On the face of it, Andrea Dovizioso has enjoyed a fine start to 2019. One win, three further podiums, never finishing below fifth and a series of combative displays after lousy qualifying showings suggest the Italian is riding as well as ever.
But the World Championship standings tell another story. The 33-year old sits second, but a whopping 58 points behind reigning champion and eternal foe Marc Marquez. Any chance of securing that elusive MotoGP title seem to be gone for another year, and all talk at the Sachsenring centred around Ducati’s need for “a strategy for the future … We have to create a different situation and be focussed more” on the bike’s weaknesses, he said.
Was it not for Marquez, Dovizioso would be talked of as having a year as strong and competitive as 2017 and ’18. But when his rival finishes either first or second at every race he completes, only near perfection will do.
It had all started so well. The Italian’s thrilling win in Qatar displayed all his best traits: strategy, tyre conservation and keeping his head when it really matters. Third and fourth place in the following two races saw him arrive in Europe as the championship leader.
Yet he was powerless to stop a rampant Marquez at Le Mans and had to give way to team-mate Danilo Petrucci at Mugello. Jorge Lorenzo’s careless crash that took down Dovizioso and two others in Barcelona gave Marquez the breathing space in the title race he had lacked until then. From there his championship challenge has slipped away.
A reason for this has been Ducati’s inability to solve the Desmosedici GP19’s turning deficiencies that were the big problem at Assen and the Sachsenring. Compared to rival manufacturers Suzuki, Yamaha and, to a lesser extent, Honda, Dovizioso and co lost too much ground through the fast changes of direction and long corners, spent mostly on the edge of the tyre.
Not even a new chassis, introduced at the Barcelona test, could help this aspect, with Dovizioso noting how corner entry had improved, but not where Ducati needed it most. Instead this year’s machine has mainly improved on its strong points from 2018.
Its ’19 engine, new aerodynamic fairing and controversial ‘spoiler’ attached to the bike’s swingarm all aided acceleration. The bike – and Dovizioso – also remains formidable on the brakes. But Honda made strides with its 2019 engine, eradicating much of the Ducati’s near evergreen top speed advantage. And Yamaha and Suzuki’s improvements have made podium finishes all the more difficult.
Brno and Austria should provide ample opportunity for Dovizioso to get his season back on track. But he’ll be hoping Ducati can bring something to the Brno test that will cure those turning weaknesses and get them out of this “critical moment.”