No motorcycle has acquired quite such a fearsome reputation as the Ducati Desmosedici GP9. Though there are no doubts about the speed of the Ducati - Casey Stoner has proved the bike is fast over and over again - there are huge question marks about its ridability. Loris Capirossi went from being a title candidate to an occasional podium visitor on the 800, Marco Melandri turned from podium regular to backmarker, and Nicky Hayden is only just starting to turn around his miserable start to the season and make a return to the front half of the pack. Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Jorge Lorenzo all turned down the chance to ride the Bologna Beast.
Yet the bike is not impossible to go fast on. Where others have failed, substitute rider Aleix Espargaro has succeeded fairly spectacularly, posting the 5th fastest race lap at last week's Misano MotoGP round, and finishing ahead of MotoGP regulars Randy de Puniet, Niccolo Canepa and Gabor Talmacsi in just his second race. He also managed to qualify at Misano just over a tenth of a second slower than double World Superbike champion James Toseland on the Tech 3 Yamaha.
So impressive has his progress been that two things happened after the Misano MotoGP round. The first was that the Spaniard - brother of the Indianapolis 125cc race winner Pol Espargaro - was whisked off to hospital on Monday to have surgery for arm pump. The second is that rumors immediately emerged that Espargaro is to be drafted in to replace his team mate Niccolo Canepa for the rest of the season.
The haste with which the operation was performed would seem to confirm the rumors. Although Espargaro is currently booked to ride the Promoracing Moto2 bike at the next round of the Spanish championship, the Spaniard has been switching duties between Moto2, 250cc and MotoGP, with no firm commitments in any of the classes. Having surgery early would allow him to be fully fit and recovered for the next round of MotoGP at Estoril at the beginning of October.
Certainly, Ducati feel that they need some help in the Pramac team. Niccolo Canepa was bumped up early, switching from the Superstock 1000 class - where he was European champion - a support class for the World Superbike series, to MotoGP, the pinnacle of motorcycle road racing. The step has proven to be too great, and Canepa has never lived up to Ducati's hopes for the young engineering student, despite the strong times the Italian has set when working for Ducati as a test rider. Canepa is likely to return to the World Superbike paddock, either in Superbikes or Superstock, but he is almost certain to be out of MotoGP for next season.
Bringing Espargaro in early allows the Pramac team a little time to evaluate the Spaniard, and see if the rapid progress he has shown since coming into the series continues. If Espargaro continues to get quicker, and starts getting into the top 10, his substitute ride could well turn into a permanent gig for next season.