At a test in Valencia, Lorenzo took the Ducati Desmosedici out for the first time. At 29, with nine seasons and three world championships under his belt riding the Yamaha M1, the Spaniard now faces an uphill challenge.
There’s a legend in the paddock – a place where legends are not really an exception. This legend has just completed his first test with Ducati, and he had this to say: “Guys, do you remember the 1:29.401 from Valencia qualifying this season? Well, you can forget about repeating that with this bike.” Now, besides a few optimists, this shouldn’t really surprise anybody else. To assume that the Ducati, after slipping from the voracious hands of Iannone, or from the precise ones of Dovizioso, has magically transformed into a completely different machine with the arrival of Lorenzo would be a little farfetched. But, at the same time, everybody knows that Lorenzo CAN make a difference. Needless to say, he can play a fundamental role in reviving Ducati’s motorsport ambitions. However, Gigi Dall’Igna, the CEO of Ducati Corse, doesn’t want to jump to conclusions so early on. Igna stated in a recent interview, “Jorge shouldn’t be influenced by first impressions. He has to take the right amount of time and decide to gradually proceed towards the discovery of our bike’s peculiarities before formulating a final opinion.”
Whether the Spanish rider’s first impressions were made in haste or are definitive, well, only time will tell. But you’ve to say that when you watch Jorge leaning the Desmosedici it feels like he’s still riding a Yamaha – that’s how smooth his riding style is. If you compare Lorenzo’s first outing with Valentino Rossi’s when he arrived at Ducati in 2010, their approach is markedly different. Rossi always felt clumsy and insecure and was never able to adopt the riding style that the Ducati demanded – and we all know how badly that story ended! Lorenzo, on the other hand, looked smooth and quick from the get-go. But, obviously, to win a world championship, looking charming in photos isn’t enough – although, one easily senses that Jorge certainly feels more confident riding the Desmosedici.
JORGE AND CASEY – DIFFERENT WORLDS
Another TV image, which was a hot topic after the test, was where Lorenzo and Stoner are talking to each other post the test. A conversation that appears tense, but peaceful. I’m among those who chose not to over-evaluate Stoner’s role as a tester or Lorenzo’s brave move to choose Ducati. But I like to believe that both these racers will use the adversity of their respective battles with Rossi to make their own collaboration stronger.
Ducati has put immense trust in Casey Stoner and his ability to help develop a racing machine. Stoner has a great eye for detail. His control of the bike is still extraordinary, and he doesn’t need to prove his riding capabilities to anyone. Casey, being a professional, can give his new colleague some precious advice on how to tame the Ducati. But there’s a world of difference between both their riding styles. While Stoner relies a lot on the brake, as well as oversteer, to turn the bike, Lorenzo prefers to make a clean entry into the corner – keeping the bike stable and straight. Stoner used to use instinct, elegance and brutality – all of his gifts – to get through a corner, while Lorenzo uses his ability to be delicate in the middle of a corner to be extremely fast at the exit – although he does rely on the aid of an advanced electronic setup.
If there’s a racetrack where you’re likely to be entertained by the Ducati, or even expect it to win, it’ll be the season opener in Losail. The next couple of rounds, in Argentina and Austin, likely won’t predict what’ll happen later on in Europe. But, if Lorenzo manages to win in Qatar (Losail), he’ll be able to take the game forward for the rest of the season. And so, Ducati will be expecting a good first race result. More importantly, Lorenzo’s strength lies in his sheer pace and self-confidence. In addition to his newfound motivation, there’ll be a couple of outside factors as well. Michelin will definitely up its game next season, so tyre performance should improve considerably in 2017. The tyres will have more grip – allowing more lean – and, as many of us know, these have been key factors in Lorenzo’s blistering race pace in the past.
THE COMING YEAR
Honestly, I wouldn’t bet on Lorenzo winning the world championship straightaway. But I definitely see the Desmosedici taking more victories in his able hands next year. Certainly, there are some issues. But that’s where the Spaniard comes in. He’s already at the centre of the development work, and he has the full support of Dovizioso – who worked tirelessly for two full days with the utmost patience. Can you imagine Iannone in his place? He would have been irked after just half-an-hour of all the attention that his new teammate got at the test. And that’s primarily why Ducati chose Dovizioso over him after much thought.
Dall’Igna may be an engineer with a great skillset, but he’s also creative and cunning. First of all, he asked Lorenzo which of his Yamaha crew he found absolutely essential. Hence, an offer was made to Lorenzo’s crew chief at Yamaha, Ramon Forcada. It’s a different story that he politely declined the offer. At the same time, working with Jorge isn’t going to be easy – since he demands nothing but success. In fact, it’s for this very reason that Forcada – who really loves Lorenzo – felt that he’s too old to keep performing in the same high stress environment with Jorge. So he chose to work with Lorenzo’s replacement at Yamaha, Maverick Viñales, instead.
Jorge Lorenzo may have been left alone, but he’s devoted himself to realising the potential of this ambitious project. His decision to change camps may have been partially down to the financial reward, but his courage plays an important role here too. A positive attitude and trust is necessary to have a good start and build on the Valencia test – which will serve as one of the building blocks for his future success. Now only time will tell if he can bring the first title home for Ducati since Stoner’s world championship in 2007.
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