Ride Review: Ducati 1199 Panigale

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Fresh from the Ducati 1199 Panigale international press launch at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, our friends from have been kind enough to share their experience on Ducati’s newest flagship model, since Asphalt & Rubber wasn’t one of the American publications invited to test Borgo Panigale’s latest creation ( to let Ducati know that you want to see A&R at future events!).

Our Italian brother in arms, OmniMoto’s Lorenzo Gargiulo shares his initiation to the 1199, while riding around one the world’s most expensive race circuits…the lucky bastard. With much thanks to him, enjoy Lorenzo’s review and continue to countdown the months until A&R will get its own chance to flog the Ducati 1199 Panigale in a similar manner. -Jensen

It is a known fact that journalists like to complain to motorcycle manufacturers, because some OEMs give you too little notice before a press event, while others fill up your calendar with possible dates way before they have something set on their own schedule. In the present case, Ducati told us about this event almost two months ago, which for this writer has led to an incredible amount of performance anxiety that has lasted until today.

Consider this: we are testing a new bike, which is set to take the scepter as the Queen of all the Superbikes, and it is to be tested on a new track, the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, where no journalist in the world had ever done a lap aboard a motorcycle. Accordingly, there was enough anticipation and excitement surrounding the event to make it difficult for anyone to fully process the true performance potential of the 2012 Ducati 1199 Panigale. Fortunately, the Panigale did not disappoint our expectations, and instead went way beyond them, unleashing breathtaking performances.

To start, I’ll quote only two pieces of information to you: +25 horsepower and -25 lbs of weight compared to the 1198. Ducati could have stopped here and sent everyone home, because these numbers almost say it all, but let’s press forward and see how this translates into the way this new “Made in Borgo Panigale” missile performs. We’ll start our analysis by front-loading that our test was conducted on the Ducati 1199 Panigale S, the more refined version of the Panigale, which has the electronically adjustable Öhlins suspension and optional ABS.

The Yas Marina Circuit

Maybe you aren’t Formula 1 fans, but you’ve probably heard of the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. It’s a massive structure built specifically for the premier auto-racing series in the world, and was built in 2009. If you haven’t seen it, imagine a track that flows under a hotel that is incredibly lit up at night, and sits next to a channel where massive yachts are anchored.

I’m actually writing to you from a room that looks out over one of the 21 turns of the 3.4 mile-long circuit. I only tell you this because Yas Marina is not an easy circuit to ride, as most of the turn entries are blind, and in many spots the escape routes are very short.

Having said this, we spent the first session getting to know the layout, thanks to our first-class instructor: the venerable Troy Bayliss, who again showed himself to be a truly passionate motorcyclist and a man of great character.

Sizing up the Ducati 1199 Panigale:

As we learned the curves and straights, I had time to dedicate ourselves to the new ergonomics of the Panigale. Incredibly, the bike is actually more comfortable and habitable than the 1198, even though visually it looks much more compact. This is possible as the new chassis layout has allowed Ducati to move the riders position forward by approximately three inches, so now the upper body is less leaned forward and more upright. The clip-ons are now a quarter of an inch higher when compared to the old bike, and about half an inch wider overall.

Therefore, the riding position is less stretched out and tiring; and although the Panigale is quite small, there is still quite a bit of room to move around the bike and in the seat. The tank is skinny and its rear is low and rounded so as not to get in the way. Meanwhile the rearsets are well positioned and don’t touch the ground even in the most extreme turns, and if you are asking yourself whether the side-mounted rear shock gets in the way, the answer is a definitive “no it does not.”

The aerodynamic protection is good as the shape of the fairing pushes the air away from the shoulders, but since the windshield is so small, if you re over 6 feet tall, we suggest purchasing a taller replacement. And how would a pillion fair on this bike? We’ll skip over this question as Ducati provided these bikes strictly without passenger foot pegs.

A New Benchmark for Measuring Superbikes

Lets address this right away, since there is no point in beating around the bush: with this bike, Ducati has made a huge performance leap that is of significant proportions, and will undoubtedly win 1st place in any upcoming comparisons. Of course we’ll do further tests, but there is this vague prescience that Ducati really nailed it this time, like when 20 years ago they launched the 916 — still today one of the most renowned Ducatis.

The riding position we have already discussed, but it is good to add another very important fact: after a full day of riding the 1199, one dismounts the bike with the urge to go back immediately onto the track, and to give it some gas again. The Ducati 1199 Panigale is in no way tiring like previous Ducati superbikes were, starting with the 851 all the way to the 1198SP. From the very first laps, the Panigale’s biggest strength becomes evident: the ease with which one can make direction changes.

The construction parameters of previous Ducatis always seemed to generate very strict and precise trajectories in the fast sections of a track, but made for tough course changes in the tight twisty stuff. Conversely, the Panigale makes these memories vanish in a second by showing an incredible ease in the turns. The low weight definitely deserves accolades for this, but also the weight distribution is to thank for a balance, which is totally different from before.

At the Yas Marina Circuit there are three very tight chicanes, one of which is a double-apex. The Panigale dives into this section as if it was made to have fun in these tight turns, and it sets into the bend with a very honest and assuring feeling — first on the front end followed by the rear without any issues.

This incredible ease in attacking the turns might give pause when considering potential loss of stability on the fast straights, but the 1199 puts these fears instantly to rest. All the solid front-end traits that are typical of a Ducati superbike remain intact with the Panigale, and in the long 3rd and 4th gear curves of the front end tracks true with fine precision.

We must give a further tip of the hat regarding the traction from mid-corner onwards as the new weight distribution, accompanied by the long rear swingarm, have almost fixed the historical Ducati Achilles heel. The grip exiting a turn is now guaranteed even when you open the throttle more roughly, to the point that veteran Ducati riders will have to reset their mental parameters, as they will now be able to get on the gas much earlier in the turn.

Ducati’s New Powerhouse

Turning our attention to the engine, another star shines in this colossal production. Even in this case, it is good to disregard any memory related to the twins of yesterday, because when you try the Superquadro engine, the power delivery is completely different.

In building the Superquadro, Ducati wanted to go for absolute power at high revs, so consequently the Italian increased the bore to an incredible 112mm, which had the natural consequence of reducing power at the lower revs. To be honest, this engine from zero to 6000 rpm gives less power than its predecessor, which might turn out to be an advantage for the less experienced rider. However when the tachometer reaches 7k, the power delivery is truly surprising, and only stops when the gauge cluster taps-out at 11k rpm.

The engine then has a split personality: calm at low revs so that the neophyte doesn’t get scared, but at high revs it unleashes an unheard of anger that no twin-cylinder before it could imagine, and is very comparable to the best inline-fours.

It’s a Digital World We Live In

We tried the power delivery both in the sport and race modes, and left the rain mode for future tests. The difference between the two settings isn’t huge, as most of the distinction can be felt in the immediacy with which the engine responds to throttle inputs. The new Ducati Traction Control (DTC) system aids the rider enormously, helping keep the engine’s exuberance at bay. Compared to previous generations of the DTC system, this one is much less invasive, and you can feel its presence with controlled and progressive reductions in engine power.

At the Yas Marina Circuit, I initially started lapping with the Sport mapping and DTC at level 5, but ended up settling for a setup with the Sport map and DTC on level 3.

Testing to check out the EBC engine braking management system, I ended up raising the EBC to level 2 (out of three total), which helped quite well with the very tight turns at Yas Marina. Making our shifts faster than humanly possible, the electronic shifter behaved exceptionally well and never had a hiccup shifting up or down through the gears. Similarly, the brakes definitely deserve praise, as the new Brembo M50 calipers offer the same stopping power of the previous monoblocks, but without that excess of aggression upon application of the initial braking power.

The Bosch ABS 9 Enhanced anti-locking brake system showed a perfect calibration and was never invasive in its intervention. Despite the controversy that surrounds ABS on sport bikes, in reality the ABS performed a very useful stabilizing role, and is so subtle that you are not aware of its intervention, even as it adds a small amount of pressure to the rear. If choose to do so, you deactivate the linked braking, and can maintain the security of ABS on the front while giving you the ability to let the rear start to come around under heavy braking.

At this point I will stop, and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. From the vantage point of my room above the circuit, I will continue hoping for another day of excitement on this track to learn all the secrets of the Panigale, even though we know that in reality tomorrow the only thing waiting for us will be the plane to take us back to Italy.

This review has been reproduced courtesy of Lorenzo Gargiulo & — Special thanks to Alessandro Borroni for translating the original article into English.