On Sunday at the Circuit of the Americas, Andrea Dovizioso overcame the effects of the flu and a fourth-row starting position to battle his way to Ducati’s first MotoGP podium position since Valentino Rossi finished as runner-up at Misano in 2012.
Dovizioso’s heroic effort continued the general feeling that Ducati’s fortunes in motorcycling’s premier category are finally on the rise following several embarrassing seasons that tainted multiple legacies and resulted in a complete overhaul of the program.
Of course, it also fuels the debate concerning Ducati’s decision to utilize the open regulations as opposed to those available to factory-backed teams.
In order to make the difficult development climb needed to slash the gap separating the Italian firm from Honda and Yamaha, Ducati went with the option that provides a leg up both now and in the future.
On the surface, the open rules appear to penalize teams with its standard ECU, a downside which is substantially offset in the other direction by allowing access to softer tires, greater fuel capacity, more engines, and unlimited testing.
Of course, the conspiracy theorists were out in force when Ducati’s decision to ‘go open’ coincided with the introduction of considerably more advanced ‘standard’ Magneti Marelli software for 2014. Software, it so happens, that was developed by Ducati and so advanced that no other open class team was able to use it.
In other words, it certainly looked like Ducati had worked the system to their advantage and, against the spirit of the rules, found a way to leverage all of the advantages of both factory and open categories, while being subjected to none of the disadvantages. They got their Tiramisu and ate it too.
In response to the subsequent outcry, the rules were further adjusted. Ducati was allowed to start the season in this state (well, not “Ducati” in the language of the rulebook but rather “a Manufacturer with entries under the factory option who has not achieved a win in dry conditions in the previous year” –which is just a long way to writing Ducati). However, should Ducati win a race, earn two seconds, or score three more podiums in the dry, the team will be stripped of some of its fuel advantage. And should Dovi and teammate Cal Crutchlow combine to win three races in the dry, they’d lose the softer tire option as well.
But after landing on the podium for the first time as a Ducati entry, Dovizioso used the platform to clarify the situation. He says the decision was not about the near-term advantages — the fuel and tires — but rather selecting the path that was required to make up ground over the long term — specifically, the ability to test and develop the much-maligned Ducati Desmosedici during the season.
Dovizioso said, “I want to say, many people are thinking the new rules give us the possibility to reach this speed, but it’s not like this. Sure, it gives us something positive, but this year we are faster because we improved the balance of the bike. The real reason we decide to use these rules is to have the possibility to test and change the engine of the bike during the season.”
Even if Ducati maximizes its advantages and has its fuel and tire options cut, it will still be allowed the greater developmental tools.
It appears to have been a wise choice — at least if Ducati proves capable of making good use of the opportunity. Ducati’s development has been scattershot in recent seasons as they’ve simultaneously attempted to hold onto their identity and pursue paths shown the way by Yamaha and/or Honda.
And of course, Yamaha, and particularly Honda, represent very fast moving targets. But at least this better-balanced Desmosedici is now moving a bit faster as well.