Valentino Rossi may be shot of Ducati, but the repercussions of his nightmare two seasons on the big red bike continue to be felt inside the factory. Last week, what had been rumoured in the run-up to Valencia was confirmed in a matter-of-fact way by a Ducati press release: There's going to be a big shake-up at Borgo Panigale.
Normally when there's a Bolognese shake-up, things get messy — ask anyone who has tried to take an Italian packed lunch to work - and this is no exception. Whilst the vacated positions have been filled and the hierarchy reshuffled, one can't help but feel that the same problems will remain.
The main news is not who is coming in, of course, but rather who is being moved out. After 12 years in Ducati Corse, Filippo Preziosi is now sent back to Ducati Motor Holding to use his knowledge to head up the Research and Development department. It's a privileged position, but the rather vague statement that replacement Bernhard Gobmeier will have Preziosi's "experience and professional support" sounds like a clear apportioning of substantial blame for the past two seasons from the Ducati higher-ups.
The narrative of Preziosi handing over his 'baby' to the Rossi project and then eventually losing his role in the racing department is all very Shakespearean, if oversimplified. Neither Rossi, nor Preziosi, were completely at fault in the relationship, but one of them already took the first move to leave of his own volition. Another story perhaps deserves a rewrite as well: Ducati weren't overly concerned about problems with the Desmosedici when Casey Stoner was winning races on it, but the reputation for working methods and adherence to a design philosophy being as rigid as a carbon-fibre chassis is a little unfair. When faced with losing significant ground and a second legendary rider, Preziosi and the 2012 Ducati took action. Multiple big changes were planned and carried out at Rossi's request, and there was even a concession to the idea of changing the entire identity of the MotoGP project — namely, ditching the Desmodromic valve system.
Had that happened — even if Rossi hadn't have left at the end of the season - it would have been a shame. Uniformity is not something that has always done much for the spectacle in MotoGP, and a Ducati is clearly a different bike to its competitors. Obvious diversity is a big plus for the championship, but I suppose not as much as having more bikes that are able to win races.
Who knows what would have happened had the July 21st visit of Masao Furusawa to Ducati HQ been the start of a professional relationship? Again, the misconception is that this was a last-ditch attempt to make the Ducati into a Yamaha-lite. The reality is that Furusawa was offered a job by Preziosi shortly before retiring, but turned it down and limited his involvement to "tricks and tips" for the erstwhile Project Manager and the occasional phone call to Rossi with advice.
With the Audi takeover and rumours of Phillip Morris — who for the past few years have inexplicably seen their minimal brand exposure permitted at MotoGP events as a worthwhile investment - pulling out of sponsoring the factory team, some sort of shakeup was needed to make fresh start.
MotoGP is a results-based industry more than ever now, but it will need something very special indeed to get Ducati back on top — if they ever really were in 2007. Andrea Dovizioso may yet get them podiums in 2013, as might Nicky Hayden and Ben Spies. Andrea Iannone could be the fresh injection of talent needed for the future. But these riders have only won four dry MotoGP races between them, and none since 2011, even on different machinery. Both on track and off, changes could yet prove futile in the quest for success in 2013. Right now, Ducati Corse would take a return to the form of its first season in the premier class in a heartbeat.
Gobmeier has the credentials from his BMW WSBK involvement. Even the neutral or those attached to Preziosi's romanticised ideas will be hoping that he, Paolo Ciabatti can get Ducati back competitive again.
- Sports & Recreation
- Ducati Corse
- Valentino Rossi