In­ter­view: Du­cati’s An­drea Dovizioso

An­drea Dovizioso has lurked in the Mo­toGP back­ground for years. Fi­nally, he is a Mo­toGP ti­tle con­tender, be­cause this year’s cham­pi­onship is a game of rub­ber roulette and the Ital­ian is better at it than most


SOME­TIMES YOU HAVE TO ask rid­ers questions even when you know the an­swer. So, I ask An­drea Dovizioso what pre­dic­tions he has for the last half of the 2017 Mo­toGP sea­son. He doesn’t even speak; he just grins and makes a zero with his right thumb and fore­fin­ger. Then he says, “Also, the same for this week­end.”

The Ital­ian is talk­ing about those black and rounds things which, more than ever, de­cide who wins and loses in Mo­toGP. Miche­lin’s Mo­toGP tyres work over a nar­row tem­per­a­ture range, which ex­plains the thrilling un­pre­dictabil­ity of the rac­ing. One week­end, one rider man­ages to ad­just his bike to gen­er­ate the right tem­per­a­ture in the tyres, the next week­end he misses that win­dow and is left be­hind. That’s why we see some­one like Mav­er­ick Viñales bat­tling for the win at Mugello, then strug­gling to get in­side the top 10 at Barcelona. It’s not the rider or bike mak­ing that dif­fer­ence; it’s the tyres.

Dovizioso’s trans­for­ma­tion from also-ran (fifth over­all last year, sev­enth in 2015) to cham­pi­onship chal­lenger has lit­tle to do with him be­com­ing a better rider or the Du­cati be­com­ing a better bike and ev­ery­thing to do with the way he works with his crew to make the Miche­lins work.

“The tem­per­a­ture range with the Miche­lins is very, very, very small and

if you are out­side that range you are slow or you crash,” he says. “It’s very dif­fi­cult to be in that range, which is why every race is dif­fer­ent for ev­ery­body. All the tyres are the same; the only dif­fer­ence is the rub­ber mix, which they have to change for every race to suit dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures, be­cause the tem­per­a­ture range of the tyres is so small

“So it’s all down to the track tem­per­a­ture we have at a race and the com­pound that Miche­lin brings to that race, which will work well for one bike but not the others. It’s very strange but it’s the re­al­ity, which is why it’s not easy and none of us have ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol.”

Hence his in­abil­ity to make any pre­dic­tions for the next race, let alone then next half dozen.

Dovizioso ad­mits this in­con­sis­tency in com­pound per­for­mance from one race to the next has turned Mo­toGP into a game of chance. But de­spite this game of rub­ber roulette he be­lieves he is do­ing well for three rea­sons. Firstly, he thinks Miche­lin’s con­trol tyres suit the Du­cati better than the Bridge­stones, which Mo­toGP used from 2009 to 2015. “Maybe, our sit­u­a­tion would be worse with the Bridge­stones. The Miche­lins seem to be pos­i­tive for us. If you used one or two more de­grees of lean an­gle with the Bridge­stones, you didn’t have any rear grip, so you were slow. With the Miche­lins you can use a lot of an­gle and keep the grip.”

Se­condly, Honda and Yamaha aren’t adapt­ing so well to the ev­er­chang­ing grip sit­u­a­tion. “There is al­most no dif­fer­ence be­tween our 2016 and 2017 bikes, and we haven’t had any­thing new this sea­son, so we have re­alised that our com­peti­tors have more lim­i­ta­tions than we ex­pected. It’s more that than a mat­ter of us hav­ing fewer lim­i­ta­tions.”

Thirdly, his crew are work­ing very clev­erly to re­move some of the risk from the tyre/grip gam­ble. “Some rid­ers and teams start the week­end and they’re not fast, so they com­plain about the tyres and don’t im­prove. But some­times there is a chance to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion, if you work in the right way.

“Un­til you try some­thing you never know. Now we change geom­e­try and sus­pen­sion a lot dur­ing a week­end, to try and get the cor­rect tem­per­a­ture in the tyres. Like at Barcelona [where he won his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive race], we changed both and it worked, but we didn’t find the last step un­til Satur­day af­ter­noon. My en­gi­neer, Al­berto Giribuola, knows my style very well and he knows the Du­cati very well, so we are able to play in the right way and some­times we get it right. The last few races we have worked in a per­fect way so we were able to fight. That’s why I say there’s al­ways a chance to make a dif­fer­ence.”

There is one other fac­tor in Du­cati’s resur­gence that he doesn’t men­tion: the en­tire grid now uses Mag­neti Marelli rider-con­trol soft­ware; the same sys­tem the Des­mosedici used a few years ago, so Du­cati re­ally know how it works.

Dovizioso has al­ways been a think­ing rider who uses his brain more than his balls. He

only pushes to the limit when the bike feels right. In a word, he is metic­u­lous. “To go to the limit you have to feel the bike and you need the key to use the bike in the right way. My tar­get is al­ways to im­prove some­thing. I don’t ar­rive at the track and start think­ing about rac­ing; my life is bikes and the world cham­pi­onship. At home I watch races and I study prac­tice ses­sions, to un­der­stand things be­fore the next race.”

Over the years Dovizioso has copped crit­i­cism from fans for his ap­par­ent un­will­ing­ness to take the kind of big, brave risks which make he­roes. In other words, he’s not a Marc Mar­quez or a Kevin Sch­wantz. “When peo­ple say things like this, it means they don’t un­der­stand bike rac­ing. Do­ing crazy things doesn’t mean you are a faster or better rider. For sure, the fans like to see rid­ers do­ing some­thing crazy, but to me this is not the key to win­ning. The key to win­ning is a lot of things. You must put ev­ery­thing to­gether and you must un­der­stand how you can man­age every sit­u­a­tion. It’s about a lot of work in a lot of ar­eas. It’s about hav­ing the right men­tal­ity. And I have con­firmed that it’s pos­si­ble to win with­out do­ing crazy things.”

When Du­cati signed Dovizioso in 2013 to re­place Valentino Rossi, many pad­dock peo­ple thought they had hired him for his abil­ity to de­velop bikes, rather than win races. In fact, he’s done both, although it’s taken a while. His first few years with the Bologna fac­tory were spent drag­ging the Des­mosedici out of the abyss. When Casey Stoner de­fected to Honda in 2011, the bike be­came the joke of pit-lane — not even Rossi could ride it — and Dovizioso quickly found out why.

In 2013 he scored his best dry-weather re­sult at Mugello, where he fin­ished 19 sec­onds down, al­most a sec­ond a lap slower than the win­ner. “The 2013 bike? I can’t even say it was a bike!” he laughs. “The dif­fer­ence be­tween then and now is huge — I can’t com­pare any­thing on that bike to this year’s bike.”

Modern fac­tory Mo­toGP teams are huge — 40 or 50 peo­ple at the track — but it’s amaz­ing how much dif­fer­ence one man can

‘Do­ing crazy things doesn’t mean you are a faster or better rider. For sure, the fans like to see rid­ers do­ing some­thing crazy, but to me this is not the key to win­ning’

make. In 2014 Masao Fu­ru­sawa turned the Yamaha around, with a lit­tle help from Rossi and Jeremy Burgess. A few years later, Shuhei Nakamoto did the same for Honda. And Gigi Dall’Igna had the same ef­fect when he ar­rived at Du­cati in the au­tumn of 2013.

“For sure, the big­gest change was Gigi’s arrival, but also the work of the fac­tory en­gi­neers changed ev­ery­thing. The most im­por­tant thing Gigi did was make a good struc­ture with the guys at the fac­tory, the test team and the race team. Ev­ery­one fol­lowed him 100 per cent and what the en­gi­neers have done since then is some­thing in­cred­i­ble.”

Dovizioso has also played his part in Du­cati’s re­nais­sance. His an­a­lyt­i­cal men­tal­ity and his re­fusal to chuck mo­tor­cy­cles up the road make him a good de­vel­op­ment rider. Very few rid­ers crash less: he has fallen 23 times dur­ing the past four-and-a-half sea­sons com­pared to Mar­quez’s 69 offs and Cal Crutchlow’s 73.

Of course, Du­cati still have work to do. “We have some lim­i­ta­tions which we must im­prove if we want to fight for the cham­pi­onship to the last race. At some races we fin­ish too many sec­onds be­hind the win­ner, so to be com­pet­i­tive in every sit­u­a­tion we need to im­prove a few things.”

The big prob­lem has been the same for the past few years: get­ting the bike turned mid-cor­ner, dur­ing the tran­si­tion from off-throt­tle to on-throt­tle.

Dall’Igna and team-man­ager Da­vide Tar­dozzi be­lieve this prob­lem is an en­gine is­sue, not a chas­sis is­sue. The desmo V4 is eas­ily the most pow­er­ful bike on the grid, which is a hin­drance when the rider first touches the throt­tle at full lean. “This is one of the main is­sues we are work­ing on,” says Tar­dozzi. “Ab­so­lutely it af­fects the turn­ing.”

Dovizioso isn’t so sure. “No­body at Du­cati knows ex­actly the rea­son for this prob­lem!” he laughs.

When the en­gi­neers can’t fix a prob­lem, it is the rider’s job to ride around that prob­lem. Dovizioso uses the rear brake in cor­ners, which is why he uses a thumb-op­er­ated rear brake, so he can use it at full lean in righthanders, when his right foot is tucked out of the way. “I also used a thumb brake when I was with the fac­tory Honda team [2009 to 2011] but not when I was at Yamaha [with Tech 3 in 2012] be­cause the bike didn’t need it. I use the thumb brake to slow down in the mid­dle of a cor­ner and to turn the bike. But from the mo­ment I touch the throt­tle and pick up the bike, I use the foot brake to stop sus­pen­sion pump and so on, be­cause the brake pres­sure I can use with the foot brake is much greater than with the thumb.”

Mo­toGP’s king of the rear brake was Casey Stoner, who now works part­time as a Du­cati test rider. Dovizioso has ex­am­ined Stoner’s data, but ad­mits he can­not use the rear brake like the Aussie, who won the 2007 and 2011 Mo­toGP ti­tles with Du­cati and Honda. “No one else rides like Casey! The amount of rear brake pres­sure he uses is off the scale. This is his style, not just to calm the bike; it is his way of load­ing the rear tyre in the mid­dle of the cor­ner, then in the first part of the exit he uses the brake like trac­tion con­trol. You can only ride like this if you rode this way from the be­gin­ning — it is im­pos­si­ble to learn to ride like that!”

This is Dovizioso’s fifth sea­son with Du­cati, so pre­sum­ably he is help­ing Du­cati’s highly paid, strug­gling new­comer Jorge Lorenzo to learn the weird ways of the Ital­ian V4? “Jorge and I spoke a lot dur­ing pre-sea­son tests and at the early races, but now not so much. Our team struc­ture is re­ally good, so there are a lot of peo­ple work­ing in the mid­dle of the team, so they know ev­ery­thing about both rid­ers. Also, Michele Pirro [for­mer Moto2 win­ner and Du­cati’s full-time test rider] talks a lot with Jorge about rid­ing the bike.”

If Dovizioso does win the 2017 Mo­toGP crown, you can bet your bot­tom dol­lar that his com­bined salary and win bonus won’t match Lorenzo’s sign-on salary.

Dovi has been rac­ing on and off the track since child­hood with mas­sive support from his dad

Dovi’s first GP ti­tle came in 2004 when he was crowned the 125 cc cham­pion

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