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As Jorge Lorenzo flew home from the first Grand Prix of 2016 weighing up Ducati’s mammoth offer to join its ranks the following year, there was much to ponder. The money was good – make that very good. This was a factory on the up, with performances in 2015 showing Borgo Panigale was less a graveyard for talent and more a factory harbouring genuine ambition. There were words of encouragement from Lorenzo’s old boss, Gigi Dall’Igna (now Ducati’s technical chief), too - the pair had forged a near unbeatable relationship during the Majorcan’s two years with Aprilia and the sweet handling RSW250.
Flashback: Lorenzo & Dovizioso’s 2004 dead heat
Most of all there was the chance to succeed where rival Valentino Rossi had failed. Lorenzo had won his third premier class title for Yamaha at his then team-mate’s expense four months before in thrilling, dramatic fashion. Yet the full acclaim for a remarkable championship fight back to snatch victory at Valencia in 2015 did not come. So what better way to cement one’s place among the pantheon of the greats than do what just five riders have done in 69 years of history: win 500cc/MotoGP™ titles with two different manufacturers.
Close to two years on and Lorenzo would be the first to admit his venture towards Bologna’s open arms has been far from straightforward. Three podiums and seventh overall in last year’s championship was not what he or Ducati had in mind after an outlay of what is believed to be in excess of twelve million Euros. Yet this was always going to be a switch that required time and patience. His smooth, metronomic riding style that places emphasis on wide, sweeping lines had become synonymous with Yamaha’s M1, a bike on which he spent all nine of his previous MotoGP™ seasons. The Ducati required considerable change.
Lorenzo: "My goal is to create the best Lorenzo ever"
After a run of chastening results in the Netherlands and Germany, there were signs of real improvement after last year’s summer break. Ducati’s radical aerodynamics package put more weight on the front tyre mid-corner, giving Jorge some much needed feel. But crew chief Cristian Gabarrinni felt the change was more related to Jorge’s head. “He started to analyse data with more calm in his mind. He’s like a calculator. He’s always clear-minded to analyse everything, especially in the order of priority. He did something like this during his holiday.” Aside from a disastrous outing at Phillip Island, he was showing podium potential at each race weekend from Austria in mid-August.
Lorenzo & Tardozzi confident about Ducati’s programme
And there has been enough throughout preseason to suggest Lorenzo will claim that illusive first race win in red sooner rather than later. That old swagger was back at Sepang in late January as he went under the outright lap record to collect the fastest time. Yet the second test of 2018 in Thailand brought confusion and continued looks of exasperation. Team-mate Andrea Dovizioso saw marginal improvements in all aspects of Ducati’s GP18. Lorenzo, by contrast, was unsure of direction, finding positives in parts of this year’s contender, but others in the GP17.
What do the riders think about Lorenzo's flying lap at Sepang?
But there were reasons to be positive. Sure, those virtues of time and patience that saw him weather some of 2017’s darker moments will not be as evident this year, but Lorenzo has no doubt the potential is there. “It’s just a matter of understanding the best setting and combination for my riding,” he said after the final night of testing in Qatar, where he emerged with the tenth fastest time. “When it happens I will be fighting for the top, fighting for good results and fighting for victories.” No question, race winning potential is there. But understanding whether he can carry his current package toward a championship challenge will be one of 2018’s most intriguing subplots. If he can, a place among the sport’s pantheon of greats awaits.
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