Eight Ducatis can help race – but hurt title fight
Although it sounds like a facet of an entirely different MotoGP era than what we have now, not too long ago the Ducati was a relatively inflexible bike that could only really compete on a few tracks.
But at one of those tracks, the Red Bull Ring, the Desmosedicis rocket was in a league of its own.
There were, as now, plenty of Ducatis on the grid at that time. In 2016, eight of them were competing full-time – and with Michele Pirro joining as Red Bull Ring wild card, LCR Honda’s Cal Crutchlow felt that all nine Ducatis should have been ahead of the other factories, and berated his fleet of runners for failing to achieve that 1-9 sweep.
For 2022, MotoGP will again face eight Ducatis – but the Desmosedici is no longer an obvious dominant at the Red Bull Ring. The trade-off, however, has been that it becomes an eternal victory threat everywhere – and while the 2016 fleet was half made up of two-year-old bikes, this year Ducati will have more factory race machines than older ones. . .
MotoGP promoter Dorna’s preferred scenario would have been four bikes for each brand, but Suzuki not capitalizing on VR46 interest and Gresini choosing Ducati over Aprilia has created the lopsided grid where a third will be Desmosedicis.
Still, it will unquestionably be better for day-to-day show than it was when Ducati had an eight-bike fleet in the past. The relative parity of the machines – Ducati’s older Desmosedicis are expected to remain competitive – means the extra Ducatis will add to the fierceness of the competition rather than work from the rear.
If you’re familiar with motor racing, you’ll recognize it as a departure from the DTM formula (especially the previous generation), where a manufacturer’s extensive presence provides a shortcut that ensures competition depth almost by itself- same. Watching Pramac, VR46 and Gresini mingle with all sorts of factory teams – including Ducati – will be a delight.
There is clearly an awareness, bordering on apprehensive, within MotoGP that this will make the challenge from Ducati’s rivals even more difficult. Take Joan Mir’s alarmed reaction to being blown by the Ducatis in the Valencia finale, or KTM rider Miguel Oliveira’s description of the Desmosedici as a “pretty complete bike” even on “tracks where you would have thought they would not perform as well”.
“The feeling is that they have new tires and we are on used tires, and they are able to use the acceleration phases much more effectively, the cornering phases, the braking is incredible now,” said Oliveira, also after the Valencia final.
“It’s hard to compete. We’re talking about six bikes that are in the top 10. It leaves very little room for others, it’s a tough competition, that’s for sure.
The Ducatis tend to get off the line well, are fast in a straight line, don’t chew their tires as dramatically anymore and, most importantly, are a great bike to do Q2 on.
Average presence in Q2 in 2021
Ducati – 3.9 bikes
Yamaha – 2.3 bikes
Honda – 2.2 bikes
Suzuki – 1.7 bikes
KTM – 1.3 bikes
Aprilia – 1.1 bikes
That it leads the manufacturers in terms of Q2 average places is no surprise given that it had the most bikes, but the trend of the season paints a more interesting picture – Ducati has averaged a pretty worrying 4.6 bikes in Q2 in the last 10 races of the season. .
Part of that had to do with Yamaha’s depth issue – the exit of Maverick Vinales and the long-term injury struggle of Franco Morbidelli – but it’s also pretty clear that the improved performance of its two rookies on machines of two years played a role.
So it’s not so much Ducati’s extension to eight riders that’s of concern, as the two newcomers are just that – even though Fabio Di Giannantonio put in a pretty convincing Jerez test for Gresini.
The most important factor is that Enea Bastianini and Luca Marini at VR46 now have better equipment and more knowledge on how to get the most out of it.
Take Marina. He will be the fifth rider on a factory-spec Ducati this year, and although his rookie season was quiet, he scored his first start at the front row. His glaring problem was lack of longevity in races, which he admitted was partly due to physical preparation – but even if he doesn’t completely crack it, it will be easier.
Although proper sim-racing work will only come at the Sepang test, Marini was already clear when testing a Desmosedici GP21 at Jerez that the bike – which will obviously be closer to what he’s riding this year than his old GP19 – was “a bit easier” to ride, offering “more cornering and more grip on the edges”.
Asked by The Race then if that would therefore be helpful in addressing his weak running pace, he replied: “Yeah, yeah, I agree, it will definitely be like that.”
Marini was significantly outperformed by Bastianini overall in 2021, but his starting position average of 14.3 compares favorably to Bastianini’s 15.8.
But while Bastianini admits his qualifying form of 21 was “a disaster”, his relentless progress through the order on Sunday means “the expectation is high” – which Ducati technical chief Gigi Dall’Igna corroborated. during the launch of Gresini MotoGP by suggesting that Bastianini was expected. to be “a protagonist” of the coming season.
And of course! Bastianini will only have a GP21 at his disposal, but it remains a stellar bike that will receive some further development this year. And for qualifying, Bastianini is already convinced that “with this bike for me it will be easier to do the fastest lap”.
“When you push you can make mistakes and in the end not waste a lot of time, and that’s important,” he said.
“But also when I tried that, I also saw more braking power, I could brake later and with less movement, and for qualifying that’s key.”
All of which suggests that Marini and Bastianini will evolve into much more regular Q2 threats this year. And that’s, in theory, bad news for those who spent much of the last year sneaking into the pole vault shootout.
To determine who those riders were, I counted each time a rider was ninth or 10th in the top 10 of the combined practice standings that determine automatic Q2 spots, or one of the two riders to advance from Q1.
Mostly “sneaking” in the second quarter of 2021
Pol Espargaro (Honda) – 6
Joan Mir (Suzuki) – 5
Brad Binder (KTM) – 5
Mark Marquez (Honda) – 5
Valentino Rossi (Yamaha Petronas) – 4
Jack Miller (Ducati) – 4
John Zarco (Pramac Ducati) – 4
jorge martin (Pramac Ducati) – 4
Alex Rins (Suzuki) – 4
Miguel Oliveira (KTM) – 4
Takaaki Nakagami (CRL Honda) – 4
Luca Marini (VR46 Ducati) – 4
Aside from the predictable presence of the two factory KTMs and the two Suzukis, it’s worth noting that Honda’s Pol Espargaro leads the order. Espargaro seems very happy with the revised bike that Honda is bringing for 2022, but it’s probably no coincidence that he recently spoke out off the top of the threat posed by Ducati’s expansion.
“We saw last year that the Ducatis are super strong on the straight, they’re key to overtaking and battling in races,” Espargaro said earlier this month.
“If we want to have a good season there will be more Ducatis on the grid, so that means we have to be faster on the straights to fight them, to recover positions or to defend them.
But in the end more competition isn’t a problem – and as good as the Ducatis, in particular Francesco Bagnaia, were at the end of last year, there is still no indication that they have the potential. to dominate the way Honda did in the late 1990s. is not possible in modern MotoGP.
In other words, don’t expect a boring season just because there are more reliable and fast Dukes.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to worry about. What if, for example, Bagnaia were level on points with Fabio Quartararo or Mir or Marc Marquez heading into the home stretch of the races, with most other Ducatis excluded for the title?
We’ve already seen Jack Miller try to help his teammate win the title last year – but that precisely didn’t bother anyone, given that Miller went about it perfectly fair and Bagnaia was far from catching. Quartararo and needed all the help he could get.
But what if he, or Miller, or Martin, or whoever is leading Ducati’s charge, faces a title clash against a rival who, by definition, doesn’t have the same range of mates? competitive stables?
We already saw in last year’s DTM how a manufacturer – in this case Mercedes – can use its disproportionate presence on the grid to manufacture a title victory at the expense of its smaller rival. Ducati would probably never be so blunt about it, as it’s just not the way of MotoGP, but he absolutely must be salivating at the thought of a first riders’ title since 2007.
And having a fleet of support bikes that race tougher rival riders than they race your “chosen one”? That can be quite a thumbs up on the scale.