On Thursday, Ducati presented its 2020 MotoGP team at a spectacular location: the Palazzo Re Enzo in the heart of Bologna's main Piazzo Maggiore square. Before the launch was live-streamed to the public, the main protagonists spoke to the media to lay out Ducati's plans for the 2020 MotoGP season. And though nothing inside the team is changing, and factories always attempt to keep their cards close to their chest, they always manage to let one or two things slip, whether inadvertently or not.
Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali kicked off the press conference with a justification of why Ducati goes racing. The crux of his argument was that disruptive technologies and a rapidly changing political environment made it imperative for companies to be as independent as possible. That meant being able to rely on their own knowledge, and not having it taken away by outside factors.
"To be economically independent, we at Ducati absolutely think that investment in research in development is crucial," Domenicali told us. "And we at Ducati consider racing as the most advanced part of our research and development. And when we put together all the effort for racing, for production bike research and development and all the tooling to make and produce new bikes for racing and production we are above 10% of our total company turnover."
Plucking the fruits of racing
The superbike Panigale V4 was the fruit of that investment. Domenicali claimed that the Panigale V4 had become the biggest-selling superbike in the world, gaining share in a declining market segment. "The Panigale V4 is the bike which for the first time in the history of the company was leading the pack in sales for superbike that are road homologated," the Ducati CEO said.
It was a bike which would never have been built if it wasn't for Ducati's participation in MotoGP. "The Panigale V4 would never exist without racing," Domenicali said. "The counter rotating crankshaft, 81mm bore, traction control in which the algorithm has been developed by the racing bikes, which control at the same time the spin and lateral slide. The aerodynamic efficiency of the Panigale wings, all of these have been developed in racing by Gigi and his team. This is why racing is so important."
But racing was also an important part of marketing and public relations, Domenicali explained. "Then of course there is the fantastic engagement that Andrea [Dovizioso] and Danilo [Petrucci] create with all our fans. Every Sunday when there is a race, everyone gets very proud of being a Ducatista and they are cheering so hard for our heroes against the competitors."
The meaning of Ducati Corse
"This in a nutshell is racing for Ducati," Domenicali summarized. "So it's a technological incubator, it’s a showcase of the best Italian skills and it's an incredible element of passion for the Ducatisti. Both our customers and even our employees. It's an element of cohesion for our 1,600 people in the world when we are cheering Andrea and Danilo on the track fighting for the win.¨
When he referred to MotoGP as a showcase for Italian skills, did that mean he would be aiming to continue with two Italian riders for 2021? "We have an official guideline that we cannot speak about the year that is not 2020!" Domenicali joked. "How important is it to have Italian riders? Let's say, not much. We want fast riders. So we are lucky because we have Italian fast riders. That is a positive thing."
Ducati may have Italian riders now, but they have a long history with non-Italian riders. "We built out history with Australian riders, Italian riders, UK riders," the Ducati CEO pointed out. "Carl Fogarty was kind of fantastic in our history. So let's not get stuck on nationality. Gigi is very clear about that and I cannot agree more. We have a fantastic story with Andrea that made incredible number of victories with us and three years in a row vice-world champion, which in the Marquez era, it's an achievement."
No such thing as too much horsepower
Gigi Dall'Igna, the boss of the racing department, gave away a little more about the focus of development for 2020. During the tests in Jerez and Valencia, Ducati had tried a couple of new frames, as well as an updated version of the engine. Jack Miller had been impressed by how smooth the new engine was, and now Ducati would be building on that rideability to focus on horsepower.
A new evolution of the engine with more horsepower is to be tried at the Sepang test.
"We didn't finish the comparison in the last 2019 tests, so we have some jobs to do in the next test in order to evaluate better the different configuration of the evolutions," Dall'Igna told us. "Also on the engine point of view we started the last two tests of 2019, the engine improved from the rideability point of view. All the riders that tested the engine gave us more-or-less the same feedback. We have just finished the last durability tests on the dyno so at the next test we will introduce something different in order to achieve more horsepower without losing any rideability."
The new Michelin rear tire to be used in 2020 was one reason for focusing on more horsepower, Dall'Igna explained. The new tire has more grip, allowing the use of more horsepower. And more horsepower was always an advantage. "The new rear tire for this year will be a step forward in comparison to the previous tire, so I think that the power of the engine is a tool that you can use to win races."
But there was also an element of wounded pride in Dall'Igna's pursuit of more horsepower. With Honda catching up in 2019, that had taken away the advantage the Desmosedici had possessed in previous seasons. "Honda last year improved a lot from the engine and speed of the bike point of view and so we would like to regain the difference that we had in previous years," Dall'Igna explained. "So we worked, not solely, but for sure also on the engine to achieve the best possible result."
Aerodynamics is an area where Ducati also usually has an advantage. The updated version of the fairing would not be unveiled until the Qatar test, most probably, to give the other factories less time to try to copy the design for homologation at the Qatar race two weeks later, Dall'Igna explained. But with the clampdown on aerodynamic rules, he did not expect to bring anything revolutionary.
"As usual we will test the new fairing in Qatar or probably the last day at Sepang," the Ducati Corse boss said. "The difference between 2019 and 2020 is not huge because the rules at the moment are rigid, so it's really difficult to find something more from the aerodynamic point of view. So the new fairing will be an evolution of the last version that we used in 2019." The bikes on display at the launch were the final version of the 2019 Ducati Desmosedici GP19.
Work will also be continuing on the chassis for the GP20, but one key component won't be available until the final test of 2020. "In the Qatar test we will test a different swingarm, so I think we can close everything before the final test and the start of the new season in Qatar in the beginning of March." The new swingarm was aimed at improving the turning of the bike, to help make it a more fully rounded package.
Going one better
Andrea Dovizioso has finished the last three championships in second place to Marc Márquez, and just like last year, his objective is to finally beat the Spaniard to the title. That was not easy, the Italian acknowledged, because of how fiercely competitive MotoGP is now. "I mean the level in our championship is so high, so every year you have to do better if you want to fight for important results. What we did in the last three years has been incredible, really good, but it wasn't enough so you have to be always better."
How is Dovizioso aiming to improve? By trying to do what he did in 2017, working on improving over the whole weekend. That meant improving his mental focus, he explained. "I'm focused on training, physical condition, but especially about the mental side, because I know from the past you can do better, how much you can improve in the small things. Especially in the level we are at now, it can make a big effect at the end."
"I can be really good in the way I manage the weekend or the race, especially in the last three years, together with the team, we've become really strong," Dovizioso said. "And for sure I can be quite strong in the fight, but you can always be a bit better in some moment of the race because especially in MotoGP now, with the tires we have, with the rules with all the electronics, sometimes it's difficult to change the situation during the race."
With fewer options during the race, that made qualifying ever more important, Dovizioso explained. "It's really important to be in front at the beginning of the race. It's really important to start a bit further forward than we did last year, because last year in qualifying I was struggling a lot. So most of the time we gained a lot of positions at the start, but there is more risk and it's better not to create that situation."
The only thing that was certain was that Marc Márquez would be the favorite for the title, Dovizioso said, but there will be a close fight among a large group. That left a lot of question marks. "It's impossible to know now how the championship will be, because for sure the guy to beat is Marc, who did something incredible last year. He won with a big gap so for sure on paper that is the point for everybody," Dovizioso said.
"But I think that on the paper we are 5-6 riders able to win the championship, not just the races." But the year never unfolds quite as you expect, he said, because there were too many variables to take into account. "Every season has a different story, the tires will be a bit different, there is a big development in MotoGP about the aerodynamics, we will see the competitors and us – I mean everybody works so hard during the winter."
The story of Danilo Petrucci is a modern day fairy tale, but 2019 was a season of two halves. Petrucci's main objective was to make 2020 more like the first half of 2019, rather than the second half. "The beginning of the year was very good," Petrucci said. "I managed the pressure in a good way. Then I maybe did some mistakes, but I only recognized those mistakes now, and when I was in the middle of the championship I didn’t understand where I can be better. Sincerely I didn't work much more this winter, but I worked much more calmly, let's say looking more at the future. As I told you, I have a big opportunity."
There were question marks over whether Ducati's strategy of pairing two riders who were willing to work together was the right one, and even Ducati management seemed a little divided on the idea. "I think that there are different aspects that you need to manage and Gigi may add something in the management of the team," Claudio Domenicali said. "I think some competition within the team is positive, because actually every one of us is pushed. So I think it's positive because it shows even sometimes that you may consider that something is not feasible, but when you see what your team-mate is doing it's kind of giving you the extra motivation if you like."
Gigi Dall'Igna saw clear benefits from two riders working together. "The spirit that we have at the moment in the team is really fantastic," the Ducati Corse boss said. "Sometimes from the technical point of view it's very important because of the possibilities. When both riders go on the race track at the same moment, following each other, it gives us the possibility to know the behavior of the bike in the slipstream, and this is really important for a lot of things, the engine performance, the aerodynamic performance, the tire performance. Because the tires sometimes have problems in the slipstream."
The new rear Michelin was something of a concern, but also an unknown quantity, both Dovizioso and Petrucci said. At the tests, they hadn't had the conditions to truly understand how the new rear would behave over race distance. "It's not clear, but I think also for our competitors also it's not clear," Dovizioso said.
The new rear was significantly different, and that was what made understanding it so complicated. "It takes time to understand the new tire, because the change looks like it wasn't that small," Dovizioso explained. "It looks like the grip is a bit more but the casing is a bit different. So when you make 4-5 laps it's one story, like at a test, where everybody is fast. But in the race it shows different things."
Understanding this would be a key objective for the coming tests at Sepang and Qatar, Dovizioso said. "The way we work and the way we try to understand the tire may be different so we have to focus on that." Having more grip was always good, but it was how the tire changed over time that would be key. "The tire may be the biggest effect to be strong in the race. The feeling is good from everybody because when you have a bit more grip it's a nice feeling. But to be fast for 5 laps or also 15 laps but you stop twice is a different story to when you make 12 laps at a time."
The races would be the real litmus test, however. "Only the races will show the reality because it's different to the test," Dovizioso said. "So we have to be smart and try to be ready for the first round."
Teammate Danilo Petrucci concurred. "As Dovi said, one or two flying laps or a short run of five laps is different than a 20 - 25 lap race. So it's still early to know everything, but we have a lot of time next month to understand this and we'll see," Petrucci said. "For sure to understand the behavior of the tire will be one of the keys as always but year-by-year it’s getting more and more important."
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