Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati's 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: "Emozionante" and "tanto lavoro". Both were extremely apt. Getting from where Ducati were to where they are now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed "tanto lavoro", a lot of hard work, and they still had "tanto lavoro" ahead of them. The results were "emozionante", a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday.
For good reason. The GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before. The presentation was a very Italian affair: an Italian TV presenter introduced the Italian managers and Italian engineer of an Italian bike, to be ridden by two Italian riders, to an audience consisting entirely of Italian journalists, with the honorable exception of Slovenian channel POP TV, a team from Dorna, and the rather less honorable exception of myself. But the bike being presented looked very far from Italian: from most angles, this looked like a very Japanese motorcycle, in concept and in execution.
What has changed? Everything. Even with the fairings on, it is clear that this is a very different motorcycle. The engine is still a 90°V4, using desmodromic valves, but it is rolled back much further than its predecessor. The engine in the GP14 had already been rolled back around its axis compared to the starting point some three years ago. The rotation is now complete, the engine a few degrees further back, and very close to the location used by the Honda RC213V.
Though the riders competing in the 2015 MotoGP championship have all departed, the factories stayed on at Sepang for another day of testing. For the fourth day of the first Sepang MotoGP test was designated as a test day for Michelin, who are due to take over as official tire supplier from 2016.
The legal complications of the change from Bridgestone to Michelin mean that the tire test is shrouded in confidentiality, rather than secrecy. This test features only the test riders, all of whom have been barred from talking to the press about the tires. Times were not recorded, and definitely not released, though a handful of hardy journalists stood at trackside with handheld stopwatches (or smartphones) and tried to time riders that way. The secrecy is understandable: Michelin are at a very early stage of their development, and Bridgestone are paying Dorna a hefty sum to be official tire supplier, and want to reap the marketing benefits that should bring.
Max Biaggi is to make a surprise return to riding a MotoGP machine. The former 250 and World Superbike champion will take a seat on Ben Spies' Ignite Pramac Ducati as part of a one-day test at Mugello, as part of Ducati's testing program, according to Italian site GPOne.com.
Spies was scheduled to stay on at Mugello to take part in a two-day test, but after the first day of practice at last weekend's Italian Grand Prix, it was clear to both Spies and Ducati that his shoulder was still too weak to ride a MotoGP machine. With work continuing on the Desmosedici, it was important for Ducati to get as much data as possible on their bike, and so Biaggi was offered the chance to ride the machine.
Ducati Corse issued the following press release, after factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden joined Michele Pirro and Franco Battaini of the Ducati test team at Mugello. The test team were at the Italian circuit for a three-day test, which ended today.
Ducati Team completes setup test at Mugello
Fresh off of last weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix and Monday’s post-race test at Jerez, Ducati Team riders Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden were back on track Wednesday and Thursday, this time at Mugello. As the Tuscan circuit is one of the team’s selected test tracks, this was an opportunity to carry out important setup work with the Desmosedici GP13, with an eye toward the Italian Grand Prix, set to take place at Mugello 31 May - 2 June.
Thanks to perfect weather conditions—similar to those that accompanied last year’s Grand Prix at Mugello—the team was able to take full advantage of the planned day and a half of track time, with Dovizioso riding 42 laps on Wednesday and 54 on Thursday, and Hayden turning 29 and 60, respectively. Both riders rode with hard and soft versions of the Bridgestone tyres that will be used at the GP.
MotoGP fans will get a small glimpse of Ducati's future at Jerez this weekend. Ducati test rider Michele Pirro is due to make his first wildcard appearance of the season at the Spanish track. Most significantly, Pirro is to ride Ducati's so-called lab bike at Jerez, which contains a number of major updates to the Desmosedici GP13.
Though it is unclear exactly what Pirro will be riding - in the Ducati press release, Vitto Guareschi says only that Pirro's Ducati "will have some new development parts that will help us to focus on the development for the rest of the championship" - it seems likely that he will be racing the bike he has been busy testing. This machine, first seen at the Sepang test, was also the bike Pirro spent a lot of time testing at Jerez.
"This is the reality," factory Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso told the media after finishing 7th at Qatar, some 24 seconds off the pace of the winner, Jorge Lorenzo. Hopes had been raised on Saturday night, after the Italian had qualified in fourth, posting a flying lap within half a second of polesitter Lorenzo. While Dovizioso's qualifying performance had been strong, he had at the time warned against too much optimism. The Desmosedici is good on new tires, but as they begin to wear, the chronic understeer which has plagued the Ducati since, well, probably since the beginning of the 800cc era, and maybe even well before that, rears its ugly head and makes posting competitively fast laps nigh on impossible.
The problem appears to be twofold. Firstly, a chassis issue, which is a mixture of weight distribution, gearbox output shaft layout, frame geometry and, to a lesser extent, chassis flexibility. And secondly, a problem with engine response, an issue which is down in part to electronics, and in part to Ducati still using just a single injector per throttle body. The weight distribution problem causes the bike to want to run wide at corners, making it hard to keep it on line; the throttle response issue just makes this worse, with the throttle either very harsh and aggressive, and difficult to control, or, when the revised electronics package is used to soften power delivery, makes the throttle response feel remote, and removes the connection between throttle and drive from the rear wheel.
The first test at Sepang was a disheartening affair for Ducati. The times of all four Ducati riders - Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso in the factory Ducati team, and Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies in the Pramac Ducati junior team - were well off the pace of the fastest men at the test, with Hayden, fastest Ducati rider, ending the test two seconds behind Dani Pedrosa on the Honda. Ducati acknowledged that they had a lot of work to do, and that there would be no quick fixes. Serious improvement would not come in the short term.
But Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier was at pains to stress that improvement would be made, and that Ducati is working on a number of solutions. Ducati test rider Michele Pirro joined Pramac's Andrea Iannone at Jerez this weekend for three days of private testing at the circuit, trying out some modifications which could be tried at the next MotoGP tests at Sepang, just over a week from now. Parts tested included new chassis parts, as well as some electronics updates, which Ducati declared had performed 'according to expectations'.
The 2013 season has gotten off to a very damp start for Ducati. The Bologna factory had booked the Jerez circuit for a three-day test, for both the Alstare Ducati World Superbike team and the Ducati MotoGP test team with Michele Pirro and Franco Battaini, but the rain meant that they only got a few hours of testing done, and all of that was on Monday.
Despite only managing a few laps, the test counts as successful for the Alstare Ducati team. Carlos Checa and Ayrton Badovini both managed some forty laps, with Checa quickly up to speed and bettering his time from the last visit to Jerez at the end of November last year by over a second, according to times posted by the respected Italian site GPOne.com. Badovini's progress was much more limited: the Italian was just a couple of tenths quicker than his time from November, and over a second and a half slower than Checa's lap time, the Spaniard having set his fastest time on a set of soft tires.
The last day of testing of 2012 turned out to be a mirror image of the MotoGP season just finished. As it had so many times this year, rain and wind ruined conditions, making the track far too dangerous for slick tires, and too dry to do any proper testing on wets. And just as they had done so often this year, the few riders remaining at the Jerez combined MotoGP and World Superbike test spent the day sitting in the garage, watching the weather, before calling an early halt to proceedings and heading home.
A few riders did briefly venture out, though to little effect. Nicky Hayden had stayed on for an extra day to help the testing program, after Andrea Dovizioso's neck problem meant that the Italian did only three laps over the first two days of the test. Hayden went out for a few laps to compare the two different wet compounds, and Ducati test rider Michele Pirro put in a few laps as well, but both Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone chose to sit out the final day. Dovizioso's neck problems had not subsided sufficiently, and the conditions were not worth the risk, while Iannone did not feel there was anything to learn on the treacherous conditions.
Tuesday afternoon at Valencia saw groups of people huddled together up and down the paddock discussion what to do. With the weather having made the first day of testing difficult, and much, much worse forecast for Wednesday - half an inch or more of rain was forecast to fall during the seven hours of the test on Wednesday - several teams contemplated the prospect of packing up and heading elsewhere in search of a dry track.
In the end only Yamaha decided to go, heading off to Aragon, one of their nominated test tracks. In their wake, a string of journalists followed, hoping to get more of an idea of just how fast Valentino Rossi still is after his misadventure with Ducati, by being able to compare his times with those of Jorge Lorenzo's. It turned out to be a waste of time. The rain fell in Aragon, Valentino Rossi did a single lap - out, and then straight back into the pits - and Jorge Lorenzo posted nine laps in the wet before crashing, and walking away unhurt.
Press releases from the teams, from the single tire supplier and from Honda after Sunday's dramatic MotoGP race at Valencia:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and single tire supplier after a rained-out day of practice at Valencia:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and the single tire supplier ahead of this weekend's season finale at Valencia:
Press releases from the MotoGP teams and single tire supplier Bridgestone after the Australian Grand Prix at Phillip Island: