This article will highlight some facts that occurred between 2011 and 2012, relating to the negotiation of the purchase of Ducati by Audi.
A lot has already written about this, but some elements appear to be inconsistent, so I thought it was worth exploring it in more detail. So what are we investigating? Mainly we are trying to understand why Ducati seems not to have been able to follow the development program and steps envisioned for 2012 with the new GP12.
Obviously the argument rests on assumptions, but based on facts that give sense to this article, also considering the financial reasons we will touch (the property switch of Ducati), I turned to a more experienced friend in this area: an economics teacher who teaches in a school in Switzerland.
Has the transfer of ownership of Ducati caused lags in the GP program? This is what I will try to demonstrate, quoting as usual the links that support my statements, in order to bring coherence to my hypothesis.
The story might begin when the investing group Investindustrial of Andrea Bonomi, owner of Ducati shares, decides that the time is ripe for action. In August 2011 he instructs Goldman Sachs to review the value of Ducati if it were to enter into the Hong Kong stock market (a place that has previously welcomed luxury brands where they can be listed with relative ease). In this way, in addition to an evaluation of the market value of the company, he opened the door to the possible fresh capital to proceed to new investments and the broadening of Ducati activities.
Meanwhile, the 2011 Ducati MotoGP season ends as we know, with the high expectations set for January 2012 for the presentation of the brand new GP12 in Madonna di Campiglio. But the bike, the day of its unveil isn’t there!
"What we are going to face is very challenging. From the concept of a bike to get to the first race it usually takes 2 years, our path will instead go into hyper-drive, we are confident of success. It is a courageous choice, but not impossible and Ducati has already proven that it can do it in the past. "
Asked if the bike that would be seen in Sepang would be a “workshop: bike, he said:
"No, I expect that it will be the base bike, after that we will introduce innovations in the course of the season but we won’t change it too much. During winter testing we define a sound basis so not to races as tests as it happened last year. From this point of view, the regulation will give us a hand, allowing some additional days of testing with the official riders."
The new GP12 made its first appearance at the first Sepang tests, conducted from January 29 to February 1, 2012.
What is new is the addition to the aluminum frame (developed after the Valencia test in November 2011) is the tilted back engine in order to find a better balance of the bike.
The results are not exciting, even though the first tests showed them to be less than a second slower than the opponents.
Considering that the Japanese competitors had grown their projects in years of experience, crafted them through years of victories, while the Ducati project is an “infant” of just 3 months, the gap could have been acceptable. What didn’t seem right were other things: the engine, that now is inclined (as I pointed out in other articles) appeared to have a modified oil pan with an oil recovery pipe on the sump. My hypothesis was that it served to lubricate a bank of the Desmo engine left starving for oil because of it’s new location.
It’s probably correct to assume that steps preprogrammed by Preziosi included the construction of a new engine with the same “new” 90 degree angle titled backwards but with a new bottom housing that would bring it back in the proper position, avoiding the use of the provisional oil recovery pipe
(and also - as pointed out recently by Burgess - a different position of the gearbox and therefore a new location of the pinion shaft to facilitate the movement of the motor inside the chassis).
The second test took place at Sepang in late February and early March 2012. The thing that struck me most was a comment of Guido Meda (Italian Moto GP commentator) to my article where he stated that the GP12 had not returned to Bologna, but remained in Sepang all the time! He also added that there were only 2 GP12 bikes, those brought to Sepang.
It seems strange that at the second Sepang test the only things that was teste was a new traction control software, already tested by Hector Berbara, Karela Abraham and Franco Battaini earlier during the Jerez test in February 2012.
The photos and news on the progress of the development of the GP12, which ran at Spang showed only 2 attempts to change the dummy fuel tank, to improve the balance of a still underdeveloped GP12.
Apparently they had no other updates.
But let’s return to the ownership of Ducati: in February 2012 Ducati knew its market value and in March 2012 it was announced that Audi had a purchase option on Ducati since February 2012. Il Sole 24 Ore (the main Italian financial newspaper) reported that the right of first refusal would be valid until April 2012.
On March 23, 2012 at the Jerez tests what developments had been made by Ducati? Apparently no one considered the complaints of Valentino Rossi and discussions about the correct set-up after disappointing time trials.
Summary: apparently between February 29th, and March 23rd, 2012, in Sepang, Ducati didn’t bring anything new apparently to try and reduce its gap from the Japanese competitors. What is the reason?
Back to my idea that Audi, after getting the right of first refusal on the purchase of Ducati, deliberately asked Ducati to freeze all spending not related to current development or investment, to have time to audit the accounts and corporate reserves until it’s mid-April decision to buy or not.
April 8, 2012 saw the first race of the season in Qatar. Rossi almost retired, complaining he could almost not ride the bike. The objection is that "... this is the Ducati you wanted ..." to which he replies:
"that isn’t exactly true, I gave directions on the problems, and indicated the areas of intervention. I unfortunately can not solve them alone, I’m not an engineer. "
I interpret the statement as a not-so-gentle "push" from Rossi to Ducati “immobility”, that is in turn purchased officially in April 18, 2012 by Audi. At this point it’s likely that finally Filippo Preziosi got the green light to resume the planned development.
Meanwhile AMG, which over the years had woven with Ducati "marketing" collaboration plans, announces the immediate termination of these relationships (remember that Mercedes controls AMG and they also were rumored to be one of the companies interested in acquiring Ducati, the same rumors even claimed some few months earlier that they were going to work together with Ducati for the development of the new GP engine ...).
During testing at Estoril on May 7, 2012 (canceled due to bad weather) Preziosi issued these statements:
"We wanted to experiment bike set-ups with Nicky, and at Mugello we should have some new components to improve critical aspects," and again: "as for the engine we wanted to try some internal changes to improve power delivery."
He added that: "... it is not a test for the sake of testing, it’s part of a larger project. This is only the first step in a series of changes that are planned over the next three tests at Mugello (May, June and July) and that will be dedicated to improving handling ... ", and concluded: "Therefore our goal is to arrive to Laguna Seca with a working package that we hope will be a significant step forward. We have different things we're working on, we are sure that some of these will produce an increase of feel because they’re really pretty standard fixes. The trick is to do them right, make them work, but they are well known solutions ... In the meantime we would like to punch a new engine at Silverstone with the new specifications to improve handling. "
What is Preziosi referring to? Probably to change in the engine and external components of the engine, as said in an interview with Neil Spalding on May 7, 2012. Spalding assumed that this is a new dual injection, that could work with the new generation of traction control (such as the Japanese have), able to "cut" the power by dosing the inflow of the fuel/air mixture rather than interrupting the spark, stopping the engine to generate additional ignitions.
Let’s recall the observations of Valentino Rossi about the impossibility of being able to accelerate when at full lean, contrary to what we already know the Japanese bikes can do, whilst complaining about the excessive aggressiveness of the power delivery at the slightest touch of the accelerator, which in turn, according Vittoriano Guareschi and Valentino Rossi, would also be the cause for the the "famous" under-steer the bike from Bologna has developed.
During the 24 May 2012 testing at Mugello, an aluminum swingarm was introduced to improve the feeling of the riders coming out of corners making for a better power transfer to the ground out of corners. Strangely Vittoriano Guareschi, during the race at Barcelona on June 3, 2012, speaking of the future test programmed for Aragon on June 6 2012, confirmed the test of the aluminum swingarm "thought since the Sepang test (!)" that occurred in March. These words are part of an interview with the Italian channel Mediaset 2 during free practice of the Catalan race. The new swingarm was however not used in the race.
Summary: from March 3, 2012 (second Sepang test) to 24 May 2012, Ducati only made one aluminum swingarm?
This is not likely: how can it take almost 3 months to put on the track only a new aluminum swingarm, when it took about 2 ½ months to deploy two new frames (this time is calculated from the from the design and implementation of the two frames after the analysis of data from the Valencia test concluded on 8 November 2011 to them being put on the track in Jerez by Carlos Checa for a test on January 16, to the shipment of the bikes to Sepang for the first test of 29 January 2012)
Returning to more recent times, the first Grand Prix of the Netherlands 30 June 2012 a rumor spread that Valentino Rossi had received a visit from some Audi executives saying that they would be honored to continue to work with the pilot, and highlighted the potential offered by the new property.
A statement of a close friend of Valentino Rossi spread at the same time, showing that the alleged confidences made to him by "Doctor", whereby the Audi bosses had made him an offer defined as "irresponsible". On that occasion, many people felt entitled to interpret this statement as a monetary stockpile of astronomical proportions, even more than 12 million per season, higher that what Rossi perceived by Ducati (by its sponsor), the same amount when he was racing for Yamaha.
Later statemnts made at Laguna Seca (July 29, 2012) clarify that the offer of Ducati was lower than that of 2011 but still higher than Yamaha’s.
After the race at Mugello (15 July 2012) the tests scheduled by Filippo Preziosi took place. The tests saw Nicky Hayden riding on Monday, and Rossi on Tuesday with his session interrupted because of faulty hardware.
Let’s remember that Preziosi on May 7th announced the arrival at the Grand Prix at Laguna Seca (July 29, 2012) of a final step, hoping for significant changes in performance of the GP12.
At Mugello Preziosi said that he had been working on a new weight distribution, changing the location of some units (placing them on the front) and modifying the design of the tank (introduced with the new GP12, positioning it as the Japanese bikes, under the saddle).
In the weeks before there was great talk about the future choices of Rossi with his possible renewal with Audi or its transition to his old flame, the Yamaha M1. In my article I expressed the opinion that the decision "would be made after testing at Mugello”, where he would presumably try “the new weight distribution, as well as the new injection tied to the traction control." "Bad luck" happened, and the test fell through, because - according to Filippo Preziosi - a hardware failure related to the new unit.
"It was a test virtually cut in half" – he admitted, and continues: - "It was a hardware problem, a new component of the unit. Now we will do all the necessary analysis to find out for sure what happened. "
How does this change your plans for Laguna Seca?
"In the United States we’ll punch in a new engine, the fourth, as programmed. This engine will be designed to fit the new mechanical components. Some will be equipped immediately; others will come in the next races, when we are sure they represent a real improvement. "
We will develop novel strategies that the new electronic control unit allows us, in order to improve the drivability".
As the test went wrong, in Laguna there were no steps introduced as originally desired by Preziosi.
Vittoriano Guareschi, during an interview at Italian TV Mediaset during practice, said that the engine had been punched in as required and ready to accommodate components planned for Laguna, but that would just have to happen in Indianapolis.
In the meantime, Gabriele del Torchio went to Laguna Seca with the intent to make an offer to Valentino Rossi to be stay in Ducati. Rossi reveals that the offer is less than 2012 but higher than Yamaha’s, reserving a week of time to decide, announcing that he would go on vacation (Ibiza, some supposed).
From the race at Laguna a week has passed and meanwhile rumors of seeing Masao Furusawa in Italy abounded, including a visit to the factory Ducati as his expressed desire for a long time. According to rumors in the Spanish press (Solomoto) and Italian (Motosprint) who publish this news in strange identical times, Furuswa after a chat with Preziosi, reserves a period of reflection to decide whether to collaborate on the development of this GP12.
In conclusion, currently Valentino Rossi has not yet given an answer, which I expect will arrive in Indianapolis after trying the final version of the GP12, with double injection (as described above) suggested by Spalding and that should help to solve the specific problems of power delivery when cornering.
Putting together all the facts described above (easily proven by the links) I confirm my hypothesis (already formulated months ago), the GP12 is a "traveling workshop", a "work in progress", of which, Audi's entrance to the stage blocked all development plans thought by Preziosi: in particular, this stop occurred between the Sepang test 1 (end of January 2012) and the Qatar test (beginning April 2012).
The stop of the GP12 program depended on developments from the need of the prospective purchaser to verify the accounts of Ducati, its activities and investments in current and future, in particular the Racing Department and future strategies.
This delay was added to a project that was 3 months old, that was already a year behind the competition that had been working on these new kind of components since 2011. Neil Spalding reports in his article that Honda needed 4 years and about 40 frames to make its bike competitive and balanced (the same goes for Yamaha).
Ducati, at the time, tried to play a "wildcard", from a more flexible frame (Estoril 2011) to a change in the whole project "in progress" and was used in the future GP12 "first version" equipped with a 800cc motor, until the adoption of the first aluminum frame occurred in Aragon 2011.
That was not the perimeter frame, but a “corrected” version, with connections between the subframe and engine no longer in carbon fiber but in aluminum. For details, see my articles in 2011 describing the evolution of the Ducati GP11 since Valentino Rossi got on it:
On 4 September 2011 in Misano, prying eyes photographed a project on paper made from mechanical cad cam in the hands of a Ducati mechanic, in which we could recognizes the future perimeter frame that was released officially in November of 2011 during testing at Valencia.
The events that took place from Valencia onwards, are outlined in this article that I have been working on for days, trying to put pieces of the puzzle together, to reach a solid theory about what is happening.
What will Valentino Rossi do? If Audi could not convince him explaining the future plans, he’ll choose a safe passage to Yamaha, not without danger because of Jorge Lorenzo being in great shape with the status of "first rider" having to thake on the role of "squire". Meanwhile, it has been said that he has been seen in Amsterdam, while he was in Ibiza to celebrate the 40th birthday of a mechanic of the Stefan Bradl LCR team, together with his close friend Fonsi Nieto, who also owns a villa on the island just like Rossi.
I realize that, despite my attempt at synthesis, this piece has a length greater than desired: nevertheless, the complexity of the facts has prompted the composition of several elements omitting those that are not essential.
The Lord of the rings (4 rings) proved to be the "villain" of the story, but for reasons of force majeure. In my opinion.
I'd like to thank Leoallafila for the translation
This article has been written yesterday. Today have been evolutions refering Rossi's contract.