Why Dovi could be champion
Dovizioso plays down title chances but all the signs are good
‘ The goal now is to win the title. Andrea is full of condidence’ DUCATI BOSS PAOLO CIABATTI
Andrea Dovizioso and the Ducati Motogp squad have been a revelation in the opening nine rounds of the 2017 season. Their incredible step up in form has reignited the Italian firm’s potential as a title challenger with Dovi only six points adrift of championship leader Marc Marquez at the mid-point of the season.
After a seven-year absence from the top step of the podium, Dovi took a stunning victory at his home race in Mugello and then promptly backed it up just seven days later with victory at the Catalan Grand Prix.
But despite what looks on the surface like an incredible change in form for both rider and manufac-
turer, Dovizioso has been insistent that his impressive points tally this year doesn’t mean that the problems that has plagued the Desmosedici since the departure of Casey Stoner in 2010 have been fixed.
Instead, the 31-year-old has remained more reserved about the firm’s hopes, insisting that while the results may have been spectacular so far this season, there is still a lot of work for them to do before he believes that he’s genuinely a title contender.
“To think about the championship every weekend is impossible,” he said. “Every weekend this year goes a different way, and no-one can understand it. I don’t feel any pressure to win the title, I don’t want to look at it, because we still need to improve in a few areas.
“The turning problem is the same as it was at the start of the season. I don’t want to speak in a negative way, but I am realistic. It’s my fifth year with the bike, and I know very well what’s changed and how the engineers work, and if we want to fight for the championship we still have to improve some things. I’m not too excited now and I don’t think we can fight for the championship yet, but if you approach the right weekend in the right way, we can win.”
Still struggling with the mid-corner turning issue that Valentino Rossi, Andrea Iannone and Cal Crutchlow have all suffered with the bike since Stoner’s departure to Honda in 2010, it appears that there may be light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a long tunnel and a small light!
And it’s been hampered even further this season by the absence of the winglets that Ducati became reliant on last year to create downforce and manage the bike’s tendency to wheelie when accelerating, creating a machine that while improving, still has issues that need to be addressed. Issues that will be prevalent at the next two rounds of the series at Brno in the Czech Republic this weekend and the Red Bull Ring in Austria the following weekend.
But while the Czech Grand Prix has brought mixed results for Ducati in recent seasons, with Iannone’s fourth in 2015 their best result since Stoner stood on the podium in 2010, Dovizioso has shown that he is capable of running in the top five at the majority of circuits this year.
The Red Bull Ring, however, will be his big chance to increase his 2017 win tally further and he’ll be keen to make amends for losing to his former team-mate in 2016. Admittedly facing a tougher challenge than last year at the circuit characterised by hard-braking and long-straights it’s a combination that plays right into the hands of the GP17 machine and it will be hard to bet against Dovi for the win if everything goes according to plan.
But, with a number of other tracks on the calendar that will work against the strengths of the bike – and bring its turning problem into sharp focus – Ducati still have work to do to improve the overall package to give Dovi the chance to remain in title contention for the rest of the season.
Where now for Ducati’s aerodynamics?
While the much talked-about winglets have been outlawed by Motogp rulemakers in 2017, that doesn’t mean there has been any let-up in aerodynamic work on Motogp machines. Instead of developing ever bigger extruding wings, engineers have been forced to be more creative as they work to develop newly-shaped nosecones and double-skinned side fairings.
But despite their considerable investment in the field in recent years, Ducati have remained conspicuously absent from that particular battle so far. The factory team testing a radically-shaped fairing, nicknamed the ‘hammerhead’ earlier in the season, but the riders felt it created more problems than it solved, sending engineers back to the drawing board before they finally homologate the single design they’re allowed to introduce mid-season.
New chassis in the frame?
While Dovi might be remaining reserved about the start to his season, Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti has been much more upbeat about their performance in 2017, admitting that he’s delighted with the first half of the year – and convinced that there’s more to come in the second half.
“We can only be satisfied, because we showed that we can be competitive with the bike in different conditions at different circuits. We’re happy, but we know we still need to work. We’re lacking a little bit in corner speed, and that’s where we’re working now.
“Something maybe a little bit bigger is coming in the second half of the season, and the goal is to try and fix this problem for all of the riders and maybe Jorge in particular, although Petrucci and Dovi will also benefit.”
That ‘something bigger’ is rumoured to be a new chassis that the team will debut soon, as they strive to fix their turning issues. Developed with considerable input from test rider Casey Stoner, development saw a planned test for earlier in the season delayed for the Australian to allow Ducati Corse’s engineers further time to perfect their creation before expending valuable testing time. And with those improvements coming, Ciabatti believes Ducati can fight for the title this year.
“The goal now is to win the championship, but it isn’t easy because there are many strong riders and manufacturers bigger than Ducati. But Andrea is there, he is full of confidence, and Jorge is getting there.”