After a year of evolution in MotoGP which brought them few rewards, Ducati looks set for a radical shake up for next season. Respected Italian website GPOne.com is reporting that Ducati is considering racing in MotoGP as an Open entry, instead of under the Factory option. In practice, Ducati would be free of the engine freeze in place for Factory Option teams in 2014, have 24 liters of fuel instead of 20, and twelve engines per season instead of just five. In addition, they have more freedom to test with factory riders Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow. In exchange, they will have to forego the freedom to develop their own software, and will run the spec Dorna-supplied software instead.
GPOne's source is impeccable, quoting Ducati factory rider Andrea Dovizioso. The two bikes - the GP13 in factory configuration, and in the Open configuration with more fuel and the spec software - have already been tested back-to-back, at the test in Jerez in November. However, those bikes were ridden by test riders, and not by Ducati factory men Dovizioso and Crutchlow. 'The real test will come when we test the bike,' Dovizioso told GPOne.com. That test is set to happen at Sepang, at the first test of the 2014 season from 4th to 6th February. One of the things which was said to be improved was the engine response when running with more fuel. An aggressive throttle response is something which Ducati riders have all complained of in the past, and having more fuel available could alleviate.
Switching to an Open entry offers Ducati a lot of advantages, which far outweigh the disadvantage of losing the use of their own software. Right now, what Ducati needs is testing and development, and by removing the software from the equation, Ducati are free to concentrate on engine and chassis. The fact that Open entries are not subject to the engine freeze in place on all engine internals for 2014 for Factory Option bikes means that Ducati are free to change engine configurations and internals when they want. With twelve engines for the season, they can test a lot more variables, playing with crankshaft masses, valve timing and sizes, the configuration of the V, tilting it backwards and forwards, and rejigging the layout of gearbox shafts, should they so wish. In effect, Ducati can circumvent the engine freeze imposed on factory entries and try to catch up with Yamaha and Honda. To catch the two Japanese factories, Ducati have a lot of development work to do, and the engine freeze is a massive impediment to doing just that.
Racing as an Open entry has two more major benefits. The first is testing, which Open entries have much more freedom in. Dovizioso and Crutchlow would be free to test at any circuit they like, rather than having to rely on test riders at all but the official test days, as Factory option entries must. Though there is a minor difference in tire allocations for testing, the net result is the same, with 120 testing tires each for Dovizioso and Crutchlow.
The race tire allocation is the other benefit of being an Open entry. So far, it looks like Bridgestone will continue to supply the softer option rear tire for the Open entries, which is not open to Factory option entries. The softer tire offers more rear grip and more performance, and allowed Aleix Espargaro to be extremely competitive last year on the underpowered Aprilia ART bike. No decision has yet been made on the softer tire for the Open class, as Bridgestone has concerns over the durability of the tire when used by the new Open class bikes, which are much more powerful than the old CRT machines. A final decision is set to be made after the Sepang tests, once more data has been collected.
If Ducati do decide to enter as Open entries, this looks like a stroke of genius by new Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna. There are many benefits to be had from racing in the Open class, especially in the field of engine development, which is what Ducati needs most right now. Given that the bike is a long way from being competitive right now, they have very little to lose by giving up the right to use and develop their own software. With Dorna and IRTA pushing for all entries to use the spec software from 2017 onwards, this also gives Ducati a head start on the possible new rules. This is a sign that Ducati are very serious indeed about trying to return to the front.