After the press conference part of Ducati's 2020 MotoGP launch, we got a chance to ask Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna a few more questions about the Italian factory's plans for the coming season. Dall'Igna expanded on some of the things he had told the press conference, such as his priority for the Desmosedici GP20, and how he expected the new Michelin rear tire to affect the racing.
But Dall'Igna also answered some other questions as well. The Ducati Corse boss talked about why he wanted more power from the GP20, the support on offer for Johann Zarco, how he sees rider contracts, and Ducati's thoughts on racing in Endurance. He even fielded a question about Marc Márquez, and managed to answer it by not answering it.
Corners or straights?
One of the main questions the media had for Dall'Igna was what his priorities were for the GP20. Ducati had brought a couple of new chassis and a new engine spec at the Valencia and Jerez tests last November, and at Valencia, especially, the bike seemed to turn better. At Jerez, that improvement didn't seem as significant.
Was the GP20 really better in the corners? "It’s difficult to tell you an answer," Dall'Igna said. "For sure we’re improving the bike. We have some ideas about improving the bike that can help us in that direction. But we have to test it before telling you something. Maybe after Sepang I can tell you something more."
Was making the bike turn better the highest priority on Ducati's list, or was it more power? "The priority for sure is the chassis," Dall'Igna said, though the fact that chassis and engine were developed by two different teams meant they weren't forced to choose. "The people involved in the chassis development and on the engine development are different so you can do both. In the previous years for sure the riders complained a lot about the turning of the bike. We tried to do better on that. Honestly speaking when you manage that, it will be more important to have the speed of the bike to win the race. For sure it’s easier to win races if you have the fastest bike on the race track."
When Honda increased the horsepower and top speed of the 2019 RC213V, it had made the bike harder to ride. Was it possible to improve the chassis and increase horsepower at the same time? "It’s important to have the power in the pocket," Dall'Igna emphasized. "When you have it in the pocket you can make the decision if you want to use it or not. If you don’t have the horsepower in the pocket then you cannot use that."
First, you have to build a bike that is competitive, Dall'Igna explained. Once you have a competitive bike, then you can use extra horsepower to gain an advantage. "I think to manage the race where you have the speed, for sure it’s important to have some horsepower more than your competitors. For sure. If you don’t have the speed it’s not so important to have this horsepower."
That naturally set priorities, he said. "The priority is to have the speed first of all," Dall'Igna explained. "After that if you don’t have the horsepower then you have to fight a lot more to win the race."
Dall'Igna is known for pulling rabbits out of hats at racetracks, and catching his rivals off guard. Last year, Ducati brought the holeshot device to the GP19, and at Qatar, rolled out the aerodynamic swingarm spoiler. Did Dall'Igna have any surprises up his sleeve for 2020? The Ducati Corse boss laughed when he was asked. "You know, it is not easy to surprise everybody all the years," he replied. "I would like to, but I don’t know if I’ve reached this target. For sure it’s one of my targets."
How would the new Michelin rear affect his plans for the GP20? "You know, it will be quite a big change not only in terms of performance, but in terms of… you have more grip but the bike becomes more nervous," Dall'Igna told us. "You have to find out the right, proper setup, not only in terms of chassis, but in terms of electronics and so on. It seems a small change but it could become quite important."
Contracts, contracts, contracts
The fact that the entire grid is out of contract at the end of the 2020 season is going to be a major factor through this year. That was going to have an effect on Ducati, and they way they approach their rider contracts as well. Ducati have made no secret of targeting big name riders such as Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, though whether they will succeed is another matter altogether.
Did the fact that the riders and the team know that rider contracts are up at the end of this year affect the atmosphere in the team? "You know, the atmosphere in the team is normally not the best when you have to renegotiate the contract," Dall'Igna said. "But from the performance point of view it depends on the rider. Sometimes it’s better to sign the agreement as soon as you can. Sometimes it’s better to wait a little bit."
That pressure worked both ways, as riders have to book results early to secure a ride for next season, and Ducati have to ensure the bike is fast to be able to attract top talent to the team, Dall'Igna acknowledged. "Everybody is pushing each other to do better," he said. "The riders have to do this with me and I have to do this with the rider. It’s important to understand we are on the same side of the game. It’s important that we don’t fight each other but we have to help deliver the best possible results."
One vs two
The fact that riders need results early in the season can work out well. "I think this can give the riders some chilli in the right place," Dall'Igna joked. But whether results came early or late, that didn't change when he expected Ducati to be signing riders. "I don’t think we will sign the contract with both riders quite soon."
Having all of the rider contracts synchronized on a two-year cycle was not easy to deal with, the Ducati Corse boss told us. Having riders on one plus one contracts made it easier going forward, he explained, pointing to the example of Danilo Petrucci. "My target at the beginning when I signed a contract with Danilo for the first year, I signed only for one year because I’d like to have two year contract but one plus one," he said. "So this has to be the target for the future, but I don’t know if I can reach this target. For sure I prefer to have only one rider to discuss with per year."
There have been persistent rumors that Ducati is trying to tempt Marc Márquez away from Honda, though so far to no avail. We asked Gigi Dall'Igna if he saw Márquez as an attractive prospect from an engineering point of view. The Italian danced around the question, but hinted at an answer. "You know, I have only one target in my life," Dall'Igna told us. "I won championships in 125, 250 and Superbike. But we didn’t win any championship in MotoGP. This is my clear target: win a championship in MotoGP. So I think that I answered your question." Dry words on a computer screen do not do the twinkle in Dall'Igna's eyes justice as he gave his reply.
The big surprise at the end of 2019 was the news that Ducati had signed Johann Zarco to a contract to race with the Avintia squad in MotoGP in 2020. Was Dall'Igna aiming to give the Frenchman extra support through the season? "It depends on his results," the Ducati Corse boss told us. "For me the important thing is the results. If he shows us he can do good results, for sure I have to help him. I have done this all my life and I’ll do this also in the future. If I can’t do something like that I will change my job."
What form that help would come in wasn't directly clear. "We cannot change his engine because it’s frozen at the beginning of the season," Dall'Igna said. "But I’m open to do the best for him. And I’m serious. I’m not joking." Developing special aerodynamics for Zarco made little sense, he explained. "If I do this for sure I will make a lot of confusion. At the end we can have only a few tenths and not more. I think we have the possibility to do something better for him than the aerodynamics. First of all I have to understand what he needs. After that I can take the decision what I can do for him."
MotoGP isn't the only championship Ducati is involved in, of course. There is also the WorldSBK effort with the Aruba.it Ducati team. But the Panigale V4 R Chaz Davies and Scott Redding will be campaigning in WorldSBK in 2020 was based directly on technologies developed in MotoGP, Dall'Igna emphasized.
"The involvement of racing in that bike is really important," the Ducati Corse boss told us. "We developed all the aerodynamics of the bike inside the racing department. The thermodynamics of the engine comes from the MotoGP engine. For sure they have to readapt everything because it’s a street bike. But the link between both departments is important."
Ducati are extending their reach into other production-based championships, dipping their toes into the World Endurance Championship. "I think it’s important to make a step in that championship because we don’t know what will be the rules of the future," Dall'Igna explained. "It’s important to understand that championship because I, Gigi Dall’Igna, but also Ducati do not have a lot of experience in that kind of race. It’s a completely different race. It’s not easy to understand what is important to get the results."
The link between WorldSBK and Endurance racing could be an important one, Dall'Igna said. "For street bikes, the durability is important. You can show it in endurance. Also performance is important so the connection with endurance is important."
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