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.
The appointment of Puig did not come as a surprise. Puig has a long and storied history with Honda, having raced for them in 500GPs, then moving on to a variety of management roles associated with Honda.
Puig was instrumental in the Movistar Cup, the series from which a vast array of talent came, including Casey Stoner, Dani Pedrosa, Toni Elias, and much more.
He went on to become Dani Pedrosa’s personal manager, before moving on to run the Honda Asia Talent Cup and work with the British Talent Team in recent seasons.
But this appointment also marks a break with recent history. Alberto Puig is a very different character to Livio Suppo, who he nominally replaces.
Another day, and another MotoGP team launch (there’s a bevy of launches over the next few days, if you didn’t already know). Today, it was Ducati Corse’s time to shine, with the Italian brand’s MotoGP team taking the stage in Bologna.
As was the case with the Yamaha MotoGP team launch, the bike on display was last year’s model, with new a livery. But, the event did give us our first chance to see Jorge Lorenzo in his new Ducati colors, and it was an opportunity to hear the 2015 World Champion talk about his new home at Ducati Corse.
Much of the launch focused on the collegial atmosphere inside Ducati Corse – an interesting topic to focus upon – with Lorenzo echoing the feeling of hope and progress, also talking extensively about the collaboration inside the MotoGP team.
The comments were interesting because of the contrast they present to the former teammates of Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo. One thing is clear though, Ducati expects strong results for the 2017 season, and they are taking the matter very seriously.
As such, don’t expect to see the team’s new aerodynamic package until the first session of the Qatar GP. Until then, enjoy the bounty of high-resolution photos we have of the Ducati Desmosedici GP in its 2017 livery, after the jump.
Indian Motorcycles is getting into a flat track racing in a big way. We have already seen the American brand’s purpose-built race bike, the Indian Scout FTR750, which looks quite the business with its purpose-built 750cc v-twin race engine.
Now, we get word that Indian will have an all-star team of riders competing on the Indian Scout FTR750, with Bryan Smith, Brad Baker, and Jared Mees lined up to be Indian’s new three-man “wrecking crew” on the race track.
As expected, Romano Fenati has been formally released from his contract with the Sky VR46 team. The Italian was suspended from the team after an incident at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. That was a temporary measure, but it has now been made permanent.
Fenati was released for behavioral issues. The Italian had been abusive towards members of the team, and had not behaved in a professional manner.
The incident in Austria was just the latest in a long line of breaches of behavioral conduct, which included confirmed reports of verbal abuse and unconfirmed and unsubstantiated reports of physical conflict.
Romano Fenati will not be on the starting grid at the Austrian round of MotoGP on Sunday. The Italian has been suspended by his team for “repeated behavior not in line with the disciplinary rules of a team.”
Though the team has not made a statement on the exact reason for suspending Fenati, there are reports of repeated bad behavior by Fenati in the team.
Motorsport states that Fenati became abusive towards his crew during qualifying at the Red Bull Ring, and this was the final straw.
It is hard to overstate just how important the relationship between a motorcycle racer and his crew chief is. A rider must have complete confidence that his crew chief both understands what he needs from a motorcycle to go fast, and is capable of giving it to him.
A crew chief must be able to interpret the sometimes confusing and mixed signals from his rider, filter out the non-essential information, identify priorities from that which will offer the greatest gains, and assign the work to the rest of the crew in the garage.
There has to be complete trust between the two, or neither rider nor bike will achieve their full potential.
This was made all too apparent when I interviewed Ecstar Suzuki rider Aleix Espargaro and his crew chief Tom O’Kane for a story I wrote recently for the Dutch publication MOTOR Magazine, due out later this month.
One part of the interview which did not make it into the magazine was the relationship between Espargaro and O’Kane, and how they first started working together. However, it is a story which offers a fascinating insight into how a rider and their crew chief work together.
In a few hours time, we will know who will be the 2014 World Superbike champion. Tom Sykes leads Sylvain Guintoli by 12 points going into the final two races at Qatar. With 50 points up for grabs, the title race is still completely open, and in a series as close as World Superbikes has been this year, anything could happen.
What both Sykes and Guintoli need are help from their teammates. Guintoli most of all: if the Frenchman is to be champion, he will need someone, such as his Aprilia teammate Marco Melandri, to get in between him and the Kawasaki of Sykes.
Sykes, on the other hand, can wrap up the title by winning both races, or at least finishing ahead of Guintoli. If he can’t finish ahead of the Frenchman, then he will hope that his teammate Loris Baz can assist.
As loyal teammates, surely Melandri and Baz will be happy to help? That was only partially the case at the last round in Magny-Cours. In race one, Melandri theatrically waved Guintoli past and into the lead, making it patently obvious that victory was Melandri’s to dispense as he saw fit, and he was prepared to allow his teammate to win this time.
Further back, Baz did the same same for Sykes, though without making quite as much of a song and dance about it as Melandri did.
Race two was a different affair. Once again, Melandri led, and could grant victory to Guintoli if he wanted to. He chose not to, taking the win – despite his pit board making the feelings of his team very clear indeed, for the second race in a row – and taking 5 precious points from Guintoli.
If Melandri had obeyed team orders and moved over, then Guintoli would have trailed Sykes by 7 points instead of 12. That would put Guintoli’s destiny in his own hands: win both races, and it would not matter what Sykes did.
Now, Guintoli needs help, he needs someone between him and the Englishman. Will his teammate come to his rescue this time? Will the Aprilia WSBK team issue team orders again, commanding Melandri to serve the cause of Guintoli’s championship challenge? At the core of this is a much bigger question: Is motorcycle racing a team sport?
One of the two final missing pieces of the 2014 MotoGP line up has been filled in. Today, the Paul Bird Motorsport team announced it would be back in MotoGP next season, with a two-rider team and additional help from Aprilia.
The two riders will be Michael Laverty, who rode for Paul Bird’s PBM team in 2013, and Broc Parkes, who has spent most of his career racing in World Supersport and World Superbikes.
Though the press release issued stated that the team will be racing ‘PBM Aprilias’, it is still uncertain exactly what Laverty and Parkes will be riding.