The pairing of Valentino Rossi to Ducati was a match made in marketing heaven. The combined selling power of the two Italian legends was beyond question, and the very definition of the word "synergy". However, the match also involved huge risk: the only rider so far able to win on the capricious Desmosedici was Casey Stoner, and if nine-time World Champion and prime candidate for the title of greatest motorcycle racer of all time Rossi also failed, then questions would be asked both of Ducati's design direction and Rossi's ability to adapt to a bike that Stoner had clearly mastered.
The results speak for themselves: Despite having put the Desmosedici GP11 on the podium at Le Mans, and currently sitting in 4th in the MotoGP championship, it is clear that Rossi is a long way from being competitive on the Ducati in its current form. Despite multiple changes having been introduced - a new subframe/airbox, a new engine with a heavier crankshaft - the Ducati is still no match for either the peerless Honda, or even the underpowered Yamaha, the bike still incredibly difficult to turn. If Rossi is to be competitive on the Ducati, clearly a radically new approach is necessary.
That radical new approach is to be raced at Assen. Ducati have announced that they will be bringing a completely new bike for Rossi to race at the Dutch track, based on the development work done on the 2012 machine as tested at Jerez. The bike will feature a new chassis, a new inverted swingarm as used on the GP12 - which features the shock mount at the top, on a special upper subframe, as GPOne.com explained in an excellent piece of technical analysis - as well as a new engine modified to use the new chassis and swingarm, as well as a new seamless gearbox, similar to the one currently being used on the Honda.
Valentino Rossi will be the only Ducati rider to use the new bike at Assen, as the radically modified chassis layout requires a new engine, and the engine allocation limits prevent Nicky Hayden from taking an extra engine this early in the season. Rossi has so far used his 3rd engine this season, while Nicky Hayden is already on his 4th, having lost an engine at Estoril. As a result, the American will have to wait until Laguna Seca before he gets a chance to use the GP11.1, as it is being dubbed by Ducati.
The news that Ducati has switched to a chassis based on the 2012 bike will fuel rumor and speculation about the tests that Ducati have already done on next year's machine. Ducati have already used 5 of their permitted 8 days of testing on the GP12, and there has been much wild and unfounded speculation that Rossi has been testing this year's machine in the guise of the 1000. According to Italian TV broadcaster Sportmediaset, during the most recent test at Mugello, Ducati asked local inspectors to verify the capacity of the machine being ridden by Rossi, to prove that he was not testing the 800 illegally.
It is clear that Ducati have stayed strictly within the letter of the law with respect to the tests, but the issue does highlight the problems caused by allowing extra test days for the switch to the new 1000cc category. The lessons learned from testing the new machine may well be applicable to the current year's machine, or, as in Ducati's case, make the factory decide to abandon their current direction and gamble on the direction selected for next year. If anything, the advantage is likely to be greater for Honda and Yamaha, whose 2012 machines are expected to much more closely resemble this year's machines.
Below is the official Ducati press release announcing the changes:
DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM AT ASSEN WITH NEW DEVELOPMENT STEPS
The Ducati Marlboro Team, continuing its development process with the Desmosedici, will introduce a variety of new updates at Assen. Valentino Rossi will take to the track with the next generation of the bike, called the GP11.1. The design process for this bike began after the Sepang tests, with construction beginning after the riders approved the GP12's chassis during its first test, at Jerez.
For the GP11.1, the Corse Department prepared an 800cc engine that installs in the chassis that Ducati engineers are developing for 2012. The bike will also use a new gearbox, the "DST- Ducati Seamless Transmission", the design process for which began in 2010.
Nicky Hayden, who has already used four engines this season, will use a GP11 equipped with the step-2 frame, whose stiffness has been further modified compared to the step-1 version that was introduced at the Estoril test. According to the engine-rotation schedule, he will ride the GP11.1 at Laguna Seca.
Assen is a track that both Ducati Marlboro Team riders like very much, and one where both have achieved strong results: seven victories and three podiums across all classes for Valentino Rossi, one victory and a podium for Nicky Hayden.
VALENTINO ROSSI, Ducati Marlboro Team
"Assen is one of my tracks—one of those that I like most and where I've had some nice races in all the classes. We'll try to take advantage of that good feeling and of our experience at this circuit because Thursday morning we'll debut some updates to my bike that are very promising but also very fresh. Filippo [Preziosi], the guys at Ducati and the Test Team have worked really hard, and that has enabled us to make this new step with the development of our bike. We haven't had the chance to test the 800 since Estoril, so we'll do it during the race weekends, being aware that despite having very limited time, we'll have to focus on two jobs: making basic adjustments to the new technical parts, and finding a general setup for the race on Saturday. We'll have to do a good job on the track in order to get the most out of the work done at the factory. It will be hard, and we know it might take some time before we can completely reach the potential of the whole package, but we're happy and motivated by the work we're doing."
NICKY HAYDEN, Ducati Marlboro Team
"There was no GP this past weekend, but the time went by pretty quickly, as I had a test at Mugello and a couple of PR appearances. Now it's time for Assen, which is an awesome race. I have some good memories there, including a win, and it's a place I really like, with a lot of history and tradition. The track has changed over the years, but I like the new section. We've had a big gap to the front lately, but now we have another new step with the chassis. The first step helped with the feeling, and hopefully this one will also help with the lap time. It's clear that Ducati is working hard, and that's motivating for me, for the team, and for all of our Ducati supporters. I look forward to getting my hands on a GP11.1 as soon as possible as well."
FILIPPO PREZIOSI, Ducati Technical Director
"We decided to make the GP11.1, which is an 800cc engine in a GP12 chassis, in order to accelerate development on next year's bike, and also to provide our riders with a potentially better base for the current championship. Considering that Valentino still hasn't ever ridden the GP11.1, this decision could require some races for the team to completely take advantage of its potential, but we decided to move forward with it because we believe it's an important step for our development process. The next-generation gearbox, on the other hand, is a solution that we think will be an immediate improvement. The Ducati Corse Department will continue studying further innovations, both for this year and for 2012. At the same time, we have developed an additional step for the frame for Nicky, and he'll receive the GP11.1 at Laguna Seca."
ASSEN CIRCUIT RECORDS
Circuit Record: Dani Pedrosa (Honda – 2010), 1'34.525 – 172.982 Km/h
Best Pole: Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha - 2010), 1'34.515 - 173.001 Km/h
Circuit Length: 4,542 km
MotoGP Race 2011: 26 laps (118,092 km)
MotoGP Schedule 2011: 15:00 Local Time
Number of laps: 26
Total race distance: 118,092 km
PODIUM 2010: 1st Jorge Lorenzo, 2nd Dani Pedrosa, 3rd Casey Stoner
POLE 2010: Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha – 2010), 1'34.515 – 173.001 Km/h
DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM'S BEST RESULTS AT ASSEN
2010: 3rd (Stoner)
2009: 3rd (Stoner)
2008: 1st (Stoner)
2007: 2nd (Stoner)
2006: 12th (Hofmann)
2005: 9th (Checa)
2004: 8th (Capirossi)
2003: 6th (Capirossi)
DUCATI MARLBORO TEAM – RIDER INFO
Bike: Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP11
Race number: 46
Age: 32 (born in Pesaro 16 February 1979)
Residence: Tavullia (Pesaro, Italy)
GPs: 247 (187 x MotoGP, 30 x 250cc, 30 x 125cc)
First GP: Malaysian GP, 1996 (125cc)
Number of Wins: 105 (79 x MotoGP, 14 x 250cc, 12 x 125cc)
First GP win: Czech Republic GP, 1996 (125cc)
Poles: 59 (49 x MotoGP, 5 x 250cc, 5 x 125cc)
First Pole: Czech Republic GP, 1996 (125cc)
World Titles: 9 (6 x MotoGP, 1 x 500cc, 1 x 250cc, 1 x 125cc)
Rossi's MotoGP/500cc track record at Assen
2010: Grid: DNS; Race: DNS
2009: Grid: 1st; Race: 1st
2008: Grid: 3rd; Race: 11th
2007: Grid: 11th; Race: 1st
2006: Grid: 18th; Race: 8th
2005: Grid: 1st; Race: 1st
2004: Grid: 1st; Race: 1st
2003: Grid: 3rd; Race: 3rd
2002: Grid: 1st; Race: 1st
2001: Grid: 3rd; Race: 2nd
2000: Grid: 6th; Race: 6th
Rossi's 250 track record at Assen
1999: Grid: 1st; Race: 2nd
1998: Grid: 3rd; Race: 1st
Rossi's 125 track record at Assen
1997: Grid: 1st; Race: 1st
1996: Grid: 8th; Race: DNF
Bike: Ducati Marlboro Team Desmosedici GP11
Race number: 69
Age: 29 (born 30 July 1981 in Owensboro, Kentucky, USA)
Residence: Owensboro, Kentucky, USA
Number of GPs: 140 (140 x MotoGP)
First GP: Japanese GP, 2003 (MotoGP)
Number of wins: 3 (3 x MotoGP)
First GP win: USA GP, 2005 (MotoGP)
Poles: 5 (5 x MotoGP)
First Pole: USA GP, 2005 (MotoGP)
World Titles: 1 (MotoGP, 2006)
Hayden's MotoGP track record at Assen
2010: Grid: 5th; Race: 7th
2009: Grid: 13th; Race: 8th
2008: Grid: 4th; Race: 4th
2007: Grid: 13th; Race: 3rd
2006: Grid: 4th; Race: 1st
2005: Grid: 5th; Race: 4th
2004: Grid: 16th; Race: 5th
2003: Grid: 12th; Race: 11th