Ducati launched their 2019 MotoGP campaign at the Philip Morris R&D cube in Neuchâtel, Switzerland this evening. The Mission Winnow Ducati team, as it is now called, consisting of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci were presented to the world on stage in Switzerland, in a new livery with a lot more red and a lot less white in it compared to previous years, in a throwback to the 2008 color scheme. Like that color scheme, there is a link to Philip Morris once again, though this time, indirectly. But much more on that later.
In a tightly-scripted presentation, Ducati managed to let slip just enough information to make the presentation interesting, without giving too much away. But what they did let slip was enough to allow observers to read between the lines for an insight into the factory. Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna spoke briefly about the bike for 2019, but more importantly, sketched a picture of how the team and the team's two riders will function in much more of a partnership. This was in stark contrast to the combative atmosphere which prevailed when Ducati had both Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo aiming to win the championship.
The objectives given at any team presentation are always the same: to try to win the championship, and win as many races as possible along the way. But for Ducati, those objectives are actually realistic. Reigning champion Marc Márquez will start the season as strong favorite, but it is Andrea Dovizioso who has finished second in the MotoGP championship for the past two seasons, and pushed Márquez hardest.
From second to first
Dovizioso will once again start out with the aim of winning the MotoGP title, and trying to win as many races as possible along the way. Dovizioso listed Argentina, Austin, and the Sachsenring as the three tracks where Ducati struggled last year, with a poor race in Sepang added into the mix. But the Ducati was competitive in a lot more places than in previous years. "We were very competitive, in some cases even protagonists on tracks which have been traditionally been difficult for us," Gigi Dall'Igna said. "And on those where we were already competitive, we continued to be competitive."
Danilo Petrucci's objective will be to win a race, something he has so far failed to do in MotoGP, and when he can't win, to be in the hunt for the podium. The top five is always the aim, along with a visit to the top step when he sees the chance. "Danilo has an important story with Ducati, " Gigi Dall'Igna said. "He has been with us since 2015, he did many great races and has podiums with us. He didn't win any races, but this has to be his main target for 2019, together with the possibility to fight for the podium in all the other races."
Dall'Igna did not give much away about the 2019 bike, which will not be finalized until Qatar. (The bike in the presentation, as at almost every presentation, is a model from last year with some fairing updates and the new color scheme. Team launches are about the sponsors, not about the bike. That's what testing is for.) Dall'Igna hinted that parts tested at the Jerez test in November will make a return at Sepang, including, presumably the aerodynamic seat unit and the rear brake torque arm.
"We must do better and improve more than we have done in recent years," Dall'Igna said. "Try to bring ideas which can directly increase the competitiveness of our project. We have already begun to test it in the Jerez test and immediately found a good starting point with the new bike in Valencia after the race. We will refine this idea in Sepang, while in Qatar, immediately before the opening race of the season, we will test the new fairing, as usual. The evolution covers all the areas: aerodynamics, chassis, electronics, and for sure also the engine is updated with more horsepower." Given that the wildly unsubstantiated rumor in the paddock is that the GP18 already made north of 300 horsepower, this will give Ducati's rivals a few extra sleepless nights.
Dall'Igna had some words for the 2019 rules package, judging the switch to the spec IMU to be a relatively insignificant change. But he had harsh words for the new aerodynamic rules for this year. "From the aerodynamic point of view, the 2019 regulations are certainly more restrictive," he said. "Both because they prevent the modularity of the fairing, both the possibilities to apply or move parts on the fairing, and also because they also restricted the size of the fairing. I expect the aerodynamic load will be slightly lower than in the 2018 bike. However, I hope that after having changed the aerodynamic regulations for two years in a row, now we have arrived at the stability of rules, which is the only possible cost-saving method in MotoGP."
Aerodynamics have long been a key part of Ducati's success in MotoGP, especially since the switch to the spec ECU software, which limited the role electronics could play in preventing wheelie and managing the bike. In a brief cameo by Edoardo Leonoci, Ducati's Aerodynamic Development Manager talked a little about how Ducati sees aerodynamics. Their key advantage is that they viewed aerodynamics as part of the whole of vehicle dynamics, changing the behavior of the complete bike around the track, and not just offering an advantage in one or two places. Computers had helped, with CFD modeling aiding the design process before the bike even reached the wind tunnel.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the entire launch was the focus throughout on a change in team dynamics. The departure of Jorge Lorenzo allowed an entirely different approach between Ducati's two riders. There was much animus between Lorenzo and Dovizioso, understandable given the fact both were aiming at winning the championship without regard for the other. A similar animus existed between Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, Lorenzo's predecessor.
Despite the friction, having Lorenzo in the team had been useful, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali told us. "Yes, the investment was really big, but so was the benefit. Jorge was very good in making us understand some areas of the bike that needed improvement. An important part of what we progressed was thanks to him. He is a very good rider but also he has been very good in helping us understand. Andrea was saying something similar but when you have two riders of the same strength of even more expectation when Jorge came. It was crystal clear what we had to do which was very positive. It was a very good investment."
Reading between the lines, Domenicali was implying that paying a rider a very large amount of money made the engineers a lot more inclined to listen to their feedback. Especially when that feedback echoes what they have already heard from other riders.
Domenicali, who was rumored to have a fractious relationship with Lorenzo, was magnanimous about the departed Lorenzo. "Life is about learning, we are quite open and we like to think there is nobody in life that is not making any mistakes. We learn as a team a lot on the technical side and on the human side. Life is like this, a story, people met and we had a very positive relationship. The relationship with Lorenzo was fantastic but things did not go exactly as planned timing wise which was not anyone’s fault, it was not Jorge’s fault, it is what it is. We think we are here today after two very positive years together, we won a lot of races and improved the bike. Now we are look to the future in a very positive way. It is not just a theoretical way of thinking it is how we like to think. We made a lot of good and bad, we will learn, and we look towards 2019 in a strong way."
The relationship between Dovizioso and Petrucci should be very different, as Ducati are striving to achieve very different dynamics in the team. "One of the things we have definitely changed is the rider strategy," Gigi Dall'Igna said. "We have chosen to move from two riders who think independently of each other, acting in their own interest, regardless of the good of the team, to a system that if possible, will attempt to optimize the overall results of the team. I'm not talking about team orders, but I'm talking about the synergy in the development of the bike, and in the setup of the bike during the race weekend."
Just how different that approach is, is illustrated by the fact that Danilo Petrucci is to move close to Andrea Dovizioso's home in Forli, so they can share some training and preparation. What's more, Dovizioso has put Petrucci in touch with the team of trainers, doctors, and psychologists who he has used to prepare for the past few seasons,with great success.
Though they were only at the beginning of this new approach, Dovizioso explained some of the reasoning behind the move. "With Danilo, I did just one training, so we didn't train together during the winter," Dovizioso said. "We created a different situation. I think he will live close to my city of Forli. We will train a lot together on the bike, all the sports we can do apart from the real training in the gym. He is able to work on some other stuff like me, and I think that can help him a lot in his situation now. Because he is so fast, already in the last two years he showed a lot of speed, but he had to learn in some other parts, and I think we can make some really good work together, but we'll see."
The new relationship was not so much about removing the pressure of having two teammates aiming for the same goal, Dovizioso explained. "No, it's not about pressure, it's about having a better feeling in everything you have to do. When you have a good relationship, it's easier to do everything. But that is not the point to really fight for the championship, but when you are at the maximum level, everything is important."
"I'm happy in the situation we are in now. I think Danilo is completely open to try to work together. I don't know what we can really make better, because until you are there, you can never know. But the feeling is good, I think Danilo has more potential than everybody thinks. But to show the real potential is difficult. So you have to work in a lot of details and learn how to improve."
Danilo Petrucci was in equal measure surprised and happy about this new approach, seeing that it had benefits for both parties involved. "The reason was to create a feeling with Andrea, with this group," he said. "Now we have the same doctor, the same psychologist. He gave me all, he said, 'In the last two years, I've improved because I stayed with these people. Now these people are available for you, because I think if you are very, very fast this year it can change your life. So you have nothing to lose'."
"So I said, 'Okay, but why are you doing this? Why are you telling me all your secrets?' And he said, 'I have my own business for this and I need your help, maybe at the beginning you need more my help, but since the first test I will need you for a comparison because I know you are fast in certain situations and you can give me a help. So when you are not fast I give you a help and we can help each other, riding together, from the motocross to the MotoGP'."
Petrucci was most impressed by Dovizioso's dedication to the sport, but also at how it is more about careful moderation rather than radical exertion. "Working together with Andrea especially I notice a change in his way of life. It's quite different. It's more cautious of his potential. And this makes me very calm and positive about the future. Also staying with him at home is important for me because I can pick some secrets around and it's useful for me at this moment!"
Getting it just right
It was a much more focused approach, doing the right amount of training rather than going all out to train in every moment of the day. Petrucci had not been running since December, he told me, where previously he was fanatical about it, despite not having the body type for it.
"When we start to work together with Dovi, training together at his place with a motocross bike and gym. He said, 'but what are you going to do, the Olympics or MotoGP?’ Because for me it was normal to have three hours of training per day," Petrucci explained.
"And he said, 'you don’t have to focus on the quantity, you have to focus on the quality. You have to train shorter, but more intense, for what you need. And I can give you my advice and my doctor, my psychologist who will help you to understand your body and mind and what you need to become better’."
This brought Petrucci to a realization of what had gone wrong in the past, he explained. "Because usually I had so much training that I arrived at the races already tired. And you are training, training, training, and you arrive at the race and the last five laps – not always but sometimes – I said, 'okay, what do I miss to be more fast?'"
Petrucci is also receiving help from the same psychologist as Dovizioso, although he had already been working with a group of sports psychologists previously. That gives him a small advantage, as he is already doing a lot of things right in mental preparation. So Petrucci is being given advanced tasks, he had said, and they were not always easy.
"So [the psychologist] gave me an exercise for this month, which is not to complain," Petrucci explained. "It's not easy! Because I say, 'Oh **** it’s raining'. But I have to look at everything from the other side. I have time to maybe prepare all my things at home, read a book. The exercise is like this. Because you can train the brain. If you are always complaining, you always look at the 1% that don’t fit and not at the 99% that is good. You say 'yeah, but…'. Always 'but'." Controlling the things you can control and using the situation to your advantage is an important lesson for Petrucci. And indeed, for anyone.
Moving to Forli, close to Andrea Dovizioso, had an added benefit for Petrucci. It also made it easier for him to get to the Ducati factory in Borgo Panigale, near Bologna,where he is spending more time to prepare for the season. "I have been in the factory department these last few months more than I did in the last four years," Petrucci said. "Yesterday I was going around the factory, like a normal worker, and I arrived to the racing department. The door opened and there was my bike going for the first time switched on. It was incredible that it happened in the same moment I opened the door."
Pushing the envelope
Perhaps the most interesting part of presentation was the much more prominent role played by Philip Morris International, the tobacco giant which has bankrolled a large part of both Ducati's and Ferrari's Grand Prix racing projects, backing Ducati since they entered MotoGP in 2003. However, since the EU ban on tobacco sponsorship came into effect in 2005, the explicit branding disappeared from the bike, only the red and white colors remaining, as they coincide with Ducati's corporate colors. Now, though PMI has found a new promotional vehicle, which gets around the ban on promoting tobacco products.
In a press release explaining the project, named Mission Winnow, PMI explained that the objective is to "build a better future for the 1.1 billion people who smoke, and those around them." Underlying the carefully crafted text is the objective of getting smokers to switch from traditional cigarettes to products which PMI believe to be less harmful, such as e-cigarettes, and especially PMI's iQOS system, which heats tobacco without burning it. PMI is, after all, still very much a tobacco compnay.
The press release states very explicitly that Mission Winnow is not about selling or promoting a specific product. "This isn't about a product or a brand," they write. They then make even more explicit that they are aware that this could be seen as pushing up against the limits of global legislation on promoting tobacco products. "This campaign does not advertise or promote any PMI-branded products," they write.
Instead, they offer "engaging, relevant, and informative content … for people interested in the visionary thinking fueling PMI and our partners, Scuderia Ferrari Mission Winnow and Mission Winnow Ducati Corse."
The press release also acknowledges a downside to the name they have chosen. They used the word "winnow" to signify weeding out and keeping the best ideas, and discarding the bad ideas, as in the expression 'separate the wheat from the chaff' which is the precise meaning of winnow. However, PMI had to add a pronunciation note, stating that it is pronounced 'WIN-NO', as most non-native English speakers read it as being 'WIN-NOW'. One media wag has already suggested that this is very much the situation Ducati find themselves in for the 2019 MotoGP season, given the strength of the Desmosedici GP19 machine.
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