Yesterday, in Bologna, the spotlight was clearly aimed at Dovizioso and Petrucci, the two riders given the task of beating Marquez. One step back, in the shadows, was Michele Pirro. The man from Puglia in southern Italy is used to being behind the scenes, but his work in recent years has been fundamental in transforming Ducati from being an ‘ugly duckling’ to a ‘swan’ in MotoGP. His work is made up of many kilometres, long exhausting tests to prepare everything for the riders. He will be the first to get on the Desmosedici 2020, on February 2 in Sepang.
Michele, what will the GP20 be like?
“It is not a big change from the GP19, for a few years now we have only made evolutions not revolutions. This bike has allowed us to win races and be three times second in the World Championship behind a phenomenal Marquez, and we have to try to improve it again. The goal is always to move the limit forward in some areas."
Looking back over the past three years, which has been the best Desmosedici relative to the season in which you raced?
"The GP18, because in 2017 we had started to add everything together since mid-season and the following year we were competitive immediately. Just a little bad luck, like when they took out Andrea, and a few mistakes affected the season. I believe the biggest advantage we had was from mid-2017 to all of 2018".
What happened in 2019?
“We kept some advantages, but our opponents made up the gap. I don't think Honda had become faster in the curve last year, but they made up those 10 hp and we no longer made the difference on the straight. In 2018, both Dovizioso and Lorenzo won many races by a margin."
Do you think you have recovered that engine advantage?
"I think so, but I’m speaking for us, I hope that our rivals have not made a further step forward! (laughs) I got some information from Jerez (where Bradl tested the Honda MotoGP in the SBK tests) and it seems to me that Honda has also organized itself in this respect. I have to say that Gigi is right when he says that the straight-line advantage is the one that involves the least risks and our rivals have understood it too. I expect a very fast Honda in Sepang, and we won’t see massive gaps being pulled away like in recent years anymore. "
How much would you like to have the opportunity to try the other MotoGP bikes?
“It would be cool! We know the limits of our bike but not those of our opponents. If I think about what happened to Lorenzo, it doesn't seem to me that the other bikes are so much better than ours, the truth is that each one has strengths and weaknesses. Jorge has practically gone from being a winning rider to someone who was struggling to stay in the points zone. I believe that finding the compromise between rider and motorcycle is the fundamental basis. In recent years I have had the opportunity to follow some riders from the trackside and you realize that every bike has its own DNA. You have to be able to interpret it."
You are the most prized MotoGP test rider, have some manufacturers tried to steal you from Ducati?
“For them, I’d have loved to be a better rider, but Gigi made me become a better test rider (laughs). The experience with Ducati has allowed me to increase my sensitivity and the fact that I started this job at a young age helped me, because you can learn more and you can also allow yourself to take greater risks."
You’ve often been a coach, as with Lorenzo. Can you really see things from the side of the track that telemetry doesn't show?
“I believe I have an important advantage. Let me explain, I am not like Alzamora or Cadalora, who were riders but who retired years ago. I listen to the problems of the riders; I see them on the track and then I also ride their same bike. As a result, I can help Dovizioso if in one point I am in less difficulty than he is, or I can see a trajectory of Marquez and try to repeat it when I do a test and then transfer this information to him. Certain moves you can’t see in the telemetry, they are sensations more than anything else and to explain them you have to try them”.