An announcement on who will replace Valentino Rossi at Ducati appears imminent. As we mentioned last week, Andrea Dovizioso agreed to take the factory Ducati seat vacated by Rossi's departure for Yamaha. His signature, it appears, was subject to certain conditions, though. According to reports in the Italian media, Dovizioso demanded guarantees of support and development from Audi before putting pen to paper.
Italian TV station Mediaset is now reporting that Dovizioso has now received those guarantees, and has signed a two-year deal to ride for Ducati in 2013 and 2014. Ducati's choosing Dovizioso over Cal Crutchlow - Dovizioso's British partner at the Tech 3 squad had earlier been offered the ride at Ducati - is an indication of the the future direction of the Bologna factory. The deal appears to signal that Ducati has accepted that they need to focus their development on building a bike to suit a traditional Grand Prix style, as displayed by the Italian. It is perhaps a signal to Ducati's new owners Audi that they understand the magnitude of the problem, and that the loss of Valentino Rossi is being taken very seriously indeed.
Dovizioso's signing fits into Ducati's strategy shift in MotoGP. The switch from a traditional satellite leasing model to a factory-supported junior team strategy is part of this shift, as Ducati MotoGP project leader Alessandro Cicognani told MotoMatters.com at Mugello. With four near-identical bikes from 2013 onwards, development and feedback should be much faster for the Bologna factory. Audi will have an important role to play in this, in large part providing assistance in areas such as prototyping and increasing the speed with which new parts can be designed and produced. With two young riders likely to be moved up from Moto2 - Andrea Iannone and Scott Redding are being linked to the rides, as has current CRT rider Danilo Petrucci - Ducati's strategy is more rounded and complete than it has been in recent years.
Dovizioso's signing leaves the fate of Cal Crutchlow hanging in the balance. Earlier in the year, Crutchlow had offers from both the factory Ducati squad and his current Monster Tech 3 squad, but was holding on while waiting for a response from Yamaha. The Englishman has a long history with the factory, and was hoping for a shot at the second factory seat. His patience may have cost him dearly: once it became clear that Rossi was serious about leaving Ducati, the Bologna factory quickly signed Nicky Hayden to provide some continuity - as well as help with sales in the key US market. With Rossi in the factory Yamaha seat, Crutchlow's options are severely limited. The Tech 3 deal could still be on the table, though team boss Herve Poncharal has also been involved in talks with fellow Frenchman Randy de Puniet, currently riding a bike for the Aspar Power Electronics CRT team.
The Dovizioso deal will probably be announced officially ahead of next weekend's Red Bull Indianapolis GP. Once that has been announced, the rest of the seats aboard factory prototypes should quickly fall into place.