The situation at Ducati was the talk of the paddock in Barcelona. With Andrea Dovizioso, Andrea Iannone, and Cal Crutchlow being linked to Suzuki. With Crutchlow having a contract for 2015, Ducati is keen to retain the services of both Dovizioso and Iannone.

Iannone is openly pushing for a seat in the factory Ducati team, and so the Bologna factory faces a series of complex contract negotiations. To check on the state of play with Ducati, we cornered Ducati Corse’s MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti.

What was meant to be just a brief chat turned into a much longer conversation, on a range of subjects. Ciabatti gave his view of the situation with Cal Crutchlow, as well as his hopes of retaining both Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone.

He discussed the rumors concerning an approach to Jorge Lorenzo, and reflected on having had Valentino Rossi in the Ducati team. He gave us an update on Ducati’s plans to provide more Open bikes for 2015. And finally, he turned his attention to the return of Michelin, and Ducati’s hopes for the new tire manufacturer.

Asphalt & Rubber: It appears that Ducati’s problem this year is that Cal Crutchlow has a two-year contract, while you also have Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone who are both riding very well. And only two seats in the factory team…

Paolo Ciabatti: As most people in the paddock know, we have a two-year contract with Cal, but he has a way out of the contract. Having said so, we invested in Cal because we wanted very strongly to have him with Ducati, and the fact that so far things have not worked in the way we all hoped is due, honestly I don’t believe in luck or bad luck, but in his case, we must admit some of the things have been particularly going wrong on the technical side with no explanation.

Because he has exactly the same treatment as Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone, and his team has actually been working together since a long time. Dovi’s team was put together last year, after Valentino [Rossi] left, but Cal’s team is Nicky’s [Hayden] former team, and has been together for a long time. Daniele Romagnoli joined instead of Juan Martinez, but it is a very good team. So it’s difficult for us to really understand why these things have happened.

But having said so, obviously he’s not performing to the level we expected, he is not performing to the level which he expected, but we will keep supporting him 100%. Then it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do. On the other side, as you said, we have the other two Andreas, who are doing a good championship. Obviously Dovizioso is more experienced, he’s very consistent, and he’s also helping a lot Gigi with very clear punctual feedback on the bike.

His contract is expiring at the end of this year, and we would like to retain him. Also Andrea Iannone is having a very good season, obviously he is crashing a little bit more, but we must remember he is only in his second season in MotoGP. He has proven to be extremely fast, many times the fastest Ducati rider.

First of all, we have been able to run three factory riders this year, so we might be able to do the same thing for next year. So, the answer is, we like the three riders we have this year, for different reasons we would like to continue with them. We’ll need to see if and how the Cal situation will evolve, because it will be really up to him.

A&R: Can you say when he has to make a decision by?

PC: I can only tell you that it is in July, not exactly when. But I think we will find a good solution to have those riders with us, unless Cal decides to go somewhere else.

A&R: There have also been rumors of talks with Jorge Lorenzo. Have you had any discussions? Would you like to have Jorge as a rider?

PC: You ask me if I want Lorenzo, if I want Marquez? I would be stupid to say no. It would be stupid and silly to say no. But also, we as a company are coming out of a situation recently with Valentino, where the expectations of Valentino joining Ducati were very high.

Obviously, when you have a rider who is a winner and has the ambition to win races and win the championship, it might be right to consider him when you are sure that you have a winning bike.

So, obviously, yes, we like Jorge, yes we like Marc, but I don’t think we are yet in the position to offer him a bike capable of winning races. We hope that next year the new bike will be at that level, but obviously we need to prove it.

A&R: It would be much more of a gamble without first having seen next year’s bike. A gamble for everybody, but the same is true for Crutchlow, for Dovizioso, for Iannone. Because Suzuki are also looking for riders…

PC: I know. And they are a factory team, and we understand that actually, Davide Brivio admitted to speaking to Cal, Andrea and Andrea, he said so to the press. So on the one hand, we’re happy, because it looks like we have the best three riders available! Joking apart, I think the two Andreas, they have been on a Ducati last year, which was a really difficult season, and they are seeing the improvement on this bike, and also the change of working method with Gigi Dall’Igna.

So I think for them, it’s easier to see that things are moving in the right direction, even though we are still struggling. The fact is that today, we have half of the gap which we had last year hear at Catalunya last year on a much faster race. If you were here last year on the bike, like Dovi was, then you can feel the positive side of things.

Obviously, if you were riding a more competitive bike, or a bike which was more suitable to your riding style last year, and then you don’t even finish the race for a technical reason, you cannot get the same positive attitude and belief that things are moving in the right direction. Going back to Lorenzo, obviously we have a very high opinion of Jorge, but I think it is not the right time yet.

A&R: In January at the launch, you also talked about producing an Open bike to sell to the teams. Is that still the plan?

PC: Honestly, it is still a plan to make bikes available. Whether we sell or lease the bike is still under discussion, we might offer four bikes for customer teams, but first of all, we have a commitment to Pramac.

Pramac has been with Ducati for many years, through good times and bad times, and I think as a company we like to consider loyalty as one of our values. And obviously our priority is to finalize our deal for next year with Paolo Campinoti of Pramac.

Having said so, we might be able to make available bikes for two more riders, but these two bikes would have to be Open, with Open software. Because four is the maximum of factory named riders, so only four riders can use our own software.

But again, next year is also a time when everybody will have to develop the new software for 2016, so it could be also somehow an opportunity to understand if there will be further releases throughout the season of the common software.

So, still we have actually had a few meetings last week at Ducati, to see what we could put on the table for Pramac obviously, and eventually also to see if we could supply bikes to another team.

A&R: Michelin is coming in 2016. Will you be providing a bike for them to use for testing, or have you not even started talking about that yet?

PC: Obviously, we heard about, we know about Michelin, we know about the 17 inch wheels. We know that they already indicated a few tests that they would like to do.

For sure they also want to go to Phillip Island, because it’s very demanding on the tires, but honestly it’s very early to say. I think they need to do a lot of testing, I think they want to do it with the main manufacturers, to develop the right tire for everyone.

A&R: Exactly, because it seems to me that it is very important to have the right tire for all of the bikes, and not just for one particular bike or manufacturer.

PC: As you know, with the current tires, you must really adapt your bike very much to the tires. And there are complaints from other riders and other manufacturers about the problems created by the new construction of the tires.

So I mean, I’m not criticizing Bridgestone, because they do a great job, but obviously, if, with the new generation of 17-inch tires, there will be the possibility that Michelin will develop something which is more neutral for all manufacturers, I think that would be an added benefit for the series, because it will make it even more competitive.

Having said so, today there was a beautiful, just unbelievable race, down to the wire, so it was really a great show.

Photo: Ducati Corse

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

  • martinm

    why didn’t ducati keep nicky hayden. he was as fast as dove and imenslly important for marketing ducats biggest market USA. cal cruthclow fiasco was predictable last year he was often on the ground with a better bike and alway scomaloining

  • Andrey

    Because they need to win races!

  • horkn

    Hiring crashlow was never the way to win races. Had Nicky had a tech3 bike for all the years he was on the duc, he would have won a number of races. Sadly the ducati he had wasn’t capable of winning races, it could barely turn.

  • L2C

    “…we invested in Cal because we wanted very strongly to have him with Ducati, and the fact that so far things have not worked in the way we all hoped is due, honestly I don’t believe in luck or bad luck, but in his case, we must admit some of the things have been particularly going wrong on the technical side with no explanation.”

    Yeah, you do! And yet more deeply mysterious Desmo demons out to demolish the career of yet another Ducati top rider.

    “But having said so, obviously he’s not performing to the level we expected, he is not performing to the level which he expected, but we will keep supporting him 100%. Then it’s up to him to decide what he wants to do.”

    Good thing then that he has recently expressed in the press that he is still motivated to improve his performance on a bike that is loathe to improve. It’s also a good thing that he has the option to bail because he can only ride or not ride what Ducati gives him.

    Better to try and keep Crutchlow, isn’t it? Nothing affects the brand’s image like a top rider who says that the Desmo is sh-t by ripping up the contract and walking out the door.

    It seems like Rossi and Burgess did teach Ducati something after all.

    “So I mean, I’m not criticizing Bridgestone, because they do a great job, but obviously…”

    Is Ducati in a position to criticize? Ducati is a factory team with Open class options. In effect it is a factory team with its own designated class because, quite frankly, Ducati has not been doing a great job.

    “Pramac has been with Ducati for many years, through good times and bad times, and I think as a company we like to consider loyalty as one of our values.”

    No such love for Nicky Hayden, though, eh? Ducati used him in force to increase its market value in the U.S., and then just as things began to turn around for its bottom line and its racing department, it dumped him – and all of his experience with Ducati – with nothing more than a, well, nothing.

    Ducati has to admit that Hayden performed better for its racing team than Crutchlow has, so far. And that Hayden’s old team with Ducati performed better for Hayden than it has for Crutchlow. Who is looking competent now? Or if Ducati is feeling self-reflective, who is looking incompetent now?

    Just admit it, Ducati was looking for the next big marketing thing because Hayden’s lack of performance on the race track (a trait shared by all Ducati Desmo riders in 2013) was a threat to its advertising image and growing market share in the United States. Better to dump him since it was unknown whether the Desmo would actually improve or not. Bam! Cal Crutchlow to the rescue.

    But I bet Ducati can’t help but think, from time to time, that Hayden would have performed at least as well as Andrea Dovizioso and Andrea Iannone this season. Hayden scored twice as many points as Iannone last year, and only 15 points less than Dovizioso — so there is plenty of evidence that Hayden had the potential to thrash Iannone this year with the ” much improved” Desmo. Oh wait… Iannone races for Pramac Ducati, we can’t really compare the two, can we? Riiiiiight.

    Hayden is demonstrably better on last year’s crappier Desmo than Crutchlow is on this year’s “much improved” Desmo, though. This Ducati cannot deny. And so payback is a b-tch — as deeply mysterious and unexplainable as ever.

  • smiler

    And I get accused of talking crap. However at least it includes some facts.

    He was lucky to win a title in 06 on the Honda as most people realise. he said it himself.
    Since at Ducati, the bike has not progressed at all.
    He is 32, all the other riders are at least 4 years younger with experience including everying from Supersport to 250’s. Hayden has been riding MotoGP since 2003.
    He was never going to win a title for Ducati.
    Ducati sales rose 24% in 2013 and will likely be as good or better this year according to Ducati, so his leaving has had no effect on US sales.
    He became Ducati’s past in 2011.
    To attract the best riders Ducati need to be on the podium. Hayden had 3 in 6 years.

    He could have gone to be the first to win both MotoGP and WSBK titles. Instead he is middling in MotoGP with one way to go.

    Cal is 28 not 32 like Hayden.
    Unlike Dovi and Iannone, Cal has come from Superbikes and Supersport. There are almost no riders that have successfully made the jump. However he was 5th last yr, best result for a rider from WSBK yet.
    Hayden was 9th. He is aggressive and outspoken (unlike Dovi and Iannone). With MotoGP tech being reduced he has a better chance of doing well?
    So in 2015 when Ducati need podiums, who is more likely to get them?

    Ducati have made no progress…….
    Ducati turned up to MotoGP with a CRT bike and middling riders in 03. Stoner was their first rider likely to win a title and he did.
    In 08 it all went south because they dumped the chassis they knew with one and then another they knew nothing about. Influence of tyre design also contracted as the control tyre came in.
    So a very long way back. Their focus has also been on product development not racing. New models in all categories and three new categories in the last few years. See McLaren for another example.

    Audi said very clearly it would take until 2015 to get a competitive bike. Anyone doubting Audi should look at Le Mans class racing.
    They said, new personnel, processes, riders, bike. Thus far they have achieved 3 of those well before 2015.
    At Barca this year Dovi qualified 0.3 secs off the front. Last yr it was @1.2. He finished @16 secs off the front, not 32 secs. So progress. At Barca Suzuki were 2.5 secs down during their test.

    Dorna are desperate for manufacturers to stay in the series so of course they would bow to Ducati’s demands. So why is that a criticism of Ducati? They have been taking it from Honda for years.

  • Damn

    more neutral for all manufacturers,

    never hear them complain about neutral in wsbk were the won and won and won with 250cc extra and later 200cc extra.
    even if you combine all the other factorys who took the title its just a little piece if you see what duc has won. so please duc be fair and adopt don’t whine or moan.!

  • AM

    Smiler – ” However he was 5th last yr, best result for a rider from WSBK yet.”

    Except for that one time in 2011 when Ben Spies was 5th overall. Cool rant bro!

  • J

    Don’t forget about CE…two 5th overalls, and one 4th overall

  • A

    i don’t want to put down Nicky as i know most of the readers here are from USA, but since his motogp carrier he has had only 3 wins, and from 2003 to 2008 he was on a factory Honda… so i don’t think Duc dumped him, they just needed a new blood to get the team forward, since 2009 Nicky had done nothing on duc while stoner was winning races on the same machine….

    everyone on this site always praises Haydan as fast etc… he might be a nice guy and good for sales but his not at the same level as the others… he said it himself if it was not for tony e he will not have been the 2006 champ….

  • L2C

    @ smiler

    Point to a single mention in my post that does not include any facts to support any speculation. Go ahead, I dare you.

    And furthermore, you spout nationalistic crap all day, everyday. Spain this, Spain that. Spanish this, Spanish that. The Smiler Illuminati Conspiracy Complex of Dorna and Prince Oberyn’s Game of Thrones Against All Motorcycle Racing Nations Not Spanish.

    Now it’s irks you that an Italian motorcycle manufacturer is catching some heat?

    You are so predictable. Nothing but disgust – and possibly hate – for anything to do with organized Spanish motorcycling, but then your skin is as thin as rice paper when someone criticizes something that hits home.

    When has age ever meant anything to you? Rossi this, Rossi that. “He is the best and only rider really racing every weekend.” That’s you paraphrased after every race this year. It’s OK for Yamaha to keep Rossi who is 35 years old, but it’s not OK for Ducati to keep a 32-year-old who has been loyal to their cause and performing as well as his teammate? Sure it is, if you’re smiler.

    Based on last year’s results, it is reasonable to speculate that Hayden would have not only have been as competitive as Dovizioso this year, but Hayden would have wiped the floor with Iannone who has been unable to keep the “much improved” Desmo upright this year. Nearly every weekend this season, Iannone has come up choking on kitty litter, but one wouldn’t know it given the hype that he’s been receiving. Hayden thrashed Iannone last year, and most likely Hayden would have done the same this year. And that’s with his debilitating wrist injury.

    As for your poorly thought out argument about Hayden not having an affect on sales of Ducati in the United States, who else was pitching Ducati to the U. S. market previous to Hayden’s departure from Ducati Corse’s racing team? Who else? Right, there is no answer for that because the answer is no one.

    When Ducati’s sales were increasing in the U.S., Hayden was the man on point. Hayden was the one who help Ducati improve the image of its brand stateside. Again, say what you want and twist it however you like, but “Ducati sales rose 24% in 2013 and will likely be as good or better this year according to Ducati…” is evidence that Ducati’s marketing and advertisement campaign featuring Hayden was a resounding success! In fact, it renders your entire argument on this point moot — but it’s not the first time that you have shot yourself in the foot.

    And you can float Cal Crutchlow’s accomplishments all you want, but the historical fact remains that Nicky Hayden is a former MotoGP World Championship title holder. Try and diminish that accomplishment all you want, but the historical record will stand minus whatever it is that you have to say about it. Cal Crutchlow hasn’t even been close.

    I have nothing against Crutchlow, as my post makes clear — but his performance this year, for whatever reason, is most definitely not on par with Hayden’s last season with Ducati. Them’s the facts, bub. Do with them as you please, but as of today, those facts remain unchanged.

    “Dorna are desperate for manufacturers to stay in the series so of course they would bow to Ducati’s demands. So why is that a criticism of Ducati?”

    Why are you so critical of Dorna? Why all of the bona fide conspiracy theories against Dorna and Spanish motorcycle racing? Answer those questions, bub.

    As for my criticism of Ducati, it’s pretty clear. No competitive bike. Dumped Nicky Hayden after years of loyalty and performing as well as his teammate — who is younger, as if age makes a difference on a sh-t bike that goes nowhere. Double standards that Ducati has that is demonstrated in their ability to race as a factory with factory ECU software and Open class options, while opposing the measures that Honda and Yamaha have proposed to initiate a freeze on factory ECU software development in order to begin developing the championship ECU software that is to be used by all MotoGP riders in 2016.

    That’s the short list of answers to your question about my criticism of Ducati. What you got?

  • Neil

    Blah, blah, Crutchlow blah, Ducati is no good, blah…He knew what he was getting into.
    Iannone should be in line for Cal’s seat next year at Ducati but I’m sure it won’t happen because of all the money they had to waste on Cal to sign his ego…
    I read a lot of articles before the season about how “Cal” would be the one rider to tame the Ducati and how if anyone, he could make it work….yeah, how’s that working out?
    Ducati never should have gotten rid of Nicky for “Crashlow”, just another decision that has bit Ducati in the arse… lol

    A lot has changed in MotoGp over the years and I blame most of it on having a single tire manufacturer, competition is better when you have options.

    Sorry, just had to vent….

  • article dan

    I think “next year’s bike” will be a lot stronger. Yea cals crashed a lot this yr but he’s also had a lot go wrong with his bike. Ben spies bad luck seems to have befallen cal slightly lol. The only person who doesn’t seem to regularly crash a Ducati is dovi and I think he’s always gonna be quicker than cal on the same bike. Cal knew it would be tough this yr but with Audi taking over and getting the right people in tlnext year was what he would be really aiming for.
    I don’t blame him for going to ducati. He was never gonna get a factory bike at Yamaha and if you don’t think your better than everyone else then why are you there.

  • buellracerx

    Great interview, and even better comments section. Priceless.

    On the seemingly inexplicable technical issues – gremlins. Has to be gremlins. After burying Spies’ career, they were just hiding out in the paddock, searching for their next target.