When Marco Melandri signed for Ducati, he cannot have foreseen the immense difficulty he would have in getting to grips with the Ducati GP7. Since making the switch from Honda, Melandri has floundered near the back of the field during testing, only managing to stay ahead of the satellite Alice Ducati riders Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli. The measure of his difficulties is summed up in the relief Melandri expressed in managing an 11th place finish at the season opener in Qatar.
It wasn't just Melandri who had been expecting much more from his joining Ducati: Team boss Livio Suppo was also hoping for a lot more from Melandri than the Italian has so far shown, and Suppo's patience is already starting to wear thin. The Ducati boss hinted to the German-language publication Motorsport Aktuell that Melandri's position was far from safe.
"It's not easy for Marco," Suppo told Motorsport Aktuell's Günther Wiesinger. "If we don't manage to get Marco into the top 5 soon, then it may be smarter to only run a single bike in the future." Wiesinger believes that the team and manufacturer standings could be a factor in Ducati's deliberations. With the Yamahas doing exceptionally well at Qatar, all four bikes finishing in the top 7, and a mix of world class veterans and talented rookies riding the bikes, clinching the team championship could well be a very difficult task for Ducati this year.
Melandri is currently on a two year deal with Ducati, but if his poor form continues, then it is unlikely he will see his time out. Not that this will solve Ducati's problems, as it is clear that the Ducati GP7 is a fantastic bike if ridden within a very narrow set of parameters. So far, only Casey Stoner has been able to master those parameters. Whether anyone else can is a major headache for Ducati: crashing is always a possibility in MotoGP, and a single crash could put Stoner out of action for many weeks, turning Ducati from race winners to tail enders in the blink of an eye. The prospect of having to race without Casey Stoner hangs over Ducati's head like a sword of Damocles. So far, that's not been a problem. But all that could change.