The Althea team have terminated their association with Ducati. After prolonged negotiations between Althea team boss Genesio Belvilacqua and Ducati Corse, in which the two could not reach an agreement on several key areas, Belvilacqua has decided to end their collaboration, and look for another manufacturer to work with.
The decision comes as a shock. Althea and Ducati have worked together for just three short years, but in that time, they have secured both the World Superbike title and the Superstock 1000 championship with their current riders Carlos Checa and Davide Giugliano. It had been expected that the collaboration would continue in 2013, with the two men helping to develop Ducati's new 1199R Panigale superbike machine.
Althea's decision was the result of a number of factors. The first and most obvious one is financial, with Althea claiming that Ducati was unwilling to invest the extra resources required to help develop the Panigale, which is to make its debut in World Superbikes in 2013. With World Superbike regulations inching closer to Superstock, there are doubts over whether the Panigale can be made both reliable and competitive, with the high revs the bike requires to make the power taking its toll on engine internals. The length of time the discussions went on, and the failure to make decisions quickly was also a point of contention, Belvilacqua telling Italian website Moto.it that it had taken Ducati months to respond to proposals he had sent them back in June. Althea were also unhappy with the contract specifying that Ducati would control certain technical aspects of the effort, though Belvilacqua failed to detail just which aspects those were.
The split leaves both Althea and Ducati in a quandary. Carlos Checa is contracted to Ducati, and Ducati are committed to racing the Panigale in World Superbikes next season, but they currently do not have a team to contest the series with. There have been reports, first made on GPOne.com, that Davide Tardozzi could make a return to Ducati to run a factory-backed team, now that the factory BMW team has been disbanded. Althea have Davide Giugliano under contract, but no bike to race. If Althea are to remain in World Superbikes, they will also have to find a large slice of additional budget, with rumors that Ducati Corse was already picking up a sizable chunk of the tab for the Althea team.
The accusations of a lack of decisiveness made against Ducati by Althea are perhaps the most damaging. One of the unfortunate by-products of Audi's acquisition of Ducati has been that a number of important decisions surrounding Ducati's racing program took an inordinate amount of time to get sorted out. The situation surrounding the Ducati junior team exemplified this lack of decisiveness: at Mugello in July, Ducati MotoGP boss Alessandro Cicognani told MotoMatters.com that he expected the situation surrounding the Ducati junior team to be resolved before the summer break, a couple of weeks later. In reality, an announcement was not made until mid September, nearly two months afterwards. The Marc VDS racing team had been one of the teams earmarked to run the junior squad, but as negotiations dragged on, their enthusiasm for the project waned, leaving Pramac to be appointed to run the squad.
What the future holds for both Althea and Ducati's WSBK program remains to be seen. Decisions are expected within the next week or so, a necessity given just how quickly the 2013 World Superbike season is approaching. Arranging affairs in time for next season could prove to be a challenge for both parties.