MotoGP: Ducati Corse’s New “Junior Team” Strategy

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Ducati is on the verge of a large-scale overhaul of a major part of its MotoGP strategy. In 2013, its approach to satellite teams is set to change radically, with its satellite structure set to receive factory-spec Desmosedicis that will have a much closer relationship with the Borgo Panigale factory, says Ducati boss Alessandro Cicognani. “The main goal is to have a more competitive bike,” Cicognani said, speaking to us after the race at Mugello. “In this scenario, we are thinking that the satellite team could be a help to achieve more effective results more quickly for the factory team.”

The idea is to take a leaf out of Yamaha’s book, Cicognani explained. “The strategy we are thinking about is like a Tech 3 but with factory-spec bikes, something like that,” he said, while emphasizing that the plans had yet to be finalized. “We are thinking about it. We have some ideas.”

Part of the goal would be to help speed-up development of the factory bikes. The satellite team or teams – talks are still ongoing with both the Marc VDS team and with Pramac about racing as a satellite team – would also be used to help test new ideas and see if they are worth pursuing further, without placing an extra burden on the factory team. The satellite team could be used to see if those ideas worked in a racing environment, instead of relying on just the test team and the factory team, Cicognani explained, though much would depend on the choice of rider and the strategy.

The choice of a rider would be key, Cicognani explained. Where in previous years, Ducati has simply leased out the bikes to satellite teams and left it up to the teams to find riders, instead, the rider and the structure around it would come first. “It’s a different approach to what we have had in the past,” the Ducati boss said. “The goal will be two things: to find the rider, and to put the rider on a Ducati. These two things have to be on the same side. If you don’t have the riders that are able to perform at a certain level, maybe this is not helpful, this strategy would not work.”

With Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone testing at Mugello this week, it is clear which direction Ducati is looking in. But Cicognani would not be drawn on names for the riders, saying only “if you look at Moto2, and you look at the stronger riders, the names are obvious.” Ducati is more interested in youth than experience, though, he said. “We want a young rider. Maybe not a rider who is already a top rider, but a young rider who still has to prove his capability, his potential. A rider that would in the future be a good step for the factory team.”

The structure will be as important as the rider, however. “We want to find the right rider, find the right structure, and put it close to the factory in terms of material,” said Cicognani. The team’s previous strategy had been a hindrance in terms of development, he added. “We don’t want to have two different bikes, because in the end, this doesn’t help for the development of the bike.” To that extent, it would also make more sense for Ducati to support a single, two-rider team rather than two separate teams with one rider, but the economic realities may not make this possible.

“I would say the ideal situation would be to have one team with two riders, because it’s easier in terms of logistics, and would be better. But again, we have to face up to the fact that the general economic situation of the world is not very good, so we may have to have a mixed situation.” The practical implementation was less important than the concept, however. “The most important thing is to maintain the idea we have. Maybe we have to adjust a few things, but the idea is the most important, the main pillar of the idea is stable.”

The two candidates to run Ducati’s satellite teams – the term Junior team is being bandied about, though Cicognani refrained from using it himself – are Marc VDS Racing, currently fielding Scott Redding in Moto2, and Pramac, who are racing a satellite Ducati with Hector Barbera this season. The Pramac team has a long history with Ducati, but the collapse of their parent company – the Italian generator supplier of the same name – has placed financial constraints on the squad. Ducati has strong interest in both; the Bologna factory has been interested in Scott Redding for quite some time, and has a long relationship with Pramac.

The financial realities are such that neither squad could field a two-man team unless supported financially by Ducati. Marc VDS Racing principal Michael Bartholemy said that operating as a Ducati junior team would only be possible if funded by the Bologna factory. “We would be interested, but only if they are interested in us,” Bartholemy told us. “If someone believes in us, then we can do this, but not if we have to pay.” Alessandro Cicognani had told me previously that the factory was looking at radically dropping its prices, after news that Cardion AB would not be racing a Ducati again in 2013.

The financial package is only part of the deal though. Involvement in the development process is much more key to Marc VDS Racing’s plans. The prospect of a satellite Ducati is currently unappealing – “It is better to win in Moto2 than to be uncompetitive in MotoGP,” Bartholemy said – unless there was an added incentive to take part in the project.

Having access to a factory-spec bike will help, but having input into the development process is much more significant. Sources close to the team emphasized that being involved in improving the bike and understanding the development process were key to any decision to move up to MotoGP. It was not about the money, they affirmed, it was about the development.

To get an idea of the depth of Ducati’s commitment to the idea of running a junior team, team owner Marc van de Straten was present at Mugello for Scott Redding’s test on board the Ducati MotoGP bike. Redding had been impressive on the Desmosedici, lapping comfortably inside the 1’50 mark at the iconic Italian circuit, with a second and a half of Valentino Rossi’s fastest race lap, despite higher temperatures and a much dirtier track than during the race.

The team was hoping to receive a proposal from the Bologna factory, but nothing concrete had appeared by the end of Redding’s test. Marc VDS are hoping to move up to MotoGP with Scott Redding, keeping much of their current structure intact, including key garage staff, but such a move requires a solid commitment from Ducati. So far, though, there are no concrete signs of any such commitment coming from the Bologna factory.

Ducati’s problem is that their plans appear to be currently on hold, as they await the decision of Valentino Rossi on whether he will stay with the Italian factory or whether he will leave to return to Yamaha. Once that decision has been made, more of the factory’s efforts can be redirected at completing their plans for their satellite teams for 2013.

Whether Scott Redding and Andrea Iannone – the other Moto2 rider currently testing the Desmosedici at Mugello – move up to MotoGP for next season will be dependent on the outcome of those deliberations. A decision was expected soon, Cicognani had said at Mugello, before the end of the summer break.

Photo: © 2012 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved

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