Italian Passion – Interview with Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse’s Sporting Director 0

ducatiThe last few years for Ducati Corse have been difficult especially in 2013, when everything didn’t seem to go according to plan. Ducati Corse didn’t get any decent results, either in MotoGP or in Superbike (Championships) but things have been looking extremely positive recently and the Motor Culture crew catch up with Mr Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse’s Sporting Director to find out more about their resurgence.

How was your season for motogp 14?

So, we began this season with some good results in the testing here in Sepang and especially on Philip Island. The season started in a promising way but we were still quite far at the end of the race from the race leaders. We got a good podium in Austin with Andrea Dovizioso, which was really a boost for our confidence in that we were working in the right direction and we kept working hard throughout the season. As you may know, we are allowed more freedom from the regulations so we can keep developing our bike throughout the season. We can use 12 engines; we do not have any limitation on engine development throughout the season; we also have a softer tyre choice and we can use up to 24 litres and, on top of these, we can test anywhere with our factory riders, but I think this regulation is helping manufacturers who need to close the gap to the top, and this also applies to companies like Suzuki or Aprilia who will join MotoGP next year. Now, being able to do all this development work we have done throughout the season, we came to the point where, finally, our target was to be able to finish the race within 10 seconds of the winner which we thought was a possible target even though (it was) quite ambitious. And we finally managed to be within 10 seconds and also 5 seconds of the winner and get some more podium finishes in Assen with Dovizioso and then we got 3rd position with Crutchlow in Aragon and, actually, in Aragon, we think we could also have won the race if Dovizioso had not crashed, but that’s racing and obviously… Unfortunately, something similar happened last Sunday on Philip Island where Cal Crutchlow was really riding an extremely good race and unfortunately to our disappointment and his disappointment, he crashed on the last lap when he was clear 2nd. But the results show, so we are quite pleased to have reached this competitive level now. We see the other manufacturers, Honda and Yamaha, as true competitors and we will keep this hard work going.

How is the development for your GP coming along?

In the meantime, obviously the GP14 was evolved into the GP14.2 which is very similar, but we redesigned a part of the engine so we could make the frame a little bit narrower and give the bike better ergonomics thus giving us more freedom also to move the engine within the frame to find setup solutions that were not possible previously but our main task is to develop the new bike – the GP15 – which is underway. It’s going to be a brand new bike – brand new engine, smaller bike, more compact, still 90-degrees, still Desmo, but not much in common with the current bike. This bike is a little bit late because it’s a very comprehensive development work and we will test it for the first time here in Sepang in February. We know we are a little bit late, but on the other hand, this bike is very crucial for our future so we prefer to be maybe a little bit late with the right bike than rushing with development to come out earlier and then having to fix some problems, so we take the risk of being late when the other manufacturers will already have tested their bikes like they already did and for sure in Valencia, after the race they will be testing their new Honda and their new Yamaha. We know we still have a few months to work on the bike but it’s going to be good for you (members of the press) because the first time the new bike will be seen by anyone will be here in February, so it could be an exciting opportunity maybe to meet again together and speak about our new GP15.

Tell us more about your rider line up for 2015

As you know also, we will have a new rider in the factory team, Andrea Iannone, so we’re going to have, for the first time, Italian riders in the Ducati team in MotoGP. Unfortunately, we had to split with Cal Crutchlow. We wanted very much for Cal to be in the team, and he, too, wanted very much to join Ducati, but for some reason he had a very difficult approach with the bike and in July he received an offer from a private Honda team and so, he asked to be released. At that point, we thought maybe it was good for him to try a new adventure with a different brand and for us also to consolidate the team with Andrea Iannone who had been consistent and very, very fast throughout the season. We’re think we’re going to have a very good combination of 2 Italian riders with totally different characters, and also very different approaches. Obviously, Dovizioso has more experience; he’s very precise, very good in communicating all the feedback to the engineers. Iannone’s also good at that, but he’s younger, he’s very talented, very fast, sometimes makes a few mistakes but I think still acceptable and it’s only his 2nd season in MotoGP and he’s not really afraid of any other rider. He thinks he is as fast as anybody else and, potentially, we think he can be one of the fastest riders in MotoGP, so we think we have 2 very good riders and we are very, very confident that, with them and the new bike, we can probably get closer to our final target which is to be able to win races again and eventually challenge for the championship.

Having mentioned about power, is the Ducati still the king in terms of horsepower?

I wish I knew the horsepower of the other manufacturers. I don’t, but I know that our figures are very, very impressive. I cannot mention the numbers, unfortunately, but we definitely have very powerful engines. Normally, we have best top speeds as well with old riders so here in Sepang I’m pretty sure we will surprise a little bit with our top speed.

What are your thoughts on MotoGP switching their official tyre manufacturer to Michelin for all teams? Is it a good thing or bad thing?

First of all, I must say that we have a very good relationship with Bridgestone. Obviously, we won the championship in 2007 on Bridgestone with Casey and they’ve been supplying first-class quality throughout the years. Now, changing to a different tyre manufacturer is always a big change. It’s a change for everyone, but these, in combination with the common software for everyone, we think it might be an opportunity to equalise a little bit more with the competition. Normally, when there is such a big change we are able to get some quick reaction. Having said that, obviously Michelin is very keen on having the perfect tyre for next season, so next year we will be testing with Honda and Yamaha at the 15 races, after 15 GPs on Monday so you know out of 18 rounds, 15 on Monday, it will be either of the 2 manufacturers so we decided to split. It will be Honda and Yamaha, and Yamaha or Ducati and Honda like 8 GP Mondays for each one but it also means that Michelin comes into 2016 with a tyre that has been already thoroughly tested on every circuit. Obviously also the size, 17 inches, it’s interesting to note that the tyre is a key factor in terms of the behaviour of the bike. In the past, when it was free to use the tyre of your choice, many problems with the behaviour of the bike would be solved by asking a manufacturer to make a specific tyre. Now this is not possible. I think it’s a good decision to have one brand only, so everybody’s on equal material and if you’re a factory team or a private team, you get the same material and I think this is good for the show. So with all respect to Bridgestone, we see the switch to Michelin as maybe an opportunity for us to better interpret the new tyre, and we’ll see, but for sure it’s good. It’s a big change for 2016 and big changes sometimes also make the race more interesting, less predictable. Obviously it’s complex – the bike, the tyres, the riders. You have a rider with super good form like Marquez has been, still the fastest definitely but making some mistakes now, maybe overconfident sometimes, you know. As another example, Valentino is doing great, and also when Lorenzo started the season, he was not in form yet, the wrong physical training throughout the winter but now he’s very strong as well so it’s so many factors, and some factors are not engineered, it’s human beings like the riders.

Can you share with us how it is like to run a MotoGP team as a manager, the difficulties that you go through, the challenges. I know, it’s a difficult question…

It’s a difficult question because there is no magic recipe for that. First of all, you have to remember that you are working with human beings, a group of people and we work under extreme stress. For example, here we’ve been away for almost 3 weeks now from home so obviously it’s okay because we also enjoy our time sometimes. It was my birthday on Monday so we celebrated on Saturday night on Philip Island, a big party with all the mechanics and all the riders, everyone… So you know also because we like to share some happy moments and relax so it was a lot of beer, a lot of wine before the race, but I think you need to surround yourself with people you trust and these people also have to understand, to feel the mood of the group of people, because sometimes there are difficult moments, sometimes there is friction so you need to always be there and try to understand and try to calm down and solve small problems because they can become big problems and I think in the end all the people working in the team have a great passion because this is a work that you can only do well if you really like what you’re doing. Okay, money can be good or less good, but you know if you are so far away from home, so many compromises on your personal life and family and so on, you need to like it and once you understand that people do this because they have a special passion and if you’re a little bit of a psychologist and understand them, it’s not so difficult to smoothen out the sharp edges and make everybody work in the same direction. As I’ve said, I don’t think there is really a rule on how to make it happen. It’s based on experience, on trying to look and understand how people feel while they work and try to keep a good balance with everybody and make them feel comfortable to work under stressful conditions but towards the same goal. And, obviously, good results help, because when you do all of this and the results don’t come, like last year, it’s very difficult to keep the motivation because people are working hard, people are giving 100% of what they can, but still you go nowhere and, until you can show them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, then obviously they need the motivation because they see that what they do is little by little bringing some results. Now this season is much happier for us, we managed to get podium finishes, we are closer to the race winner in terms of time gap. We enjoy what we do because we can see on the track the results and this is also a key factor because you can be as good as you want, but if you keep doing the same thing and getting no results, then the frustration will be too much. But as I’ve said, we are in a much better position this year than we were in last year.

One more question: We know Honda and Yamaha are rivals, so with Aprilia coming in, will there be an Italian rivalry between you guys?

In the end, I think we are happy there are two more manufacturers next year. To be totally honest, Aprilia is taking a first step with the current evolution of the current bike, and eventually they will have a real MotoGP bike for 2016. As you know, the current bike is mostly based on the superbike, the ART is an evolution of an engine of the Aprilia superbike and obviously they will pull a thing or two from their WSBK bike and so on, but I think for them next year is going to be a learning year, so we welcome them in the series. Obviously, there will be more rivalry where they will be seen as a real contender. With all due respect, I think next year is going to be difficult for them to be stepping up. But in the end, we know that our target is Honda and Yamaha at the moment, and we look at them more than anybody else because they have been winning championships and races every year. Our target is really to do a top job against these two manufacturers. So, with all due respect to Aprilia, we are looking at Honda and Yamaha.

[box]COVER MCA MY 28 Article contributed by Motor Culture Asia.
Excerpt from Motor Culture Issue 28 Malaysia[/box]

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