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Paolo Ciabatti

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The difference in perspective between team managers and riders is always fascinating. Team bosses always have an eye to the big picture, to the coming year and beyond.

Riders are usually looking no further ahead than the next session or the next race. Anything beyond that is out of their control, and not worth wasting valuable energy worrying about. The future is a bridge they will cross when they come to it.

That difference was all too evident at the Ducati launch in Bologna on Monday.

While the people in charge of Ducati – Paolo Ciabatti, Davide Tardozzi, and Gigi Dall’Igna – were already thinking of managing rider signings and sponsorship deals for 2019 and beyond, Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were mostly concerned about the Sepang test and about being competitive in the 2018 season.

New contracts for 2019 were on their horizons, but compared to their bosses, it was little more than a blip. First, there is a championship to win.

Andrea Dovizioso has spent the winter relaxing, and preparing for the new season. He starts the year as one of the title favorites, not a position he has been accustomed to.

A great sensation, and one I had lost in the last few years” is how the Italian described it. He did not feel the pressure of that sensation, but rather saw it as a challenge.

Sure, he was one of the favorites, but there were a lot of competitive bikes with riders capable of winning. “The level of competitiveness has become very high in MotoGP in the last three years,” he said. “There are many riders who can win races. It wasn’t like this in the past.”

MotoGP team launches are always the triumph of hope over experience. Each year, the bosses of every factory in the series tell the media that their objective is to win races and fight for the championship. Sometimes, they even believe it.

At last year’s launch of the Ducati MotoGP team, Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna said they hoped to be fighting for the championship. That, after all, is why they signed Jorge Lorenzo to what is reported to be a very lucrative contract.

The assembled press was skeptical, despite the clear progress that Ducati had made in the past couple of seasons, its first wins coming in 2016.

Such skepticism was unwarranted, though you get the distinct feeling that even Ducati was surprised at how close Andrea Dovizioso came to clinching the 2017 MotoGP title.

Ducati was delighted by the Italian’s first win at Mugello, amazed at his victory in Barcelona a week later, and impressed by the way he beat Marc Márquez at Austria.

By the end of the season, Ducati had come to expect to win races, and realized just how far they had come on their journey since the dark days of 2013, when they didn’t score a single podium all year.

So on Monday, when Dall’Igna echoed the words of Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali in Bologna, that Ducati’s objective was to win races and challenge for the championship in MotoGP, they were deadly serious.

There is no doubt that Ducati is capable of doing just that – Dovizioso’s results and Lorenzo’s improvement in 2017 demonstrate that – and though they are all too aware of the dangers of complacency, Ducati start the 2018 season with both a firm expectation and belief that they are candidates for the 2018 MotoGP title.

In my article analyzing the Jerez private tests, which took an in-depth look at the times set by the WorldSBK bikes and the MotoGP bikes, I set out several reasons why I thought Jonathan Rea would not be moving to MotoGP, despite obviously being fast enough.

Though Rea has good reasons of his own to prefer to stay in WorldSBK, a good portion of the blame lies with MotoGP team managers, I argued.

That argument was based in part on a press conference held during the last round of the season at Valencia. In that press conference, the heads of racing of the six manufacturers in MotoGP gave their view of the season.

During that press conference, On Track Off Road’s Adam Wheeler asked Yamaha’s Lin Jarvis, Ducati’s Paolo Ciabatti, and KTM’s Pit Beirer whether they regarded WorldSBK as a viable talent pool, or whether they were looking more towards Moto2 and Moto3 as the place to find new riders.

We have already reported on how Ben Spies is trying to put together a superbike comeback, with an eye on the 2018 MotoAmerica Championship. There is a long road from here to there though, and the biggest hurdle for the American road racer is finding a ride.

Our Paddock Pass Podcast colleague Neil Morrison has some news on that though, and as he reported on Crash.net, Spies could be looking to Ducati for support on his return to motorcycle racing.

Talking to Ducati Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti, Morrison (that handsome devil) reports that Ducati is prepared to help the Texan…if he can foot the bill.

Qatar finally saw Ducati Corse unveiling its aerodynamic package for the Ducati Desmosedici GP17 race bike, and as expected the new fairing is quite the…uhhh…sight.

Surely to be controversial with MotoGP fans, whether they bleed Rosso Corsa or not, Ducati’s fairing design shows the lengths that the Italian manufacturer is willing to go through in order to keep the benefits of its winglets, while still adhering to MotoGP’s new rules on aerodynamics.

From one presentation to another. Having the Movistar Yamaha and Ducati Factory team launches on consecutive days made it a little too easy to make comparisons between the two. There was much complaining on social media about the fact that large parts of the Yamaha presentation were in Spanish only, causing the international audience watching the live streaming to lose interest. Ducati’s approach was better: while everything in the presentation was in Italian, there was simultaneous translation available on the live stream, so those following could hear it in English. That was no good to us in the hall, of course, though we would find out later that there had been headsets available with the live translation available. But nobody had thought to tell us about that, of course.

At the launch of its 2017 MotoGP team, Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali confirmed to the assembled press that the Italian marque was working on a V4 superbike, which echoes the rumors we have heard over the past two years. “The engine development we have made in MotoGP is exceptional,” Domenicali told our man David Emmett at the MotoGP team launch. “We have an engine which is very reliable, very light, compact and has a lot of interesting technology. We are seriously thinking of introducing it to regular customers, because it is a masterpiece of engineering. Of course, translated into a something that can be sold for a reasonable, if not premium price,” Domenicali added. “So, it will not be a kind of exotic bike like the Desmosedici, but a more regular high-end sport bike.”

Casey Stoner is set to make some form of return to MotoGP. The Australian is to switch back from Honda to Ducati, taking on a role as test rider for the Italian firm. There is a chance that Stoner could also be given one or more wildcard rides on Ducati’s MotoGP bike.

The news comes after a series of rumors and stories, starting with the German language website Speedweek, and culminating with unofficial confirmation from Israeli TV MotoGP commentator Tammy Gorali.

One of the greatest privileges of my job is to stand at trackside and watch the riders up close. It is the ideal antidote to the malaise that can affect journalists like myself, who tend to spend too much time indoors, in the press room, in the back of garages, and in team trucks and hospitality units, endlessly talking to people in pursuit of information.

Walking out to Nieto, Peluqui, and Crivillé, Turns 9, 10 and 11 at Jerez, savoring the passion of the fans cheering as their favorite riders pass by, observing each rider closely as they pass, trying to see if I can see anything, learn anything, understand anything about the way the best motorcycle racers in the world handle their machines.

There is plenty to see, if you take the trouble to look. This morning, during warm up, I watched the riders brake and pitch their machines into Turn 9, give a touch of gas to Turn 10, before getting hard on the gas out of Turn 10 and onto the fast right-handers of 11 and 12.

In the transition from the left of Turn 8 to the right of Turn 9, you see the fast riders move slowly across the bike, while the slow riders move fast. You see them run on rails through Turns 9 and 10, before forcing the bike up onto the fatter part of the tire while still hanging off the side out of 10 and heading off to 11.

You see the extreme body position on the bike, almost at the limit of physics. It is hard to see how a rider can hang off the bike further, outside hands barely touching the handlebars, outside feet almost off the footpegs.

Photos and video barely start to do the riders justice. To experience it you need to see it from the track, and from the stands and hillsides that surround it.

As had been widely expected, Ducati will not have the GP15 ready for the first test at Sepang, in early February. In an interview with the MotoGP.com website, due to be shown on 19th January, Ducati Corse boss confirmed that work was still underway on the all-new bike; and that instead, Ducati will be bringing an uprated version of last year’s bike, dubbed the GP14.3, to test aspects of the new design not requiring the new engine. The delays have been trailed by both Dall’Igna and Paolo Ciabatti, speaking to the media at the Valencia test and at the Superprestigio dirt track event in December. The GP15 is a completely new bike, designed from the ground up, with a completely redesigned engine.

With so many MotoGP regulars either racing in or attending the Superprestigio in Barcelona, it was inevitable that a fair amount of gossip and rumor would end up circulating.

It was the first chance for some of the media to talk to riders who had been testing down in Southern Spain, while the presence of Ducati’s MotoGP bosses Paolo Ciabatti and Davide Tardozzi, attending as guests of Troy Bayliss, added real weight to the debate.

I spoke briefly to Ciabatti on Saturday, asking about progress with the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 and how Michelin testing had gone. Ciabatti was optimistic about the GP15, but confirmed that it was still not certain exactly when the bike would make its first appearance on track.

It may not be ready for the first Sepang test in February, with the second Sepang a more likely place for the bike to be rolled out.