Ducati's MotoGP test plan has suffered a blow after the Bologna factory wrongly interpreted the testing rules in booking the Losail Circuit in Qatar for a private test on Sunday and Monday. The plan for the private test had been to have Casey Stoner test the Ducati Desmosedici GP (or GP16, as everyone else calls it) at Qatar on Sunday and Monday, after the official IRTA test had finished at the track. The benefits for Ducati would have been that Stoner would have been testing on a relatively clean track under broadly similar conditions as the other MotoGP riders, allowing a good back-to-back comparison of the feedback between the factory riders and Stoner.
Unfortunately, Ducati's plans are in clear breach of MotoGP's testing rules, and Race Direction has ruled that they cannot test. Testing at a circuit within fourteen days of an event is banned, as is clearly stated in the rules:
188.8.131.52 MotoGP Class
B. Test Riders
b) Test riders may test at any circuit, at any time, using only their team’s Test Tyre Allocation. Tests are not permitted within the 14 days before a GP event at a circuit unless authorised by Race Direction.
Ducati initially told reporters there had been some confusion over whether the period of fourteen days was from the race, or from the start of practice, which in the case of Qatar is on Thursday, 17th March. However, even by the most liberal definition of the rules, Stoner would only have been able to test on the Sunday, and not the Monday. If the rule includes the first session of practice on the 17th March, then Stoner would have been unable to test altogether.
The alternative would have been to have Stoner testing during the official IRTA test at Qatar. That, however, would have been problematic. Stoner was slated to test the GP16, but with the bike still so new, parts and bikes are in short supply. Having Stoner test a GP16 would have meant taking at least one, and possibly two bikes away from the factory Ducati riders, Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone. As this is the last test before the start of the season, that would have been an undesirable distraction, and would have restricted their test program. Though Ducati values Stoner's input highly, he will not be racing this season, whereas Dovizioso and Iannone are charged with bringing Ducati their first victory since Stoner left the factory in 2010.
Though it is almost inconceivable that as well-run a factory as Ducati could make such an obvious error by booking a track for a private test during the period in which testing is banned, they are not alone. According to GPOne.com, Yamaha had scheduled a private test at Qatar with Colin Edwards on 8th and 9th March, well within the test ban period, with no leeway for interpretation.
Ducati's poor planning could have been corrected if Race Direction had been so inclined. Testing within fourteen days of a race is allowed with the express permission of Race Direction, and given the circumstances - a test directly after the full MotoGP grid had just done three days of testing at the circuit, meaning the advantage for Ducati was negligible - they may have been lenient. That, however, would have caused problems down the road for other factories.