Since Gigi Dall'Igna arrived at Ducati, he has transformed the fortunes of the Bologna factory. Poached from Aprilia at the end of 2013, the Italian, who graduated from the University of Padua with a degree in mechanical engineering, shook up the Ducati Corse racing department, and set about redesigning a new engine and new chassis for the Desmosedici.
When Dall'Igna took over, Ducati were coming off the back of a season without a single podium. Eight-and-a-half seasons later, the Desmosedici has become the best bike on the grid, and has challenged for the championship every year since 2017. They have won the constructor's championship and the team championship, but the rider crown remains elusive.
Perhaps the biggest part of Ducati's success has been their ability to innovate. Dall'Igna brought with him a willingness to take risks, try new approaches, do something that other factories would have found unthinkable. Starting with his suggestion to turn Ducati into an entry into the Open Class, which prompted the introduction of concessions in MotoGP, to flooding the MotoGP grid with bikes, to the introduction of wings, ride-height devices, an obsessive focus on tire life, and much more.
That openness to new ideas is itself remarkable in MotoGP. Motorcycle racing is notoriously conservative when it comes to bike design. That is in part because motorcycle design is incredibly complex, and it is easy to make things worse by making a change which is unproven. But the lesson of Gigi Dall'Igna's Ducati is that perseverance with innovation will pay off in the end.
To find out where Ducati's spirit of innovation came from, Peter Bom and I interviewed Gigi Dall'Igna at the Barcelona round of MotoGP. In the 15 minutes we had with him, the Ducati Corse boss gave us a fascinating insight into Ducati's working process, how they come up with new ideas, and why they have so many bikes on the grid.
Q: To start off with a big question: Motorcycle racing is an incredibly conservative world, so why are Ducati so innovative? How do you that?
Gigi Dall'Igna: [Laughs] I don't understand why, honestly.
Q: Well, how do these radically new ideas end up on your bikes?
GD: The most important thing is to speak to people. You cannot have the ideas alone. You have to develop the idea with the people you have around you. In the meetings, you have to try to develop the ideas in your organization.
Q: So what's the process, someone will come up with an idea?
GD: This is not a real process. You have to have in mind that you need new ideas, and so you have to push the people around you to talk about new ideas, talk about something new. Because this is the most important thing. During the meeting, you have to try to talk about new ideas, new developments, you have to organize some meetings just to start new processes, new ideas.
Q: From the outside, it looks like you are trying to stimulate your engineers to think about vehicle dynamics rather than specifically motorcycle design?
GD: Some years ago, if you looked at the telemetry, you can easily understand that one of the most important things, one of the most important problems of the bike is wheelie. You cannot accelerate as much as you think because of the wheelie. So you have to try to understand what you have to do in order to reduce this problem. So we started to develop the wings, we started to lower the center of gravity on the bike.
After that, you try to understand what we have to do, and you find some problems, because at the beginning, we thought that the bike has to do this alone. After that, we thought, but why? Why can't the rider do something new riding the bike? Formula 1 drivers have to control a lot of systems during the lap, and why do the riders of the bike not do something like that? So we start to think, why not? There is not a single thing, everything is an evolving path.
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