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30 days ago
By Matthew Birt

Calm, collected…‘Maniac’ Iannone?

There has been some criticism pointed towards Andrea Iannone in 2016, but Matthew Birt saw the Italian silence some doubters in Austria

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

In the time since Casey Stoner won his home race at Phillip Island back in 2010, Ducati has been through some tough years - to the point where you began to wonder if they would get back to winning ways. And yet, the paddock heads to Brno this weekend with Ducati restored as a winning force in the MotoGP™ World Championship, as the darks days were quickly forgotten by Andrea Iannone’s brilliant win: a Spielberg thriller at the Red Bull Ring in Austria.

The man who calls himself ‘The Maniac’ triggered manic celebrations at Ducati before he jumped on a private jet to Ibiza for what I suspect was a party that didn’t conclude until sunrise on Monday morning. In fact, it may well still be going on right now if Iannone is the ringleader.

Iannone has a reputation for being as wild off track as he is on it

Iannone has a reputation for being as wild off track as he is on it. When he’s not risking life and limb at 200mph, his world is private jets and fast cars. He says what he likes and likes what he says but until Sunday he hadn’t really done enough of his talking on track in MotoGP™. But, he silenced a few doubters and critics in Austria - with a calm and calculating ride that was in stark contrast to the wild riding and paint-swapping maverick that he’s famous for.

Iannone’s name has been dragged through the dirt in 2016 and there have been those that didn’t think his temperament matched his talent to produce a performance like he did on Sunday. His every move is examined in microscopic detail after the kamikaze hits on Andrea Dovizioso in Argentina and Jorge Lorenzo in Barcelona - but it was his crucial tyre choice for Sunday’s race that grabbed people’s attention and ultimately proved decisive in securing Ducati a first win in 101 attempts.

Explaining Iannone’s last minute tyre swap

His decision to gamble and race a tyre combination that no other rider thought a viable choice turned out to be a tactical masterstroke. Many thought his risky decision to run the soft front tyre and medium rear Michelin compound was brave in the extreme. Sure, he would be competitive in the first two thirds of the race, but as the grip faded beneath him, so would his hopes of a famous win.

Iannone set the fastest lap of the race on lap 24 of 28

Not so. Wary that he might not have the same endurance as those on the medium front and hard option tyres around him, Iannone deliberately slowed the pace in the early laps to protect his rubber. His tactics were spot on and he nursed his tyres so brilliantly early on than he set the fastest lap of the race on lap 24 of 28 and was 0.6s faster than anybody else on track on the final lap.

You really have to admire the courage of Iannone’s convictions for taking the decision he did under the circumstances. He was going out on a limb in a race where he knew he could earn massive kudos by ending Ducati’s losing streak. This was a golden opportunity to step out of the shadow of Stoner, with the Australian watching on at the Red Bull Ring, and write his name in Ducati folklore.

It was also a chance to earn the bragging rights over his teammate Andrea Dovizioso.

The Italian Job

Dovizioso so desperately wanted to bring success back to Ducati but his cautious strategy on the tyre selection to go for the hard option rear cost him dearly. He did his best to mask his disappointment, but none of his previous second places in MotoGP™ would have hurt so much. And the fact that he was part of Ducati’s first 1-2 since Stoner and Loris Capirossi took the top two spots at Phillip Island way back in 2007 wasn’t much consolation.

Not only was it hugely impressive how Iannone rode in Austria, but he didn’t buckle under the weight of pressure and expectation. When he was quickest at a two-day test at the Red Bull Ring in the summer break, everybody was already penciling his name as a potential winner. Optimism went through the roof when he claimed pole position, yet Ducati and Iannone have tended to have a history of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in the past.

It was a combination of relief and euphoria that engulfed Ducati

With Ducati legend Stoner looking on from the inside of the Bologna factory’s garage, you wondered if the burden of being such an overwhelming favourite to win would be too much – but Iannone handled it all impeccably and it was a combination of relief and euphoria that engulfed Ducati.

Gigi Dall’Igna has finally done what he was headhunted from Aprilia for but he will know last Sunday’s success can’t be an isolated moment of glory. Winning races is one thing, but winning the World Championship is the Holy Grail for any manufacturer, and next year is a decade since Ducati last did that.

The future certainly appears to be a bright one for Ducati. The combination of Dall’Igna, Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo working in unison in 2017 is a mouth-watering one. Success can breed success, so after waiting so long to win again in MotoGP™, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if a Desmosedici didn’t take the victory in Brno this weekend. I certainly think one or two victories are possible this season.

Quickly back to Iannone though. In Argentina it was a case of he who dares, sins. Thankfully for Iannone and Ducati, in Austria it was a case of he who dares, wins.

Let’s just hope Ducati doesn’t have to wait until 2022 to win again.