Ever since Valentino Rossi ended the first Valencia MotoGP test in lowly 15th place on the Ducati Desmosedici, one-and-three-quarter seconds behind fastest man and former teammate Jorge Lorenzo, there have been calls for radical changes to Ducati's MotoGP machine. Those calls have only intensified as the season has progressed, the switch from the GP11 to the GP11.1, the destroked version of Ducati's 2012 MotoGP machine, having brought little improvement until a few key parts were introduced at Brno.
The focus of much of the fans' anger and the paddock's scepticism has been Ducati's monocoque carbon fiber chassis. Ducati's radically different design has been pinpointed as the obvious culprit for the problems with the Desmosedici, with critics pointing to the success the Japanese factories have had with an aluminium twin spar chassis, as exemplified by Yamaha's Deltabox concept. If Ducati had an aluminium twin spar frame, the argument goes, they would at least be confronting the Japanese on equal footing.
Crucially, the criticism has come not just from outside of Ducati, but both Valentino Rossi and his long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess as well. Both Rossi and his crew chief have called for Ducati to run a parallel project to design an aluminium chassis to test whether such a chassis would bring an improvement. By running two different projects in parallel, the argument runs, the pace of development of the Desmosedici could greatly increased as the data from the two projects is analyzed.
It appears that Rossi and Burgess are to get their wish. French journalist Thomas Baujard of the magazine Moto Journal has uncovered that Ducati are currently building an aluminium chassis for the Ducati Desmosedici. A Ducati engineer confirmed the news to Baujard at Brno. Construction of the chassis has been farmed out to a third-party chassis builder with many years' experience of fabricating aluminium parts. By contracting the building of the chassis out, Ducati are avoiding the pitfalls that prevented them from embarking on such a project earlier, and which team boss Vito Guareschi continually raised when confronted by Italian journalists: Ducati has never built an aluminium twin spar chassis and has no experience in manufacturing them, and so would be starting with a huge deficit to the Japanese factories.
Ducati Corse General Director Filippo Preziosi remained coy on Monday when he was quizzed about it by reporters. "We are exploring different solutions, though I don't think material is the key point," Preziosi said. He reiterated that the CF chassis was not a point of dogma for Ducati. "We are open-minded. We are ready to use what we believe is better." Preziosi pointed to the fact that Ducati abandoned their iconic V twin configuration for a four-cylinder when they entered MotoGP, explaining that the rules both at the time and currently push motorcycle designers towards the use of a four, whatever their natural preference for engine configuration. "Sometimes you use a solution, the right solution, depending what is writtten in the rules. So for me, we are are open to use what we believe is better."
The move comes after Ducati made a big step forward with the carbon fiber chassis at Brno. Ducati Corse brought a number of new parts to help improve the front end feel of the bike, which also allowed Valentino Rossi to move his position on the bike. The list of revised parts included fork bottoms and steering head bearings, Nicky Hayden told reporters on Saturday night, but they also included the inserts used in the carbon fiber steering head, a fact also uncovered by Moto Journal's Baujard. The aim of the revised inserts was to modify the contact between the steering head stem and the CF frame, altering the feel of the front end by changing the way that information was transmitted from forks through to the chassis.
The parts had given Rossi more confidence in the front end, he said on Saturday. The changes helped especially under braking, Rossi said: "When I brake, I feel more what happens on the front tire and I can force more the entry. So I can brake on the edge of the tire, which allows me to enter the corner a lot faster and make a better line." The modifications were a definite change for the better. "I think we improve some of our problems," Rossi said, "This is a small but clear step. We are still not competitive for the win, but we are more close."