Lorenzo To Ducati: Why It Happened & What Happens Next

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In case you missed it, Jorge Lorenzo has signed with Ducati Corse for the 2017 and 2018 MotoGP World Championship seasons; but if you did miss that announcement, then the news that Yamaha Motor Racing boss Lin Jarvis will be at Thursday’s pre-event press conference at Jerez should finally convince you.

It is not so much that team bosses never appear in pre-event press conferences, but rather that such appearances are vanishingly rare, and often momentous. If Jarvis is not there to discuss Lorenzo’s move to Ducati, then something has gone very awry indeed.

We have been here before, of course. When Valentino Rossi finally announced he would be moving to Ducati in 2010, a similar procedure was adopted. So taking account of the lessons from that move, and of Rossi’s return to Yamaha, let us gaze into our crystal ball and see what we can expect for the upcoming days.

Blast from the Past

On Thursday, Jorge Lorenzo and Lin Jarvis will both appear at the press conference. Lorenzo will speak only in the vaguest terms, uttering platitudes along the line of seeking fresh challenges and new chapters in his career. Any difficult questions will be fielded by Lin Jarvis.

This is good for Yamaha, but bad for journalists, as Jarvis is the consummate politician. The Yamaha boss will deflect any harsh questioning, though it will not stop us trying.

Jarvis will heap praise on Lorenzo, thank him for all he has done for Yamaha, and avoid questions about whether the way Yamaha management handled the aftermath of Sepang is directly responsible for Lorenzo’s departure.

Later that day – or possibly on Friday – Ducati will also hold a press conference, in which Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna, and probably Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali will talk about why they signed Lorenzo.

Both Yamaha and Ducati management will carefully avoid questions over who is to take the second seat at both factory teams.

Equal Footing?

What does it mean for the remainder of the season? It seems almost certain that Lorenzo will be allowed to test the Ducati at Valencia, after the final race of the 2016 season.

Jarvis is unlikely to confirm that Yamaha will allow Lorenzo to test just yet, however, as they need to have something to ensure Lorenzo toes the Yamaha line for the rest of the season.

Will Yamaha withdraw support for Lorenzo during the 2016 season? That seems unlikely, especially as Lorenzo will be in the running for the championship throughout the year.

A title for Lorenzo is a title for Yamaha, and an opportunity to rub Lorenzo’s nose in it next season, should the Spaniard struggle on the Ducati. Why pass up a chance to point out what Lorenzo could have had, had he stayed?

Lorenzo’s decision will have some consequences for this season, however. Though Lorenzo will get the same upgrades as Valentino Rossi for the rest of the season, he will no longer be testing parts for the 2017 bike.

That means he will test at Jerez and Barcelona, but probably not at Brno, nor at any private tests Yamaha hold later this year. Rossi will now more emphatically lead the development direction, however, with Lorenzo’s input being listened to, but not acted on as much.

The Truth is Out There

Jorge Lorenzo’s real motives for leaving Yamaha will have to wait until January 1st, 2017. His Yamaha contract expires on December 31st of this year, and he is not truly free to speak until then.

Although “free to speak” is a relative term: Ducati imposes severe penalties on riders who go off message, and criticize the bike or the organization, with fines in the tens of thousands of euros.

On January 1st, an interview will appear somewhere, on a media outlet Lorenzo considers favorable to him. The most likely candidate is Spanish TV, though given the sensitivities involved, it may not be with Movistar.

Their role as title sponsor of the factory Yamaha team will be a factor there. One of the two big Spanish magazines will vie for Lorenzo’s favor at the end of the 2016 season, hoping to be rewarded with what you might call his Yamaha exit interview.

What might his reasons be? Until we hear Lorenzo’s own version in January, we can only speculate. But there are several factors which seem obvious, all of them relating to the fallout from the incident at Sepang.

Jorge Lorenzo has always regarded himself as an entirely innocent victim of the bitter feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez.

November Spawned a Monster

With some justification: whatever your view of Rossi’s claims about Márquez’s actions, Lorenzo had no part in them.

Yet Lorenzo was implicated, and treated by fans and the Italian media as if he had some part in a wider Spanish plot. The charge was that he and Márquez had conspired to defraud Rossi of the 2015 title.

All Lorenzo had done was be the fastest man on the grid, and win the most races. He had no part of the feud between Rossi and Márquez.

Above all, Yamaha conspicuously failed to defend Lorenzo. The Japanese factory tried to treat the affair as a dispute between Rossi and Márquez, ignoring the fact that Lorenzo’s honor was being impugned by implication.

Yamaha management did not stand up to Valentino Rossi, and try to tell him to leave Lorenzo out of the battle. They canceled events planned to celebrate what was otherwise an incredibly successful season for the factory. The events of October and November spawned a monster, and Yamaha top brass failed to slay it.

Lorenzo must feel that his championship went unmarked. That must feel totally unacceptable to the Spaniard. Understandably so: the achievements of both Yamaha riders in 2015 were incredible.

Rossi, for a brilliant season in which he led nearly all the way to the final race of the year, at an age when most racers are washed up and finished.

Lorenzo, for putting in some utterly dominant performances to overcome what looked at times like an insurmountable deficit. If they were not teammates, they both would have been feted beyond imagination by their teams.

Yamaha failed to honor Lorenzo’s achievements, for fear of offending his teammate. As difficult a situation as they found themselves in, not to celebrate Lorenzo’s title was an act of cowardice. If Lorenzo goes on to beat both his replacement and Rossi on the Ducati, it will prove to be a very expensive act of cowardice indeed.

The Next Step

Can Lorenzo beat the Yamahas on the Ducati, though? Or will his stint at Ducati turn out as badly as Valentino Rossi’s? There are many reasons to believe that this time, things are different.

Both the Desmosedici GP and its predecessor, the GP15, are competitive bikes, with multiple riders scoring successes on the bike.

In 2010, Casey Stoner may have been winning on the Ducati, but that had far more to do with Casey Stoner than with Ducati. Today’s Ducati is clearly capable of winning, a task which will be all the easier when it has one of the best four – arguably, one of the best two – riders in the world, on board.

Then there’s Gigi Dall’Igna. The Ducati Corse boss has cleaned house in the racing department, turning it around completely, removing the silo mentality that pervaded the place, and replacing it with a spirit of cooperation, and a focus on the bigger picture.

In previous years, Ducati used to build a number of components that they assembled to become a motorcycle. Since Dall’Igna took over the helm, they have been designing motorcycles, and building the components needed to make that motorcycle.

Alternate History

Of course, the scenario sketched above could all just be speculation, and I could be horribly wrong. However, this deal is done, and history tells us this is how manufacturers handle major rider movements such as this.

It should be noted that this story has been modified from its original version on MotoMatters, in order to reflect today’s announcements from Yamaha Racing and Ducati Corse.

Photo: © 2015 Tony Goldsmith / – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.