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After years of trying, Ducati have finally convinced Jorge Lorenzo to come join them as they hunt for their first title since 2007.
With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.
If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.
That’s a policy that’s served Ducati well, after their long and patient courtship of Jorge Lorenzo, which can be traced all the way back to the summer of 2009, finally ended in success this week.
In one stroke of a pen, Lorenzo became MotoGP™’s highest paid rider, and Ducati got the supremely gifted talent they are convinced can get the Desmosedici dominating again.
Next year it will be a decade since Ducati’s rocket ship 800cc GP7 machine, and Casey Stoner’s sublime skill, gelled perfectly to humble the Japanese in 2007.
Since then, Ducati has lurched from crisis to crisis. Stoner soon lost faith and jumped to Honda. Valentino Rossi took over as the box office star but the end result was a PR nightmare for Ducati.
Rossi’s woeful two-year stint was one of the rare times that the Italian steered his career down a dead end. If only he could have steered the famously under-steering Ducati and the story might have been different.
Ducati boss Filippo Preziosi paid for the Rossi failure by being axed from Ducati Corse. German Bernhard Gobmeier came in with an impressive CV in both management and engineering. But rather than calm the storm, he only seemed to steer Ducati towards more choppy waters.
He didn’t even last one year and both Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden scarcely shed a tear on his departure.
Gigi Dall’Igna was headhunted from rivals Aprilia for 2014 and given carte blanche to revive Ducati’s ailing fortunes.
Much like Masao Furusawa did at Yamaha in preparation for Rossi’s arrival in 2004, Dall’Igna restructured and re-energised a race department low on morale and leadership.
The first Desmosedici with his fingerprints all over it was last year’s GP15.
Eight podiums represented Ducati’s best year since 2010, and this year’s bike is an even more complete package that many feel is capable of winning races.
Andrea Iannone’s warp speed Desmosedici – or Bologna bullet as I like to call it now - blasted through the speed trap in Qatar at a record 218.22mph.
But they need an alien on board to capitalise on that out of this world engine performance.
Don’t get me wrong. Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso are proven world-class talent. Combined with the influence of Dall’Igna, they have elevated Ducati to a competitive level that seemed a distant dream back in 2013.
But it is still 94 races and counting since Ducati last won in MotoGP™ and that 1% extra needed to take them from a regular podium contender to regular winner will almost certainly come from Lorenzo.
It can’t be underestimated what a massive coup it is for Ducati to sign Lorenzo. They have snaffled his signature right from under the noses of Yamaha, who had no intention of letting him quit.
The signing of Stoner as test rider was a massive signal of Ducati’s desire and intent to return to winning ways. In many ways, Stoner’s deal felt like Ducati’s last sales pitch to entice Lorenzo off a YZR-M1. Get an alien on board to show an alien exactly what the Desmosedici is capable of.
There’s no doubt that Lorenzo was ripe for a transfer to Ducati. Forget the bumper pay cheque, Lorenzo’s first priority over his bank balance is winning in MotoGP™.
He’s only gone to Ducati convinced now that he is the final piece of the jigsaw to get Ducati back on the top step of the podium.
He also trusts Dall’Igna implicitly. Lorenzo is not jumping ship trying to form a vital bond between pit box and race department. He knows Dall’Igna’s methods and the pair have tasted success together for an Italian brand when combining to win 250cc titles for Aprilia in 2006 and 2007. Both made a big impression on each other and will be hoping history repeats itself in the elite class.
I also think Lorenzo has got completely sick and tired of living in the shadow of Valentino Rossi.
Lorenzo knows it doesn’t matter what he does on or off the track, he will never win a popularity contest again Rossi. His commercial value to Yamaha also pales into insignificance compared to the brand loyalty and marketing power that Rossi can generate.
And he knows that even when Rossi retires, he will assume an ambassadorial role and remain very much a key public face of Yamaha.
So even in retirement, Rossi’s presence will still be overpowering for Lorenzo.
The animosity hanging in the air from last year’s dramatic title fight between the two has carried over into 2016. Rossi recently said that Lorenzo would likely remain at Yamaha because he didn’t have the courage to move to Ducati. Well, he said it in a rather less subtle way, as I’m sure most of you have read.
Part of me thinks that was all just a deliberate ploy by Rossi to get rid of him. Kick the door down for Lorenzo at Ducati and escort him through it. Lorenzo has been Rossi’s nemesis on the other side of the Yamaha garage for six of the last eight years. It was even his anger at Lorenzo’s growing status at Yamaha in 2010 that pushed Rossi to embark on his hellish time with Ducati.
Fortune beckons for Lorenzo if the numbers of his two-year contract are accurate. But the fame will also be a big motivation for him. The kudos of becoming Ducati’s first World Champion since Stoner will be immense. And if he does clinch a title at Ducati, then he will become only the sixth rider in history to win titles on different brands.
If he were to join the exclusive club made up of Duke, Agostini, Lawson, Rossi and Stoner, nobody could deny him the right to be recognised as one of the all-time greats.
Lorenzo’s are massive shoes to fill. He’s taken 99 podiums, including 41 wins in 141 races and won three world titles.
He’s the only ride to defeat the likes of Rossi, Stoner, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez in the modern era and he’s jumped despite persistently declaring his intention to race his entire MotoGP™ career on a YZR-M1.
Who do Yamaha turn to take Lorenzo’s seat? Maverick Vinales fits the profile perfectly. He has a style as smooth as Lorenzo’s that should make him and the YZR-M1 a match made in heaven.
But he is not Maverick by name, Maverick by nature. He’s not always shouting his mouth off to the media, chastising his rivals or lambasting his factory. A consummate professional who also happens to be blindingly fast will add to his appeal inside Yamaha’s boardroom.
More pressing matters lie ahead for Lorenzo. Like trying to stop a resurgent Marc Marquez from extending his 21-point advantage in the World Championship in Jerez this weekend.
Looking more long-term though, if he did win a title at Ducati, the staff at Borgo Panigale will paint the town red.
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