There were very few people who were surprised when Ducati announced at Le Mans they had reached a deal with Andrea Dovizioso for a new two-year contract. The Italian factory had said at the launch of their MotoGP project back in January that they were keen to get a new deal done with Dovizioso. "Andrea has been with us for six years and he’s in the heart of Ducati fans because of what he did last year," team boss Paolo Ciabatti said in Bologna.
The original plan was to have the contracts signed early. "I don’t think making a firm decision too early, but for sure having a clear picture of the situation," Ciabatti had said. "Then do the next steps as a consequence of the situation quite early. Quite early probably means the second half of February or the first half of March."
Those next steps took longer than Ciabatti had perhaps appreciated. But this was perhaps unsurprising: after Dovizioso's success in 2017, winning six races and coming with a whisker of beating Marc Márquez to the MotoGP crown, there were other factories who were interested, including Honda. Those negotiations took time, and in the end, the deal was only done with Dovizioso after Jerez, and announced at the French Grand Prix at Le Mans.
Negotiating contracts is always a delicate business, and never more delicate where championship contenders and factories are involved. It is a complex and time-consuming process, requiring many meetings and much back and forth over the details before contracts can be finalized and ready to sign.
At Mugello, I sat down with Andrea Dovizioso's manager, Simone Battistella, to talk about how Dovizioso's deal came about. Battistella – like Dovizioso, deeply intelligent and extremely eloquent, capable of explaining matters with precision and clarity – went through the process of negotiating the contract with me, and set out the priorities when making a deal. Money plays a part, but it plays a much smaller part than you might imagine.
Q: When did you start talking to Ducati about a new contract?
Simone Battistella: We started very early. We started to understand what was the will during the winter. For different reasons Ducati was not in the position to make any steps, which is fine because anyway we are getting used to do these things very early now.
Q: Does that make your life more complicated?
SB: To be honest, it doesn’t make my life more or less complicated. It just a matter of, I think there are more elements to be managed if you do the negotiation during the season. Because you have races, you have pressure, you have other riders signing contracts. That enhances the pressure on you, on the team and on the rider because of the expectation of the meetings. Apart from that, it doesn’t change anything. To me at least it doesn’t change anything.
Of course we ended the season in a very good way last year, which made things easier. But the situation is that for many reasons it was not possible to start the proper negotiations very soon. We could only do it during the season. One of the elements of what happened is that of course you have the interest of other teams. So again, you have another element to keep within the picture. Andrea is a very logical guy. He wants to understand all the elements before taking a decision, and having other offers was something that he did ponder very, very carefully. I would say it’s just a bit more complex. For me at least, I’m not riding, so I’m not disturbed by it.
Of course you have to manage more the media, because in the middle of negotiations it’s difficult not to say what is really happening, but if you do say what is really happening, it will just enhance the pressure and jeopardize the job. At the end of the day, it’s a private negotiation and people simply shouldn't know. The other solution is, which is the one that I use most of the time, is just to say the truth. It’s very simple to say the truth. If you get an offer, you say you got an offer. If you don’t have any offers or nothing has been done in terms of steps forwards, you just say that. Very simple.
Q: I know Andrea had other offers, but it always seemed for lots of reasons that Ducati was the best option for him, and the same was true for Ducati, Andrea was their best option. How does that influence negotiations? Staying together is the most obvious choice, but you still have a responsibility to your client to get the best out of the negotiations?
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