Rossi & Ducati: how dark is the night?
Just how dark is the night for Ducati? On the eve of the first Grand Prix of the season, where the Qatari desert sky will be illuminated by artificial lighting, this is the question on the minds of many MotoGP fans. Giving us a partial answer was Valentino Rossi himself, who said at Jerez: "Our real potential is what you saw in this test; around sixth fastest if everything goes well." This means that the big 3, Stoner, Lorenzo and Pedrosa, are still on another planet, while Spies and Crutchlow are possibly within reach, and without forgetting that Dovizioso and Bautista are hot on his heels.
THE GLASS HALF EMPTY OR HALF FULL? - If we perform a little comparison with the 2011 winter testing results, we see that last year in Malaysia Rossi finished 11th fastest, some 1'804 off of the lead pace, while he ended the pre-race test in Qatar in 13th place, 1'307 behind. So things went much better this year in Spain, where his 6th best time was under a second slower than Stoner, or .953s to be exact.
What's more, the GP12 is still a very new bike, and there should be plenty of room left for growth. Excluding the sessions lost to rain, the Doctor has only ridden the bike for 7 days. And while the new machine has already been a step forward for Ducati, it was perhaps a smaller step than expected. Part of this is also down to the wrong turn taken during the second Sepang test, where the team headed off in a completely new, and ultimately useless, direction with the setup.
Ducati managed to right the ship at Jerez, but at that point the season was already fast approaching. It will be vital for the team to keep calm during the first races of the season, and not try and rush the development process along. The risk is that they could take one step forward and two steps back, as was often the case last season. Valentino is capable of learning from his mistakes, as the nine time world champion affirmed: "We need to avoid making a mess of things, and chasing around revolutionary ideas. We are focused now and ready to work."
ROME WASN'T BUILT IN A DAY – It would have been impossible for Ducati to solve all of their problems in one fell swoop, and this early version of the GP12 can only be viewed as the first step towards the front of the grid. Preziosi and his team acted boldly when they abandoned the load bearing engine design they had invested so heavily in, and instead chose a more conventional frame layout. Their objective was to find a solid starting point, a base which they could build upon. The early results seem to indicate they have succeeded, with all the riders - satellite teams included - saying the new Desmosedici feels very different to its predecessor. "It would have been a really big problem if Valentino tested the bike and said that nothing had changed," the Ducati technical director admitted in Malaysia.
Further confirmation came from Rossi in Spain: "This is the definitive bike. There won't be any major design changes this year." This doesn't mean the bike will remain untouched, but simply that the base philosophy will remain the same. The recent example provided by Honda speaks volumes: in 2010 the Japanese manufacturer built 6 different chassis before finding the right direction. Ducati are hoping to be a little faster in this process, and they have the staff capable of making it happen. But there is still plenty of work left to be done. One year ago in Doha, during the season opening race, the Doctor qualified 9th on his Ducati debut, a second and a half from the pole, and finished the race 7th, some 16 seconds behind the leader. This will be the team's first target for 2012. The first benchmark to reach and then surpass. It would be a sign that, after many years of an uphill struggle, they have finally reached the downward slope.