sometimes not," Dovizioso said. Then joking, "or maybe it's the other way round!"
So he had learned to focus on himself, and on racing, and ignore the sound and fury of the media. "To live your life with the right people and work to try to achieve the goal and enjoy the good things of this is enough and the best way to achieve results," he said. "I decided to do that because in the past I struggled a lot with what people thought about me, what people wrote. So I stopped reading a lot and it helped me a lot, it helped me to arrive in this situation."
For the love of it
Andrea Dovizioso isn't the only rider with pressure he isn't used to having to deal with. While Dovizioso finds himself in the position of being a title candidate, Jorge Lorenzo faces a very different kind of pressure. The Spaniard went from winning three MotoGP championships and being a perennial title contender with Yamaha to not winning a single race with Ducati in 2017. He had been brought in to Ducati to make them a championship contender, and was being payed a prince's ransom for the privilege.
But Lorenzo did not feel he was under any pressure. "Well, luckily I don’t have to rush," he said. "I'm here because of my passion. To accept this challenge of a lifetime. The confidence Ducati has in me, they’ve gambled. There is pressure there, but, as always, the most pressure will always come from me. I’m the first one that wants to improve results. Like I said before, the team and the bike are ready to win the championship, like Dovizioso demonstrated last year by winning races. Still we need to get a bike that goes well at each races of the year. I have a lot of confidence that the team will do that this year. and when this happens it’s a matter of being fast and faster than the rest. Winning races and fighting for the title will be a consequence of a lot of hard work."
That phrase – "I'm here because of my passion" – is an interesting one. It suggests that his next choice of contract will be governed not by money, but by the challenge of trying to win another title. That is sensible, given that the signals from Ducati are that there will be no repeat of such extraordinary salaries. "In the future, there will be more balance when it comes to rider salaries," Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali said.
Lorenzo is aware of why he was awarded such a generous contract in the first place, but also why that may not be extended into 2019. "I have a good contract because my value in the market at the time was high, you know?" Lorenzo said. "When I signed the contract I was five-time world champion. I won 65 victories – 44 in MotoGP. A lot of pole positions. I fought for the world title for nine years. I won this contract."
It was clear that Lorenzo knows things will be different going forward. "Obviously, they say your value is the same as your last race. My last race is a crash so it’s not very high!" he joked. "And last season was not good. But, you know, I’m lucky to be here for the passion because economically, luckily I’m doing well."
Whatever the financial rewards, Lorenzo said he hoped to stay with Ducati, as he has unfinished business. "My priority is to stay with Ducati to finish what I started – that is to try to win the world title. If it’s possible to continue in Ducati, I will be very happy. It’s very early to speak because we already didn’t speak about that but I’m sure sooner or later it will happen and we’ll see what happens."
His strong form in the second half of 2017 had left Lorenzo feeling confident about the coming season. "You cannot guarantee anything, but obviously I finished the championship at quite a high level," he said. "Obviously it wasn’t the level I wanted because I want to be as I was in my best period with Yamaha. I think I can do it also with Ducati. Hopefully we can do it from the beginning at Qatar and try to win the race."
After his first year with Ducati, Lorenzo felt he had gone a long way to adapting himself to the Desmosedici. But that process was not at an end, he said, because riders never stop learning, never stop adapting. "You never stop learning," he explained. "I never stop changing my riding, even when I was in Yamaha in my eighth or ninth year. I think you always learn something if you have the will or the curiosity to do it. When I retire I will always try to learn something."
The first year had been important, however. "Obviously this year I changed so much. I learned so much to try and ride the Ducati at its best. It’s never complete. Also I believe that last year, I changed a little bit more than the bike to adapt myself into the bike. Probably this year will be the opposite and the bike will improve quite a lot to go in my direction, to be quite strong not only in acceleration, braking and the straight, but also in the center of the corner."
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