Rossi and Ducati: Quo Vadis?
What happened, last Sunday, between Rossi and Ducati?
In my opinion, some small details put together could provide us with enough information to speculate about the situation in Ducati, beeing aware that it is not possible to completely understand what the situation is like in Ducati, since we are only "outside observer".
The bike is not so bad.
Fact: 1000cc bikes did not often improve 800cc lap times - fuel restriction being equal to 21L for both. Actually Ducati, though still far from the top, did it - at least with Hayden. We believe this proves that the GP12 is already a step ahead with respect to the different versions of the GP11 brought on track previously(Here is the report of the changes that have affected the "Red" in 2011).
During the test in Valencia, in November 2011, Ducati tested 3 frames (as Barbera confirmed to me on Twitter cam).
The first one had a sort of lower slot to allow the engine to be moved inside the aluminum frame designed for the future GP12.
The second one, choosen by Rossi, had no slot.
The third one was a frame rejected by Rossi (perhaps given to Barberà as "waste"? Or perhaps "chosen" by the Spanish?). The one chosen by Rossi for the race gave an advantage (even if small) to Hayden over Barbera, in terms of lap times.
Rossi, for what concerns me, needs a separate discussion.
In November 2011, Ducati spent the days immediately after the test to analyze all the data and they decided to put everything on paper. In Sepang, the GP12 makes its debut; compared to the bike used by Rossi in Valencia, there is a new frame, the engine is tilted and the fuel tank is located under the saddle, never seen before (see my article about changes to the GP12 , acknowledged by Preziosi).
And now back at the factory in Bologna. I DO NOT KNOW how long it takes to build an engine and put it into production, where "production" means the minimum lot size to meet the MotoGP regulations (6 engines for each bike, plus the spare parts for the frame and the engine - remember that the regulations do not allow working on the engine thermal parts).
I can speculate, based on some insiders’ opinion, that it takes several months to build a new engine: some months are needed for the design phase and some to understand the "right" casting preocedure before the engine goes to the test stand to check power and reliability.
Why a new engine?
During the Sepang test, looking carefully at the pictures, I saw clearly that the engine of the GP12 was actually tilted backward. In contrast with my hypothesis, the bike was an adaptation to the original base frame, with a change to the oil sump only: I supposed that bike was only a "test dummy", because it was unusual that a Ducati engine was running with a recovery pipe attached directly to the oil sump (clear proof that that the oil did not reach properly the engine bank). It was obvious to infer that the next step would be an "ad hoc" engine, ie with a straight crankcase instead of a tilted one, realized by moving the L-shaped cylinders (that was nearly horizontal on the GP11).
The tests at Sepang went well (considering that the bike was built in a hurry) with statements of satisfaction from both the drivers, at least for the ease of operation and driveability.
The team returns to Bologna but, as Guido Meda stated in a comment to one of my articles, the bikes remain in Sepang. Why? Didn’t they have anything to work on, in Bologna, except for a new software tested at Jerez?
"Strange. Very strange.", that’s what I thought.
From that moment, I started thinking that maybe, in Bologna, they were really working on the final engine and frame. What did they do in the second test session in Sepang? In addition to testing new software on the TC, they have worked on different shapes of the tank lid to allow Rossi to shift the body weight to load the rear: so is the frame wrong? It seemed that in this version you could move the engine as required to achieve the best balance, but it is possible that the placement of the fuel tank under the saddle pulled the rag out from under Ducati. The detail of the tank made me think the bike was not the final one.
"This is the bike we will use in 2012," said Rossi, while Barbera, at the same time, spoke of a new bike coming after 4 or 5 races. What does this mean? Is Ducati working on a new engine since they have found that the current positioning improves the situation? It would seem so - hopefully they are already working on the final bike that, at this point, we can call GP12.1.
But why a new engine? All tests were done with engines (wether they are 1000cc or 930cc, we still don’t know ) whose original displacement was 800cc and then brought to 1000cc while holding the internal bore fixed and changing few details to achieve the desired stroke. As a matter of fact, the engine is designed to have a supporting function, so too robust to handle the required twists and loads.
Let's step back: the transition from carbon to aluminum resulted in a disadvantage in terms of weight, which has given rise to a suspicion that Ducati was behind the request to increase the minimum weight regulation. the new aluminum frame weight has increased by a few kg. with respect to the the carbon structure. How to balance the extra weight? Working on the engine, of course - an engine so strong, stiff and heavy is no longer needed, since now there is a frame.
So it is time to build the engine all over again. When does the new project start? After the second test session at Sepang. How long does it take to build a certain number of engines with new specifications and a frame with correct stiffness and measures? Eeeeeehhhhh ... Will Rossi have to race with this bike until the new one comes out? Yes, unfortunately. Is there a next step? Yes, as Rossi confirmed in the interview to Cereghini. They were talking about the frame, sure, but the logic suggests a less bulky and lighter engine.
Below the frame used at the second sepang test. It was a lighter frame, in order to lower the stiffness
Why Ducati is not doing private tests now that the bike is new? Could they try to improve? Or do they have already scheduled tests for the final version to avoid wasting time and money on the old bike? Everybody is wondering about it . The answer leads to my hypothesis and is within it.
Today, Motomatters twitted that Ducati may have already finished the budget, and that there can’t be a new engine without completely busting the budget. Does Rossi know it and does it explain Rossi's tension? Is he 'tired’ of waiting? It may be but, if things are really as we have described, Valentino had to know since the beginning. Ducati has done a lot of work, but had to take the necessary steps. Make an engine without knowing if it's okay? It’s better to check the theories first and then start working. Ducati, at this point, however, is not one year late, but one year and a half.
What’s next? Will Rossi and Ducati break up? Will Rossi be thrown out? It 's important, at this point, to figure out on which side the tobacco sponsors is going to line up; but in Bologna there’s trouble brewing. That’s what I think.
But is it true that Ducati has gone out of budget? I guess Rossi’s detractors think that all the money were used to pay him, and that’s why the “bill” to pay is now so high. I do not think so. In Bologna they do not depend on cigarettes only – there is a huge list of sponsors supporting this project. Probably, they’re waiting for Audi's the take-over to be completed, perhaps with the idea of leveraging on Lamborghini to build a new engine. Science fiction? We will see. Lamborghini is owned by Audi, Audi and Lamborghini are owned by Volkswagen ... and Lamborghini is closer than Germany.
As usual, this is a puzzle that I have reconstructed from pieces that are statement of fact, following my logic - we are dealing with hypotheses. Some may even think this is all a nonsense - maybe, but it is so easy to blame one or the other without taking into account the two sides of the story: the reason lies somewhere in between.
Alberto Porta (Mediaset journalist) talking about the tank modified to move the weight toward the bike’s rear, with Rossi still complaining about the lack of feeling on the front, indirectly confirm my hypothesis.
Yes, hypotheses - from Malaga pubblishing certainties is very difficult, same as in Italy.
In Malaga weather is getting better. In Bologna probably not.
Thanks to Gianpaolo Filippa for the translation