It is ironic that the high point of the relationship between Valentino Rossi and Ducati came as he rode the first few meters out of pit lane and on to the track at the Valencia MotoGP test in November 2010. All of the excitement that had been building since the first rumors emerged in early June that the nine time world champion would be leaving Yamaha to join the iconic Italian manufacturer culminated as Rossi emerged from a crowd of photographers and powered down pit lane, watched by a large group of fans who had come to the test to see this very moment.

From that point on, it was all downhill. Within a few laps, it was clear that Rossi would struggle with this bike, and though everyone was putting a brave face on his performance, he left the test in 15th place, one-and-three-quarters of a second behind his ex-teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and 1.7 seconds behind Casey Stoner, the man whose bike he was now riding and who had left Ducati to join Honda. The contrast between the two could not be greater: where Stoner was bullying the Honda around as if he had been born on the RC212V, Rossi – handicapped in part by his still-injured shoulder – looked like a frightened rookie, thoroughly intimidated by the bike.

Rossi learned two important but disturbing things at that test: the first was that the Ducati was a much, much worse bike than he had expected. Stoner’s brilliance and the genius of his crew chief Cristian Gabbarini had flattered the machine, disguising its massive weakness. The second was that Casey Stoner had to be a much, much better rider than he thought if the Australian had managed to be competitive on the bike that had so shaken Rossi’s confidence. Throughout the year, as Rossi struggled, he was forced to answer the same question over and over again. Why could he, the man with nine world titles and widely regarded as one of the greatest racers of all time, not be competitive on the bike that Stoner had won three races on the previous season, and put on the podium at Valencia before handing it over to Rossi? “Casey rode this bike in a special way,” Rossi answered every time. “I cannot ride this bike like that.”

Understanding that Stoner could be so competitive on the Ducati must have been a blow to Rossi’s confidence and his self image. After their legendary and heart-stopping duel at Laguna Seca, Rossi had felt he had the measure of the Australian, beating Stoner more often than not and taking the 2008 and 2009 titles. Once he realized that throughout that period, Stoner had been bringing a knife to a gunfight and still regularly beating him – even after the introduction of the spec tire – Rossi must have asked questions of his own ability.

Ducati, Development and the Future

From Valencia onwards, Rossi looked to his track record of developing bikes. Together with his legendary crew chief Jerry Burgess, The Doctor worked at providing the feedback and input to Ducati that would help them turn the bike around. That, surely, was where Casey Stoner had fallen short, in not developing the Ducati in the right direction to make it competitive. And that was one of the reasons that Rossi had been hired, to help create a machine that could be competitive in the hands of more riders. At Qatar in 2011, one of Rossi’s mechanics expressed the commonly-held opinion that this was the key problem at Ducati, that Stoner did not have the skills to develop a bike that was easier to ride.

Qatar 2012. After three chassis for the 800cc machine and two for the 1000cc bike, Rossi finds himself only a little better off than at the start of the process. The latest iteration of the GP12 – the bike completely redesigned from the ground up between the Valencia test in 2011 and Sepang in 2012 – does at least respond to setup changes in a way that previous Ducatis never have, but the core of the problem remains: a lack of feel from the front end, and a tendency to run wide in the corners. The bike is better, but it still has the fundamental flaws that the Desmosedici has had in every iteration since its inception. Despite all of the testing Rossi has done, despite all of the feedback he has given Ducati, real change is yet to come.

And so Valentino Rossi learned a second important but disturbing lesson: The state the Ducati was in when he inherited from Casey Stoner had nothing to do with the Australian’s development skills, and everything to do with Ducati’s attitude. Whether Stoner can develop a bike or not is unknown, for his input was either ignored or misinterpreted at Ducati. That was one of the reasons that Stoner himself had cited for leaving the factory. “I asked Ducati so often for changes,” Stoner told the press after he had joined HRC, “But we never got them. The bike we started the season on was what we had to work with all year.”

Ducati would disagree with that statement. One Ducati spokesperson impressed upon me in 2010 just how hard Ducati were working. “We’ve given Casey many things this season. New forks, new triple clamps, many things.” That season, Honda worked their way through five different chassis in an eventually successful attempt to cure a chronic stability problem.

How To Say Goodbye

Return to Qatar 2012, and Valentino Rossi’s outburst on Italian TV – though after watching the video, it was as polite and as measured as all of his responses have been since joining the Italian marque – that Ducati had not given him the bike that he wanted, and that he simply could not be competitive on the machine he had to work with. His frustration was apparent, saying that he had considered pulling in, but had continued out of respect for his mechanics and crew. Hope had died in 2011, he said. “Ducati did not follow the direction I have tried to steer them in. I am not an engineer, and I cannot solve every problem.”

In the days that followed, a string of rumors emerged. Sightings of Rossi’s friend and confidant Alessio ‘Uccio’ Salucci talking to Phillip Morris boss Maurizio Arrivabene had the press abuzz with rumors of Rossi wanting an early exit to his Ducati contract. Talk had already emerged of a Coca Cola-backed satellite Yamaha for 2013 even before qualifying had started for the 2012 MotoGP season opener. One Spanish source even went so far as to report that Rossi would not finish the season with Ducati, and would take a sabbatical this season, to return to try again on a Japanese bike in 2013. Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio was quick to step in and dampen suggestions that the Bologna factory and Rossi were heading for an early divorce, and at Monza, where Rossi was racing a Ferrari in the exclusive Blancpain Endurance Series, the Italian himself told a comic TV show that he would not be going anywhere, and would be trying to make the relationship work.

A divorce before the end of the season seems unlikely, however. Rossi’s contract is with Ducati via Phillip Morris, and the tobacco giant’s legal team handling sports and sponsorship is notorious for writing watertight legal documents. The chances of Rossi getting out of the contract without suffering major financial consequences are nonexistent. Not only would the Italian have to forfeit his salary for this year, but penalty clauses for damages would probably also put a sizable dent in Rossi’s personal fortune. An early exit would damage all three parties: Rossi, for giving up on the contract so early in the season; Ducati, for failing to give a proven champion a winning bike; and Marlboro, for backing a losing combination, and being associated with failure.

Whither Valentino?

So if there is to be no early exit for Rossi, just what are the nine-time World Champion’s options for the future? Speculation has been running rife since last week, and given that almost every rider in MotoGP is out of contract at the end of 2012, the possibilities seem endless. And yet it may not be as simple as it at first appears, with Rossi’s long history in the sport making the situation more, rather than less complicated.

With the contracts of the factory riders up for renewal at the end of 2012, the most obvious step – to his many fans, at least – is for Rossi to be offered a seat at either Repsol Honda or Factory Yamaha. Rossi’s strong form at the end of 2010, winning in Sepang despite suffering with a shoulder injury, would suggest that at the very least, he would still be competitive. But that very competitiveness could well be an obstacle, rather than a benefit. Both HRC and Yamaha have bet their immediate futures on the success of their younger champions Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo. Both men have proved in the past that they are capable of beating Rossi, a natural result of their having grown up knowing that he is the man they would have to beat if they had any aspirations of becoming World Champion. At the moment, Stoner and Lorenzo are arguably better and faster riders than Rossi, and on equal machinery, the Italian would have his hands full trying to beat them.

That only weakens Rossi’s case for a factory seat. No doubt that Rossi on a factory Honda or Yamaha could run with Stoner and Lorenzo, but the most likely scenario is that he would end up taking points off his factory teammate rather than challenging for the title himself. Rossi could well end up being decisive in a championship race, the danger being that he prevents his teammate from becoming champion, allowing a rival to take the crown. Viewed from the perspective of HRC or Yamaha Racing, Rossi offers more risks than he does rewards.

Then there’s the personal factor. Neither Honda nor Yamaha were particularly overjoyed to see Rossi leave, and there is still some resistance to welcoming him back into the fold. Even if the management were interested in signing Rossi, they would then have to face the objections of their current number 1 riders, with Jorge Lorenzo’s memories of having Rossi as a teammate far from happy, and Stoner and Rossi locked into one of the bitterest rivalries since Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey in the early 1990s. Neither Stoner nor Lorenzo would happily accept Rossi as a teammate, probably preferring to have each other as teammates over Rossi.

The Satellite Option

That leaves a satellite bike, but here too, there are complications. The most obvious place for Rossi to end up would be with Herve Poncharal’s Monster Tech 3 Yamaha squad, but here again, Yamaha may decide to veto such a move. Rossi could be more of a risk in a satellite squad than in the factory team, as the difference in spec between the factory and the satellite machines would make it even more likely that Rossi could end up splitting the points. On a bike that is slightly inferior to the factory bikes, Rossi would struggle to win races, though podiums might be possible. Winning would take points from both Stoner and Lorenzo, while a podium could see him behind Stoner but ahead of Lorenzo, making Lorenzo’s title assault even more difficult.

A private team with a Yamaha would face even more complications, as Tech 3 have a contract with Yamaha to run two M1s in 2013. Yamaha have long made it clear that they are unable to supply more than two factory bikes and two satellite machines, and so expanding to field a fifth bike would be complicated and expensive, unless Rossi could find a sponsor willing to pay well beyond the normal lease price for a Yamaha M1. Though Rossi’s commercial marketability remains as high as ever – more about that later – the price Yamaha might ask would be pushing the bounds of value for money.

A more logical place for Rossi to try might be the Gresini Honda squad. Gresini needs an Italian rider to keep his sponsor, Italian snack manufacturer San Carlo, happy, and no doubt they would be elated to have Rossi. So much so, in fact, that Gresini might even be able to afford to run two prototype bikes again.

Increasing the number of satellite bikes it runs is much easier for Honda to achieve than it is for Yamaha. Just last year, HRC supplied a total of 6 bikes, a number which for a variety of reasons has been reduced to 4. Expanding that number would be possible, allowing Rossi to even consider the option of running a private team for himself, allowing him to more easily bring his crew along with him.

But the problem would remain of whether Honda, like Yamaha, would be willing to lease Rossi a satellite bike. Rossi on a Honda would merely be complicating the title race for Casey Stoner, the man that HRC have staked their immediate future on. What’s more, Rossi could also divert resources away from Marc Marquez, the next young rider being coached to take his place in the HRC hierarchy. Marquez, if he lives up to the promise he has so far shown, looks set to become the next alien to join the MotoGP field, and with Stoner likely to start looking at retirement in another three seasons or so, the young Spaniard is being groomed to replace the Australian as Honda’s #1 rider.

Even ignoring the difficulties of persuading either Honda or Yamaha to give him a satellite ride, the question is whether Rossi himself would want to race a satellite bike. Though he would undoubtedly immediately be much faster on a satellite Yamaha than he currently is on the Ducati, a satellite M1 would still be different enough from the factory bikes to make it hard for him to win races. To illustrate the problems of racing on a satellite bike: last year at Qatar, on board a factory Honda, Andrea Doviziosi finished just over 5 seconds behind the winner, Casey Stoner. In 2012, this time on a satellite Yamaha, Dovizioso crossed the line over 17 seconds after the winner Jorge Lorenzo. Even taking into account the difference between Rossi and Dovizioso as riders, and Rossi’s greater experience with the behavior of the Yamaha, that is a huge gap to overcome, and indicative of the difference that is in the bike. A satellite machine may make it easier for Rossi to get nearer the podium, but it is not a guarantee of being able to fight for wins. In that respect, taking a satellite ride may not necessarily work out that much better than staying with Ducati.

Commercial Realities

But what of Rossi’s selling power? Is his massive commercial value not enough to ensure that he gets the bike that he wants? This is in itself an interesting question, and adds several complications of its own. Would signing for Yamaha or Honda help a factory shift more bikes in their target markets? It seems safe to assume that it would, though the benefit gained is likely to be smaller for Yamaha than it would be for Honda. Rossi is still closely associated with Yamaha in the minds of the fans, the Japanese company still profiting from the afterglow of Rossi’s legendary time with the factory. Rossi might be of more commercial value to Honda, but as discussed before, that would risk Casey Stoner leaving, taking with him perhaps the best chance Honda has of another championship.

The party with the real power to put Rossi where he wants to be is surely Dorna. MotoGP’s commercial rights holder has been riding the Rossi money train ever since the Italian joined the premier class, and has benefited massively from the marketing tsunami that Rossi has been. Surely it is both in Dorna’s interests and within their power to make sure Rossi gets a competitive ride?

Up until the end of last year, that was undoubtedly true. But in a twist of irony, with the lapsing of the contract granting the manufacturers a monopoly on the technical regulations, Dorna also lost some of its grip over the factories. Before, Dorna and the MSMA had a simple bargain: the factories got the rules they wanted, while Dorna was left to handle the commercial exploitation of the series. Dorna did not complain about technical regulations – no matter how much they might object to them – while the factories that made up the MSMA were willing to go along with Dorna requests to place riders when commercial realities demanded it.

But after seeing the MSMA lead MotoGP down the road to ruin through a series of disastrous technical rule changes, including the switch to the much-despised 800cc formula, and then seeing individual manufacturers scale back their involvement and pull out of the series, Dorna has taken the rules into their own hands. Technical regulations are now being drawn up in conjunction with the FIM and IRTA with the sole aim of making the series more affordable and filling out the grids once again. The role of the factories has been reduced to more of an advisory role, their input on rule changes now subject to bargaining rather than being adopted without argument as it was before.

What this means is that Dorna’s requests are now also subject to the same bargaining. Where previously, the two parties had an (almost) unspoken arrangement, now each move and request must be bartered over. If Dorna wanted to put Rossi on a satellite Yamaha – or even a factory Honda – then Dorna will have to give up on some of the technical rules they have been hoping to push through to make the series cheaper and the racing more entertaining. That leaves Dorna facing a painful and difficult dilemma.

Facing the Future, Long-Term vs Short-Term

Here, too, Rossi’s age is starting to work against him: Dorna have been preparing for Rossi’s retirement for several years now, as the Italian has talked about leaving the series consistently the last couple of times his contract has been renewed. With the goose that has laid so many golden eggs for them on the verge of quitting, Dorna have realized that they need to put something in place to compensate. Although they will never be able to replace a global superstar of the stature of Rossi, their plan for limiting the financial damage that Rossi’s departure would undoubtedly do the series is to try to bring back the exciting racing seen in the past, to create a more stable commercial base. By jumping on the Rossi bandwagon – the Italian is truly a global star known far outside the world of motorcycle racing, a once-in-a-generation phenomenon – Dorna ended up with too many of their eggs in one basket, and now they face paying the price. Their new strategy is to try to create closer, more exciting racing, and reduce the importance of a single individual to the series. The riders will always be the stars, but having great racing ensures the long-term commercial stability of the series as riders come and go, as they inevitably do.

And here is Dorna’s delicate dilemma: by forcing either Honda or Yamaha to provide Rossi with a competitive bike, they will have secured the commercial success of MotoGP for the next couple of seasons, until Rossi retires and leaves, as he surely must one day. However, if the price that Dorna has to pay is to offer too many technical concessions to the factories that the satellite and CRT teams are left without a chance of being competitive, and the processional racing that has characterized the series under the rules drawn up by the MSMA continues, then they could end up saving the series in the short term, only to see it wither and die once Rossi leaves, with nothing to take his place.

Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Overall, Rossi’s best hope may actually lie in staying with Ducati. Right now, he is clearly not competitive, and the bike obviously still needs a lot of work. But a large part of Rossi’s claim to greatness is built on his reputation as someone who can develop a bike, helped in no small part by his legendary crew chief Jerry Burgess. If Rossi leaves without making the bike competitive, then his legacy will be tarnished, despite much of the blame being attached to Ducati. Failing to turn the Ducati around will leave a stain on his reputation and that of Burgess.

Some seeds of doubt are already being planted. Though the M1 campaigned by Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque did not win a single race, Barros had a significant input on the bike that Rossi inherited. Masao Furusawa had already built a completely new bike for Rossi’s arrival, and the Italian’s role was not so much development as correctly identifying the bike that Furusawa had expected to be best. While Rossi and Burgess have received much of the credit for developing the Yamaha M1 that Rossi would go on to win the championship on, that view underestimates the massive role that Furusawa played in understanding the weaknesses of the bike and improving it, before Burgess and Rossi got their hands on the bike to tweak it.

Now, at Ducati, after a total of five frames and two engines, the bike is still suffering, and the magic that everyone expected from Rossi and Burgess is failing to appear. Much of the problems seem to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding between the rider, his crew, and Ducati’s engineers. Once that miscommunication is cleared up, then Rossi can try to prove that his reputation as a good bike developer is deserved, and not just down to being in the right place at the right time.

Two Sides To Every Story

But Ducati, too, need Rossi to do well. They could afford to ignore the input of the riders while Casey Stoner kept on winning on the bike. They could afford to send Marco Melandri to a psychologist, instead of listening to his complaints about the bike. Now, with Stoner gone, and the man who was supposed to be able to ride everything failing so spectacularly, it has become clear to everyone, including Ducati’s engineers, that this situation cannot continue. If they do not produce a competitive bike, there is more at stake than just the reputation of Valentino Rossi, the continuation of Ducati’s MotoGP program is at risk.

Ducati’s MotoGP project has only been possible thanks to the willingness of Phillip Morris, who continue to fund the lion’s share of the Bologna factory’s budget – paddock rumor suggests that the amount is in the region of 25 million euros – to promote Marlboro. The tobacco giant has stayed faithful to Ducati, despite ever-tighter rules on tobacco sponsorship and advertising, with just the red-and-white color scheme remaining to tie the Marlboro brand identity to Ducati’s MotoGP team. The question remains how much success Phillip Morris feels it needs from Ducati, but they will surely be demanding more than the team is currently providing. Having Rossi failing so badly on the bike is bad for everyone’s image, including their tobacco sponsors.

With Ducati rumored to have already massively overrun their budget this year – perhaps by as much as 20% – the Borgo Panigale factory needs to start producing results. The GP12 suffers from two major problems: firstly, though the engine has been rolled back to reposition it, it is still a 90° V, and as I wrote in August of last year, such a wide angle between the cylinder banks makes mass centralization nearly impossible, and makes packaging the engine extremely difficult; and secondly, the power delivery is too aggressive – Valentino Rossi joked that the bike had “a lion under the fairing” at Qatar – making it more difficult to control.

A New Hope?

But there are reasons to believe that this situation could change relatively quickly. Much speculation has centered on the new parts that Ducati are expected to be introducing “after three or four races,” widely expected to be some new chassis parts. While Rossi and Hayden are very likely to be given a new swingarm at either Jerez or Estoril, the big change could come at the tests after the Portuguese round of MotoGP. All the signs point to Ducati bringing a new engine to test there, and that could turn out to be radically different from the one they are currently using. The engine currently in use is basically the same as the original 2012 1000cc engine, designed to be a load-bearing part of the chassis. The rumored new engine will be much lighter, as it has been designed from the ground up to be used in the aluminium twin spar chassis, rather than the original carbon fiber monocoque subframe, and so is substantially less rigid than the current unit. There are also signs that the engine angle could finally be changed, with some sources hinting that the new engine will be a 75° V. Just how reliable these sources are is yet to be proven – guesses based on glimpses of engines may be the result of an optical illusion rather than the actual engine layout. But a new engine layout would radically transform the handling of the bike.

The other hope could come as a result of the proposed rule changes for 2013 and onwards. It now seems certain that a rev limit will be put in place for next year, with 15,000 rpm the most likely candidate. Such a limit would change the nature of the bikes, and probably impact Ducati hardest. However, given that the Ducati’s problem is its excess of horsepower and the way it delivers that to the rear tire. A rev limit would force Ducati to work on mid-range torque rather than extracting maximum horsepower, and make the bike more rideable. That would answer one of Rossi’s key complaints about the Ducati, and if a revised engine improved the handling as is expected, Ducati’s fortunes could be turned around fairly quickly.

Whether that will be enough remains to be seen. No matter how good the bike is, Valentino Rossi faces two riders who grew up knowing that they had him to beat if they were ever to be champions themselves. He was the target they aimed for, and both Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner have hit, and arguably surpassed, that target. Even if Ducati do fix the GP12, then Lorenzo and Stoner are going to be hard to get wins against, and impossible to take the title from.

With the chances of a satellite ride very limited, and a factory Honda or Yamaha seat out of the question, Rossi’s best hope of a competitive ride in MotoGP is to help Ducati turn the Desmosedici around, and create a bike which is easier to ride and offers better feel at the front end. His reputation – and the reputation of Jerry Burgess and the rest of his crew – depends on him fixing the Ducati, and it is the fastest track the nine-times World Champion has to success in MotoGP if he is to remain in racing.

Of course, Rossi’s success depends to a major extent on the willingness of Ducati to make the changes he has asked for. That, for so many years, has been the sticking point, but the Bologna factory is now starting to reach breaking point. If Rossi does not start to score podiums and challenge for wins on the bike, their MotoGP project will be in danger. If they have any ambition of continuing in the series, they have to build a bike that a rider like Rossi can win on. Despite what his detractors say – and over the past 18 months, his detractors have become even more tiresome than his fans ever were – Valentino Rossi still has seven premier class titles to his name, as well holding the record for premier class wins. It is reasonable to expect Rossi to at least be fighting for podiums, and so to see him nearly a second a lap slower than his rivals is a signal that the bike is at least part of the problem. Given Rossi’s renowned grasp of paddock politics and his media savvy, his outburst on Italian TV was almost certainly calculated to put maximum pressure on Ducati to make the changes that he wants.

They Can Work It Out

Like the children of two royal families pledged to be wed, Valentino Rossi and Ducati are condemned to one another. They can either try to make the marriage work and their empire a success, or they can fail and fall bickering to their doom. If Ducati does not build a competitive bike, and Rossi does not commit to riding it the way it needs to be ridden, then both are likely to disappear from the GP scene, both with serious stains on their reputations. Though the wedding between Rossi and Ducati was the high point of the MotoGP year, it has proven to be a marriage of inconvenience for both parties. They need to make it work, and quickly.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

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

  • Pat W

    In 2013 Rossi will be racing on 4 wheels unless he is willing to ride
    the suzuki moto gp bike or go to wsb and ride ducati’s 1199.999
    against biaggi and the Aprilia.

  • Andrey

    Lots to read there Jensen… bed time story for tonight…. thanks for posting.
    Rossi’s situation could be analogous to that of Michael Schumacher’s current situation …. amazing talent that needs the right environment and machine to win….
    Wishing Vale the best regardless.

  • No one has ever accused David of being anything other than thorough.

  • Andrey

    …. and what would also be really interesting to hear now, would be an analysis from Jeremy Burgess. Any chance you could email him and ask for his thoughts??

  • JW

    I have a feeling Ducati will step up and get some marriage counseling, save the marriage and help strengthen the future of the sport.

    There are highs and lows to everyones path. Right now Rossi – Ducati is at a low. There has been one race, it aint over till its over.

    I am a fan of the sport and hope for a strong future. This read is brilliant!

  • Mustang

    great article, and very interesting insights into an issue few of us really understand or know. thanks.
    PS David Emmett any relation to ex rider Sean Emmett?

  • IanJ

    I’ve read a whole lot, way too much in fact, on the Rossi Ducati situation and I don’t think anything weighs it up quite as well as the above article.

    It’s true that the pairing of Rossi and Ducati must be made to work for both their sakes.

    Great read!

  • David,
    As an outsider looking in, I see many similarities between the inability of Rossi to come to terms with the post-Stoner Ducati and the difficulties that Luca Cadalora, Darryl Beattie, Norick Abe, and others (the list goes on) to ride Yamaha YZR500 after Wayne Rainey was taken out of the equation.
    What do you think of this analogy?..
    Ducati GP10=Yamaha OWF2
    If it holds, the future’s bleak for Rossi…
    I’ve dredged up a few stats and posted them on my blog, if anyone’s still curious. Love to hear from Wayne Rainey, if he thinks I’m on track with this… Or not. I’d actually be pretty happy just to have Rainey tell me I’m full of $#!+…
    Cheers, MG

  • MTGR

    Rossi and Burgess may well have been the best in the history of the sport. Having said that, I find it hard to believe anyone is still going on about when and how they will be competitive again. I guess no one is willing to admit that both were already past their prime before they even left Yamaha.

    That last season at Yamaha they spent most pre-race warm ups testing last-minute radical set-ups while the group on the other side of the garage had things dialed after their first practice. And it never improved in the races, with Rossi riding over his head trying to match his younger teammate, as evidenced by Rossi crashing more in that season than he probably had in the rest of his career put together. By the time it finally culminated in a broken leg, the pair were surviving on on healthy doses of denial as much as anything else.

    Under the right circumstances I’m sure Rossi and Burgess can still be competitive. But challenging Stoner and Lorenzo every time out? They had already lost the ability to do that when they were younger, more confident men with comparable (or better!) equipment – no amount of speculation or bankrupting of legendary brands is going to make it happen now.

    No disrespect. Racing is a young mans game and time waits for no one, no matter how good they once were.

  • Every time I read about the cylinder layout, I have to question it because Carlos Checca is still dominating on the 1198-based WSB. Understandably, that is a completely different bike than the GP bike, but wouldn’t the mass centralization argument (cited above) work in favor of the Aprilia RSV4 than the 90-degree 1198 Ducati? There is another piston & parts moving around down there in the GP engine compared to the WSB, so it doesn’t make sense to discard the cylinder layout completely, but….

    The use of the VERY rigid (100% structural, load bearing) GP engine could be more of the culprit than the layout of the cylinders.

    An aluminum chassis cannot communicate proper feel to the rider if the block (that is inside the tuned-for-flex chassis) is so rigid that it keeps the aluminum from flexing in areas where it is designed to flex. The two are bolted together.

    A piece of scrap aluminum flexes by itself easily, but bolt it to a rigid chuck of metal and it doesn’t flex as much. Does that same concept correlate to the situation that Ducati has with its load bearing motor compared to a less rigid motor, regardless of the layout of cylinders?

  • Steve Lang

    THAT was an outstanding article. Nicely done with many perspectives I had not given much thought to, until now. There is always a solution to every problem and my hope is, Ducati will find it in time.

  • sburns2421

    No mention of leaving MotoGP and racing in WSBK? Doesn’t Dorna own both series?

    Imagine they would want to sell the rights to WSBK in a few years, what better than to have the most popular rider in a generation racing in the series.

    I have no doubt he would be competitive, and obviously could have his pick of the manufacturer to work with.

    Logic would say it would not be as lucrative for him, but you never know. Dare I say Rossi riding in the series would bring many rabid fans to the series that now only watch WSBK.

  • JW






  • chris

    questions no one seems to be asking:

    who would ride the ducati for 2013?

    spies/rossi/hayden seem to be the best options…. i don’t think anyone else will go near it.

  • Good analysis! I’d like to see Rossi do well this season, and it looks to me as though Nicky has a better grip on the bike than Rossi does. The more guys thrown into the mix of a title battle, the better it is for everybody.

  • Hermant

    Interesting article!
    But what about the option to leave MotoGp GP and head for the World Superbike series?
    In the past Rossi has expressed wishes to once ride a superbike.
    This could be the moment or he will switch over to Ferrari to relace Massa.

  • david

    I’m reminded of a quote from kenny roberts, ‘you have ten years in this sport at the top level,regardless of when you started’, or some such. remember when spencer won the 250 & 500 world title the same year? and then, inexplicably, could never get it together again. yes, he injured his wrist, but all subsequent come back attempts failed. was he just lucky? of course not, he was a great rider, but burned something out of himself. I think rossi maybe nearing that. I’m sure the death of simmo had to have some effect on him as well. I’d love for rossi to turn it around, but I don’t think it will happen.

  • @Hermant: “This could be the moment or he will switch over to Ferrari to relace Massa.”

    Nothing negative intended about Rossi’s talent, but I strongly suspect that Massa would eat Rossi for breakfast in the Ferrari, no matter how badly Massa is apparently doing in that car over the last couple of seasons. It’s not that I don’t think Rossi could do well in an F1 seat, but it would take him some time to get acclimated. No doubt, he would be a big interest fan-wise with regard to driving for a big team, but I doubt he could deliver the goods for a while.

  • JoeD

    A wonderful assesment. I have no love affair for the Asians and would be most happy with a European championship team, rider and manufacturer. It could happen if Ducati were to expore other configurations. The 90* V is a tough one to fit-Guzzi went sideways but they don’t make GP bikes. HD uses a 45 but height becomes a problem. Please fix it. Rossi isn’t done yet.

  • Before we dogpile on Rossi as over the hill, I’d like to quote a paragraph from David’s extremely well written earlier analysis that I think is spot on:
    “So if Stoner made the Ducati work, then surely the problem must be with Rossi, right? Though that might appear to be the logical conclusion, that grossly oversimplifies a complicated situation. Just 9 months ago, with a weakened shoulder that left him struggling, Rossi was still capable of winning races and scoring regular podiums. He was poetry to watch, flowing over the Yamaha M1 and able to put it just about where he wanted. In the 11 races after returning from the leg he broke at Mugello, and still struggling with the shoulder injury he picked up in a training crash in April, Rossi was on the podium 7 times, including 1 win. Riders simply do not lose that kind of speed over the winter break, not unless they suffer a career-threatening injury.

    From the moment he swung his leg over the Ducati, Rossi was immediately miles off the pace.”

    The bike is the problem. Stoner may now be faster than Rossi, but I’m pretty sure it would be awfully close on equal equipment. Ducati needs to fix it whether Rossi stays with them or not (he will… as Daivd points, out, there aren’t other options). They can do it quickly and salvage this, or they can do it slowly and hurt themselves and their sponsors even more. Finding the additional budget for this while trying to keep their books pretty for acquisition has to be painful, and it’s maybe even harder to contemplate a shift from a 90 degree V format.

  • John

    That was such an interesting read. I am a big Ducati fan and was content with the signing of Rossi. Like millions of others, I was overjoyed to hear that the sport’s biggest star was joining an iconic Italian brand. Unfortunately the pairing of both stars didn’t do too well, but I am still hopeful. I certainly hope that both Ducati and Rossi can challenge for podiums and, possibly, win a Championship. Now we know that Hayden has a better chance of winning on a Ducati than Rossi but it would be great if both can battle for the championship. If this year does not work and he cannot secure a factory seat with either Honda or Yamaha, I suggest that he secures a seat on WSBK since we all know he has desired to race on a superbike. I firmly believe that he can win multiple championships with WSBK, and his reputation and rabid fans will flock on WSBK much like they do now in MotoGP. In the end, Dorna will still make lots of money. That is a win-win situation for all parties involved, but not for Biaggi of course.

  • Tony

    The guy milked it in 10th place on a 5th place bike, enough said. If he is the GOAT, shouldn’t he be in 4th fighting for 3rd. Ever since his broken leg, and especially the death of Marco, Rossi has not been the same rider. He deserves the best they can give him, and Ducati deserve the best he can give them. He is at war on the track. Where is the old Rossi that was bumping bikes just cause he was pissed off? Where is the Rossi that cared about getting every point he could because he could? I will tell you where he is, he is a victim of everyone telling him how great he is. He sure ain’t proving it!

  • Ervgopwr

    Gotta say, it’s a combo of all the items; cylinder layout exhasperating the mechanicals of improving the front end feel, but mostly his injury and death of a friend. The ability of racers is to push through the fear of the disasterous consequences just on the other side of that razors edge. Those who can, keep the speed up, pushing and pushing the limit. Those who can’t (or have lost it, as I think Rossi has), will just not find that edge again, and when they do, pull back because they can’t or won’t take it to that limit because they are aware of the risk/consequences. And to a degree, how can you blame him. When you’re alive, 9 time champion and already referred to as the GOAT, what else is there to prove.

  • Ervgopwr


  • DareN

    Good write. What is interesting, Nicky is doing much better on the same bike. Is Rossi not trying hard enough? It is easy to be a champion when you have the best bike. Maybe it is time to put your head down and just work harder, like true proffesional (Nicky) would do.
    Rossi has no chance in hell in F 1. These boys are groomed to be drivers from the age of 4 or 5 on the gokart tracks and progresivelly difficult racing series. Even someone with so much God- given talent like him cannot overcome the years of experience.

  • Neilmatic

    Great article. The writer explored all the current options. Would like to see what would happen if Suzuki came back sooner, but that could be another chapter for 2014. But I really do hope to see Ducati give Rossi the bike he wants/needs. Change the motor, change the frame again! Its not too late. Ducati now has Audi money . (I wonder how that will fit into MotoGP) True the GOAT moniker is not fitting Rossi well right now, but if Ducati and Rossi end up getting it right, then he truly will be the Greatest Of All Time.

  • Ian Miles

    Occasionally a well thought out article is published regarding MotoGP. Not very often but this is one of them.
    I still think that the bike pre 2008 is one that Rossi should at least try. Stoner complained about the inconsistency of the trellis frame builds and too much flex.
    In 2008 the carbon frame came in designed by Ferrari. Now when this happened Stoner managed 2 * 4th places and then moved to Honda. Looking at his times etc it was usually on tracks with a long straight he did well. His performance last weekend proves he really is not that good. However. both Rossi and Burgess have been brought up on Japanese bikes, with aluminium beam frames. Rossi is missing traditional feedback from the bike and clearly the powerplant is almost too much. Ducati understand steel trellis like no one else. If Burgess had or would get to grips with the concept then I cannot see why it would not have been possible to dial in Rossi’s feedback via Burgess to Ducati.
    As it stands they are simply copying other manufacturers, something they have not done ever. The rules in WSb are likely more favourable to Ducati than most. Having said that Checa, Bayliss and others have continued to keep it on the boil against the factory bikes of the Jap companies. The new Panigale clearly has taken the fight absolutely squarely to BMW and every other superbike manufacturer again as the 916 did and like the 916 it also simply takes some cues from other bikes and uses them in a more appealing way.
    Lorenzo has always been the one to beat and if fit and on a compariable bike, Rossi has enough savy to be able to put in 2 more seasons contesting the title. No doubt about that.
    Ducati seemed to try and simply take a beefed up WSB concept with four cylinders and put it in MotoGP.Odd then that this is what the CRT’s are all about. However it is a prototype series and I guess that actually means do any config that wins. Their experience in MotoGP is very much less than all the other Jap manufacturers. So they were always going to find the going tough.
    Audi will sort out any financial issue lingering in the background. Cannot imagine much else than that.
    If they do get it right they will have a bike that is much easier to ride and will therefore attract more riders. It will also be easier to work on for more and different crews as well. Rossi will have left them, to coin a trendy term, a legacy and can go and smack Biaggi in WSB.
    Stakes are no less than high then. For MotoGP, Ducati, Rossi and his future successors, I hope they get it sorted. MotoGP with 2 manufacturers running prototypes will be dull. Having both WSB and MotoGP seperate and distinct is the best it can be. A near amalgam will be very dull indeed. And lets face it Stoner does not make it exciting, Simoncellit did and there is no one yet able to take on Rossi’s ability to make the racing great. Hope he stays around until there is.

  • How about Audi/VW lend a hand in developing the Ducati GP effort? God knows they are the freakin’ BOSS in racing with dominating Le Mans, etc etc… A German-Italian partnership could be very fruitful…

    I mean, they’ve obviously done well with taming the raging Italian Bull that is Lamborghini and making it a controllable beast so much to the point that the Hamster said the new Bull isn’t crazy enough anymore to be a Bull… but it handles and performs like a dream!

    And the AMG/Pagani German-Italian partnership speaks for itself :-) !

    As much as I hate to say it, some good ol’ German anal engineering prowess could give the Ducati MotoGP program just the kick in the rear that Vale and Co. need for it!!!

  • Angelo Reyes

    Rossi wishes he could drive the Ducati as Stoner drove it against him in Laguna Seca,

    Very true about what they did to the M1 before Rossi arrived to Yamaha,

    I think Rossi’s lost his mojo due to the fact the the bike has put him down, but concidering the fact that Stoner won a podium on Valencia and the next 2-3 days rossi said the bike was impossible to drive put a thought to ones mind

  • Great story, well thought out and written, thanks for the insights.

  • Great write up. I think a lot of Rossi fans, including myself, have been asking themselves the same questions and you’ve managed to flush out all the pertinent points nicely.

    Just wondering, what effect do you think new parent, Audi, will have on Ducati’s GP team from 2013 onwards? Surely, it would not bemuse Audi, just like VR, Ducati and PM, to be associated with a failing motor sport campaign.

  • Doug

    @Ervgopwr – it is difficult to not think that the death of a close friend (that he saw right in front of him) definitely has a role. Ducati has a bad front end feel, too. Marco lost the front end ( regardless of the culprit), no confidence in the front end weighs heavy

  • MikeD

    WOW. That was quite a reading. A lot to digest. So many different points and views. Interesting to say the least. It was worth the time it took me, LOL.

    I hope they get their Shiznit togheter…for their own good.

  • Tony

    I have an idea, why not write the article looking at it from Ducati’s point of view. I think what we have here is a Rossi fan who asks why is this guy not doing well, it must be the bike! I think you have to look at Rossi’s last few years and ask, is this the same Rossi? Does he want to win? If I make the perfect bike that is twice as fast as everything else, and he goes out and wins, does that make him great? There is no excuse for coming in 10th at the last race with 2 Ducati riders ahead of him. He put very little effort into trying to win. He put more effort into trying to make excuses. Maybe he needs to race 4 wheels or perhaps WSBK. Maybe he just needs to retire and tell everyone how good he was. Or maybe, just maybe, he needs to put his thunderwear on and kick some ass. He has to make that decision. Ducati or no Ducati.

  • Hodgmo

    Deep down, I do believe I will see #46 on the podium again. Valentino has never failed to meet big career challenges and this is his biggest one ever. He and his team are obviously deeply disappointed and discouraged. It’s baffling why the bike is not more competitive after all the work that’s been done. The comparison to Casey’s previous performance on Ducati means nothing.

    We all know that confidence is everything in racing and somehow, his has to get rebuilt. Yes, I’m a Rossi true believer. If he comes back to win from this situation, it will be his greatest career accomplishment.

  • Calisdad

    “As much as I hate to say it, some good ol’ German anal engineering prowess could give the Ducati MotoGP program just the kick in the rear that Vale and Co. need for it!!!”

    With all this analysis and over analysis I think Greg’s comment was spot on. I hope someone was reading.

  • Mario

    ridiculus riding I never see nobody riding so ignrant review of Valentino Rossi the greates of all times and I m stupfact it this you are a anti Rossi bro if not this review is never exist ore riding like I say to much times

  • Mario

    the end of Valentino Rossi if the ducati do not make a great bike you must bi cruise put a honda ore yamaha in there hands and you will see at apen I m not say Valentino win the titul but win races and make in throble lorenzo pedrosa & company but if you dout wait for 2013 my not friend.!.

  • Mario, there isn’t a single negative comment about Vale or his abilities in the article above. It wasn’t a review of Rossi himself but of how his future options play out for the coming season. It was an excellent analysis, in my opinion. I’m quite certain that Mr. Emmet is not “anti-Rossi”. Neither am I, for that matter; I’ve loved watching Rossi from his very first races on 125s.

  • * That should have read “Emmett”. My apologies for the typo, DE.