The situation at Ducati was the talk of the paddock in Barcelona. With Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow being linked to Suzuki, Crutchlow having a contract for 2015, Ducati keen to retain the services of both Dovizioso and Iannone, and Iannone openly pushing for a seat in the factory Ducati team, the Bologna factory faces a series of complex contract negotiations. To check on the state of play with Ducati, we cornered Ducati Corse's MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti.
What was meant to be just a brief chat turned into a much longer conversation, on a range of subjects. Ciabatti gave his view of the situation with Cal Crutchlow, as well as his hopes of retaining both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. He discussed the rumors concerning an approach to Jorge Lorenzo, and reflected on having had Valentino Rossi in the Ducati team. He gave us an update on Ducati's plans to provide more Open bikes for 2015. And finally, he turned his attention to the return of Michelin, and Ducati's hopes for the new tire manufacturer.
MotoMatters.com: It appears that Ducati's problem this year is that Cal Crutchlow has a two-year contract, while you also have Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone who are both riding very well. And only two seats in the factory team...
Paolo Ciabatti: As most people in the paddock know, we have a two-year contract with Cal, but he has a way out of the contract. Having said so, we invested in Cal because we wanted very strongly to have him with Ducati, and the fact that so far things have not worked in the way we all hoped is due, honestly I don't believe in luck or bad luck, but in his case, we must admit some of the things have been particularly going wrong on the technical side with no explanation. Because he has exactly the same treatment as Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, and his team has actually been working together since a long time. Dovi's team was put together last year, after Valentino [Rossi] left, but Cal's team is Nicky's [Hayden] former team, and has been together for a long time. Daniele Romagnoli joined instead of Juan Martinez, but it is a very good team. So it's difficult for us to really understand why these things have happened.
But having said so, obviously he's not performing to the level we expected, he is not performing to the level which he expected, but we will keep supporting him 100%. Then it's up to him to decide what he wants to do. On the other side, as you said, we have the other two Andreas, who are doing a good championship. Obviously Dovizioso is more experienced, he's very consistent, and he's also helping a lot Gigi with very clear punctual feedback on the bike. His contract is expiring at the end of this year, and we would like to retain him. Also Andrea Iannone is having a very good season, obviously he is crashing a little bit more, but we must remember he is only in his second season in MotoGP. He has proven to be extremely fast, many times the fastest Ducati rider.
First of all, we have been able to run three factory riders this year, so we might be able to do the same thing for next year. So, the answer is, we like the three riders we have this year, for different reasons we would like to continue with them. We'll need to see if and how the Cal situation will evolve, because it will be really up to him.
MM: Can you say when he has to make a decision by?
PC: I can only tell you that it is in July, not exactly when. But I think we will find a good solution to have those riders with us, unless Cal decides to go somewhere else.
MM: There have also been rumors of talks with Jorge Lorenzo. Have you had any discussions? Would you like to have Jorge as a rider?
PC: You ask me if I want Lorenzo, if I want Marquez? I would be stupid to say no. It would be stupid and silly to say no. But also, we as a company are coming out of a situation recently with Valentino, where the expectations of Valentino joining Ducati were very high. Obviously, when you have a rider who is a winner and has the ambition to win races and win the championship, it might be right to consider him when you are sure that you have a winning bike. So, obviously, yes, we like Jorge, yes we like Marc, but I don't think we are yet in the position to offer him a bike capable of winning races. We hope that next year the new bike will be at that level, but obviously we need to prove it.
MM: It would be much more of a gamble without first having seen next year's bike. A gamble for everybody, but the same is true for Crutchlow, for Dovizioso, for Iannone. Because Suzuki are also looking for riders...
PC: I know. And they are a factory team, and we understand that actually, Davide Brivio admitted to speaking to Cal, Andrea and Andrea, he said so to the press. So on the one hand, we're happy, because it looks like we have the best three riders available! Joking apart, I think the two Andreas, they have been on a Ducati last year, which was a really difficult season, and they are seeing the improvement on this bike, and also the change of working method with Gigi Dall'Igna. So I think for them, it's easier to see that things are moving in the right direction, even though we are still struggling. The fact is that today, we have half of the gap which we had last year hear at Catalunya last year on a much faster race. If you were here last year on the bike, like Dovi was, then you can feel the positive side of things. Obviously, if you were riding a more competitive bike, or a bike which was more suitable to your riding style last year, and then you don't even finish the race for a technical reason, you cannot get the same positive attitude and belief that things are moving in the right direction. Going back to Lorenzo, obviously we have a very high opinion of Jorge, but I think it is not the right time yet.
MM: In January at the launch, you also talked about producing an Open bike to sell to the teams. Is that still the plan?
PC: Honestly, it is still a plan to make bikes available. Whether we sell or lease the bike is still under discussion, we might offer four bikes for customer teams, but first of all, we have a commitment to Pramac. Pramac has been with Ducati for many years, through good times and bad times, and I think as a company we like to consider loyalty as one of our values. And obviously our priority is to finalize our deal for next year with Paolo Campinoti of Pramac.
Having said so, we might be able to make available bikes for two more riders, but these two bikes would have to be Open, with Open software. Because four is the maximum of factory named riders, so only four riders can use our own software. But again, next year is also a time when everybody will have to develop the new software for 2016, so it could be also somehow an opportunity to understand if there will be further releases throughout the season of the common software. So, still we have actually had a few meetings last week at Ducati, to see what we could put on the table for Pramac obviously, and eventually also to see if we could supply bikes to another team.
MM: Michelin is coming in 2016. Will you be providing a bike for them to use for testing, or have you not even started talking about that yet?
PC: Obviously, we heard about, we know about Michelin, we know about the 17 inch wheels. We know that they already indicated a few tests that they would like to do. For sure they also want to go to Phillip Island, because it's very demanding on the tires, but honestly it's very early to say. I think they need to do a lot of testing, I think they want to do it with the main manufacturers, to develop the right tire for everyone.
MM: Exactly, because it seems to me that it is very important to have the right tire for all of the bikes, and not just for one particular bike or manufacturer.
PC: As you know, with the current tires, you must really adapt your bike very much to the tires. And there are complaints from other riders and other manufacturers about the problems created by the new construction of the tires. So I mean, I'm not criticizing Bridgestone, because they do a great job, but obviously, if, with the new generation of 17-inch tires, there will be the possibility that Michelin will develop something which is more neutral for all manufacturers, I think that would be an added benefit for the series, because it will make it even more competitive. Having said so, today there was a beautiful, just unbelievable race, down to the wire, so it was really a great show.