Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Ducati isn't there yet

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Why Ducati isn't there yet

Ducati had a huge day on Sunday but there’s one last fix it must make before the Desmosedici can challenge for the title again

Andrea Dovizioso deserves double congratulations for Sunday: for surviving that terrifying 210mph tank-slapper on lap three and for scoring Ducati’s most important victory since the Casey Stoner years. And Danilo Petrucci too, a Mugello podium is good going for someone who nearly packed it in a few years ago because he was fed up with finishing at the back.

However, Dovizioso and Petrucci know better than most that Ducati still doesn’t have a bike that will work well at enough different tracks to make them world-title challengers.

The problem is poor mid-corner turning during the transition from off-throttle to on-throttle, which is less of an issue at fast, flowing tracks like Mugello.

Ducati has worked on the chassis to fix this, reducing their disadvantage step by step, but it now realises that the final fix must come from the Desmosedici’s engine.

If you stand by a slow corner and listen as riders carve through the turn and ease on the throttle, you will quickly realise that the Ducati sounds different to all the other bikes.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 94
Total votes: 83

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I'm not afraid to say it! Lorenzo will never learn to ride the Ducati. If they change it to suit his riding style it will not be as fast. Mugello of all tracks should have suited his style with it's sweeping corners. His flowing, smooth, high corner speed was not working with the Ducati even here. They could of got more for their money with a lesser rider, putting their $$$ into bike development.
As for the rear brake, I used it when I rode AMA dirttrack back in the day and it was useful in AMA roadracing too. I seriously doubt if any of you street riders ever go fast enough to experience what I have on the race track. Go to a track day or two and you'll get your eyes open to a lot of things.

Total votes: 187

... here in Australia, most riders who follow GP and other motorcycle racing religiously also do trackdays, and understand the finer points of motorcycle control. Also, most riders I know use the rear brake as much as the front, but Australia has always been very focused on sportsbikes; the straight-line cruiser culture exists here, but is not dominant as it is in the US.

Ducati should have kept Iannone.

 

Total votes: 97

I didn't understand the seque between using the rear brake and relative speed on the road and riding on a racetrack.  There was a total disconnect between the first and second sentences of the second paragraph.  It seemed to be a randomly placed put down of road riders. 'You lot wouldn't know anything' sort of comment.  Happy to be corrected.

I use the rear through corners constantly on the road (maybe overly as I wear it a lot quicker than the front - and I come relatively hard on the brakes into corners).  Also I find the technique is just as useful, if not more so, in the slower corners where the transition to throttle in the lower gears can be more extreme.

I think most road riders do at least a couple of track days.  I've done some but not as many as friends as I get bored riding the same corner over and over.  Having to think quick on the road with every corner different, often blind, and the surface constantly changing keeps me much more 'wired'.  Racing however would be a different matter, though I've never done it on the tar (just motocross and rally) and didn't really have the desire to, not unless I could magic up a team to handle all the bits that don't involve riding.  

I'll admit the boredom bit can be good however as without the extraneous factors you're more able to deconstruct your riding and focus on certain aspects and maybe introduce new techniques.  This can be done on the road as well, and is often better because road craft has a slightly different skill set to master than riding a track (especially lines), but when riding on your own generally.

 Also, personally I find opening your eyes also applies equally to riding on the road just as much as riding on the racetrack. :)

Total votes: 98

They have a problem they need to solve regardless of Lorenzo's needs, because turning better is more important than top speed at most tracks.  Whether Lorenzo will adapt enough to stop washing out in the middle of turns remains to be seen, and this year may not be the year they sort it out, but it's an adjustment they need to make regardless of rider.  I think, in the end, Lorenzo wil adapt.  After-all, Dani is fast on a Honda despite his style being closer to Lorenzo than Marquez.  

Total votes: 180

Ducati take the win and 2 of the podium positions and the talk is about how much work they have to do? Ask the Honda riders how they felt about Mugello! Mugello has a long straight but in a near 2 minute lap the bikes are only on the accelerating hard on the straight for about 5 seconds. Clearly the desmo works ok for the other 112 seconds of the lap as well. It may be more aggressive than the Yamaha but 4 bikes in the top 10 is a far cry from the Stoner days. Dovi had some terrible luck last year or he could have been a legitimate contender in 2016, and he's never been considered an alien. That says to me the bike in the right hands would be ready to fight for the title, but Lorenzo isn't the right hands. Even on the Yamaha Jorge would struggle if the set up wasn't perfect, so jumping on the Duc was always going to be difficult. Just about any of the other aliens would be better bets to take Ducati to the next level again, with the bike clearly having improved a lot over the last couple of years.

Total votes: 95

The main problem now weren't the bike but Lorenzo?
Italian reporters are saying that behind the closed doors of the garage there is some sort of "development war" going on. On one side they think that Dovi performances prove that the bike is doing rather well and slowly but surely getting more competitive. On the other side they are pushing for more radical changes to suit JL. And this is creating more confusion and no clear direction.
I tend to agree. Look at last year : BOTH Iannone and Dovi won. Moreover on Ducati friendly tracks they were podium competitive (barring AI29 stupid moves and Dovi bad luck). Both Andreas grew with that machine and with Dall'Igna they were getting there. I think that JL is forcing them towards different directions that might set them back again.
It's just a rumour but it seems that JL is pulling rank playing "5timeworldchampion" over and over and asking for changes that displease Dovi....
So far it's JL who did not deliver.... the Jerez podium was just a lucky coincidence.
Moreover they tested in Mugello! If there was one track where JL should have delivered this was the one! He cannot have Petrux beat him fair and square by 12 seconds. It's almost half a second per lap! I know it's harsh but maybe they should keep on listening to Dovi and just ask JL to adapt or give the money back. :)

Total votes: 98

I think the difference between them comes out when you watch the opening laps.  Lorzenzo gets to the front, and up to speed, really fast.  Even if his performance wasn't great in the end, he has the tenacity to go fast from the get go (something he learned on the Bridgestones while competing against Stoner) and a cool head to keep at the front and manage the race.  Dovi's tentative and Iannone was too hot headed.  If riding's between the ears, then Lorenzo has much more of a champion's mind.  He's proven it.  I doubt that there is that much of a development war going on just yet, simply because Dovi wants the bike to turn better aswell.  Didn't they sacrifice some braking stability for improved cornering last year, anyway?  Seems like even Dovi thought it made sense to sacrficie a bit of that, despite it being his biggest strength, for the good of the over-all package.

Total votes: 86

And you're right: Dovi too wants the bike to turn better. But I disagree on your assessment about JL winning mentality. and if we consider the notion of "riding between the ears" he is precisely living proof that what goes on between his ears stops him from winning. What's the point of passing in a blast in front of everyone to just then hopelessly drift backwords? I would say that Dovi in Sepang last year and here in Mugello proved the winning mentality: keeping his cool waiting the right moment to attack, get the scare of his life on lap 3 i think and still go for it when the opportunity arises. JL has still too many fears to overcome and this year is proof ot that.
It's just a thought but in retrospective I think that he should have never raced the day after his surgery. On that day it was epic and brave and we'll always remember and admire his courage. But I think that he is still paying a heavy price for that. And the memory of that pain and the subsequent incident the following race is still impacting him today.
I know it might sound totally farfetched but i think that when JL saw Dovi crazy spectacular wobble he started slowing down....
It's like thoroughbred horses: they are champions but an unfathomable thing can scare them and stop them.

Total votes: 101

Sounds like a lot of conjecture and wishful thinking. It's ok to not like Lorenzo but making stuff up because of it makes you look silly. Calling Lorenzo's podium at Jerez a coincidence but not seeing that Dovi's win at Mugello is just as much an outlier in the season so far is laughable. The Ducati is very clearly not as competitive as last year, if anything they have gone backwards. Yes, Dovi too.

So unless you want to claim Lorenzo has completely changed the development direction of a bike he wasn't even allowed to ride properly until the new year all the above is plain nonesense.

Total votes: 95

I could return the compliment and say that it's silly to compare what happened in Jerez to the race in Mugello.
From what I saw the Jerez podium was just a coincidence ( i think that JL himself said something of the sort) whereas in Mugello all the Ducatis were there fighting. I looked again the race yesterday: Dovi has a major wobble on lap 2 then JL has a major wobble on lap 3 and from that moment he starts drifting backwards... how do you explain it? What I said in my previous post has nothing to do with my liking or not JL . At the beginning of the race i thought it was fantastic! 2 yam and 2 duc: we were in for a treat, another Qatar 2015..... my only concern being VR fitness for the whole race.
Have Ducati really gone backwards since 2016? I would not be so sure: Dovi is second in the championship 33 points up from JL and Petrucci is a mere 4 points from JL even wih 2 DNF.... I grant you that in 2016 the first 6 races saw an abnormal amount of DNF in the Ducati camp so it's difficult to compare. But what I said was not meant to make up things in order to demeanish JL status. Rather some questions/conjectures on what might go on "between the ears" of a motgp champion.

Total votes: 99

an explanation for the specific area ducati is struggling.  Even better, I think I understood it :-)

clearly no easy fix (or it would have been) and I wonder just how much they can compensate by using the rear brake or chaning the chassis.  Would be very interesting to see if a "softer" desmo action coming just off throttle would make any difference.  

Wouldnt put Lorenzo in the waste basket just yet, I think he is very good at trainging himself; by his own admission he also has to untrain certain aspects.

Total votes: 96

I'm so tired of this sh*t... Why on earth should I buy a Duycati street bike if they can't make a race bike that handles? Obviously somewhere along the way, computer simulations told them that the fastest way around a track was a late brake, shoot out style. Luckily Yamaha has taken the other approach, for years really... Yamaha the riders friend.

Total votes: 78

rider friendly, but the much criticized Honda RC213V has managed to carry a rider to the championship three times, and a team and manufacturer four times in its first five years, so there is at least a little merit to the idea - or Márquez is truly the GOAT (Rossi lovers/Honda haters will have to pick their poison).

Total votes: 107

but also kinda confusing that what sounds like a fueling issue is so difficult to solve. 

Anybody who has raced a superbike knows that the last thing you want is perfect fuelling down low for that first wiff of throttle.  A crisp throttle where all 4 cylinders chime in at once sounds exactly like what Mat describes.  The low tech solution for a lot of us has been to run it fairly fat (rich) down low, to soften that first hit....but this is obviously problematic with fuel limits.

But in the (ever so slightly, lol) higher tech world of WSB this is where the split throttle bodies have come into play in seasons past (they are banned in 2017).  They allow a myriad of extra options over the "all the cylinders all the time" OEM throttle bodies not for just fuelling/power application but also engine braking, turning 240hp IL4's into 120hp twins (or even a single if required) and coincidentally gaining the traction advantage that twins have previously held exclusive lien over.

Strange that a MotoGP manufacturer with deep development pockets should struggle with what on the face of it seems to be a fairly simple issue......so I'm thinking there is more at play than "simple" fuelling.  

Demanding the rider learn to use the rear brake in a completely new fashion is not actually solving the problem, instead it demands more of the rider and only freaks of nature* like Stoner can use it to such an automatic degree that it does not compromise that mere "dollar's worth of concentration" that every rider has.    

 *freak of "nurture" might be a better term.  He wasn't born with these reactions but what requires thought and concentration for most of us was forged into instinct at an early age.

You voted 3. Total votes: 104

If mid corner fueling is a problem, then why does the bike work so well in low grip situations? At Barcelona it was hot and greasy, the Ducati's allways seem to work in the weet, but the last thing I would want in a low grip situation would be a motor that doesn't come on smoothly.

Total votes: 94