The reports of a major reshuffle at Ducati which emerged at Valencia turned out to be accurate. Today, Ducati Motor Holding announced a complete reshuffle within its racing department, which sees the current leaders of Ducati's racing projects moved aside to make way for new blood.
The biggest change is at the top of Ducati's racing department, Ducati Corse. Current general manager and technical lead Filippo Preziosi is being moved out of the racing department and reassigned as head of R&D for all of Ducati, though his focus will shift to production machines. In his place, former BMW World Superbike team manager Bernhard Gobmeier has been appointed as General Manager of Ducati Corse. MotoGP project director Alessandro Cicognani has also been replaced, by Paolo Ciabatti, who was director of the World Superbike Championship for Infront Motor Sports until it was taken over by Dorna. The only person staying in place is Ernesto Marinelli, who will remain Ducati's WSBK project director.
The changes are not unexpected. Though Casey Stoner complained of several serious shortcomings with Ducati's Desmosedici MotoGP machine, his ability to win on the bike despite its problems meant that a sense of urgency was missing at the project. The arrival of Valentino Rossi at Ducati was expected to see the last few problems ironed out with the bike, and win the Italian factory their second world title. Rossi's nine world championships and record of moving the Yamaha in the right direction left little room for doubt about his qualities as either a rider or someone who can provide the right feedback required to develop a MotoGP machine. So his abject failure to perform would only ever be laid at the door of Ducati Corse. And that meant that heads would eventually roll in Borgo Panigale.
The arrival of the Germans, in the form of new owners Audi, saw the top of Ducati Corse win a reprieve, while the Germans assessed the situation immediately after the takeover. With the season at an end, and Audi now having seen Ducati from the inside sufficiently, it was time to start making changes. Preziosi was the obvious victim: as head of Ducati Corse, he was ultimately responsible for its success or failure. As its Technical Director, he was also responsible for the direction in which the Desmosedici had been developed. His methodical approach, changing one thing at a time and testing it fully before adopting it on the bike, meant progress was often too slow for the MotoGP team, and especially for Valentino Rossi. As head of R&D for Ducati Motor Holding, the same methodical approach is probably more suited to the pace of development for road vehicles.
Parachuting Gobmeier in as head of Ducati Corse sees a man with experience of both engineering and management take charge. Gobmeier was instrumental in the turnaround of BMW's World Superbike effort. It went from an expensive but uncompetitive team to winning races and eventually challenging for the 2012 title, injury and bad luck ending Marco Melandri's title charge. Before taking over at the WSBK team, Gobmeier was a highly succcessful engineer for BMW, having worked on chassis development and the German manufacturer's M vehicles. Gobmeier also has experience running BMW's ALMS racing activities.
In charge of the MotoGP team will be Paolo Ciabatti. The Italian is a former member of Ducati Corse, having run their Superbike team for many years, before moving on to join WSBK organizer FGSport (which later became Infront Motor Sports). There, he was in charge of running the championship, helping it grow and retaining its popularity through a very difficult economic period. Current team manager Cicognani will continue with Ducati Corse, but return to sponsorship and marketing activities.
What effect the changes will have on Ducati's MotoGP program remains to be seen. Various paddock sources have confirmed Italian reports that a large part of the responsibility is to be handed over to Eskil Suter, Ducati's German owners preferring to work with the Swiss engineer. Unlike FTR, who have been building frames to Ducati's specifications, Suter will have input on development as well, including helping design the chassis, and providing input on engine design, such as sprocket position and gearbox layout. Just how much of an improvement this will be remains to be seen. Suter's record in MotoGP is mixed at best, having been responsible for the Kawasaki MotoGP project, designing the chassis for Ilmor, the MuZ 500cc two stroke and the Suter BMW CRT machine used by Forward Racing and, in the latter part of the season, IODA Racing. The MuZ was the most successful of the projects, Jurgen van de Goorbergh putting the bike on pole twice in 1999. Kawasaki eventually dropped Suter from their MotoGP project, turning instead to a Japanese engineer poached from Yamaha, Ichiro Yoda.
A very different future approaches for Ducati. The sweeping changes in management will be just the first part of the process, with more to come. The Italian factory will need to make rapid progress, however, as paddock rumor suggests that Phillip Morris is losing patience with Ducati, and demanding some successes in return for the 20+ million euros the Italian arm of the US tobacco giant is said to be investing in the project. Should Phillip Morris decide to leave, the cost of the MotoGP project would fall entirely on Audi, and it is as yet uncertain whether they are prepared to bear the full cost of racing in MotoGP.
The official press release announcing the change is shown below:
Bernhard Gobmeier appointed as General Manager of Ducati Corse
- Bernhard Gobmeier becomes the new General Manager of Ducati Corse
- Filippo Preziosi assumes the position of Director of R&D Ducati Motor Holding
- Paolo Ciabatti appointed as Ducati MotoGP Project Director
Borgo Panigale (Bologna), 20 November 2012 – Ducati announces the appointment of Bernhard Gobmeier as the new General Manager of Ducati Corse. Utilising his significant experience in the world of motorsport, including more recently his role as Superbike Director with BMW, the position will draw upon the 53-year-old German’s extensive managerial experience ready to enter the new phase of development for Ducati’s racing activities and to achieve the targets set during the recent acquisition by the Audi Group.
Mr. Gobmeier will report directly to the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio, and count upon the experience and professional support of Filippo Preziosi.
Engineer Filippo Preziosi, the current General Manager of Ducati Corse, will now assume the position of Director of Research & Development for Ducati Motor Holding and report directly to Claudio Domenicali, General Manager of Ducati Motor Holding. The prestigious and strategic company role will enable 44-year-old Preziosi to apply the valuable experience of his 18 years in Ducati, 12 of which in Ducati Corse, to the development of new product.
Paolo Ciabatti (55) has been appointed the new Ducati MotoGP Project Director. The Italian now returns to the Borgo Panigale headquarters in Bologna to take advantage of his extensive experience in the world of motorcycle competition, which has included coordinating the World Superbike Championship as General Director.
After two seasons in the position, Engineer Ernesto Marinelli (39), is confirmed to continue as Ducati Superbike Project Director, with the activities of both Marinelli and Ciabatti coordinated by Mr. Gobmeier.
All appointments will commence from January 2013.
“With these new appointments and the 2013 riders announced in MotoGP and World Superbike, we are well prepared to move forward into the new racing season,” said the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio. “We are confident that with this new organisation and focused strategy, we will achieve our targets and continue with the fundamentally important transfer of ‘know-how’ from racin