At elite level competition, it’s rare to hear riders speak so openly about self-doubt. But Danilo Petrucci did just that after an inspired run to victory in front of his adoring home fans at Mugello. “Many times in the past [I nearly] quit my career because I said this is not my world,” he said.
Coming into Ducati’s factory team to replace five-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo was no easy feat for a rider that competed in the CRT class as recently as 2014. And entering the fold with just a one-year contract, the 28-year old Italian knew results must improve should he wish to remain Andrea Dovizioso’s team-mate in 2020.
All things considered, Petrucci’s opening half of 2019 has been a big success. He sits third in the championship, just six points back of his more experienced team-mate. He finally broke his MotoGP™ race winning duck in brilliant fashion with a last-gasp, steely ride at Mugello. And the former FIM Superstock Cup runner up has never been this consistent: in nine races Petrucci has finished each time in the top six.
His turnaround has had as much to do with his change in preparation off the track than it has with enjoying the benefits of a full factory team’s personnel at his disposal. Finding a way into and successfully unlocking that talent that brought him seven premier class podiums before Sunday has been key to his adaption to the pressures that come with riding for a top factory team.
“Danilo has more potential than everybody thinks,” Dovizioso said back in January. After the race at Mugello he noted, “I think he’s improved this season because he believed more in himself and he understood his potential. [Whereas] in the past he didn’t really believe in that and really didn’t analyse and realise the good points of him.”
Petrucci moved to Forli, Dovizioso’s hometown, at the start of 2019 to hone his approach. To his surprise, his team-mate presented him with a group of people that had put him on the path to becoming Marquez’s principle rival two years before. ‘If I help you, you’ll eventually help me’ was the reasoning and reflected their roles within Ducati for 2019. Among those introduced were Dovizioso’s doctor and sports psychologist, who allows his subjects to “train your mind like a muscle.”
There have been tweaks to his physical preparation, too, with the Italian now doing more on-bike training with Dovizioso with an added emphasis on the intensity of the battle.
While Ducati’s GP19 may have started the year as the class’ most competitive package, recent results showed Yamaha, Suzuki and Honda have caught up. The Ducati’s new fairing and ‘spoiler’ device have aided acceleration and tyre conservation. Its ’19 engine remains punchy on corner exit and still boasts tremendous top speed. But the turning deficiencies have become more apparent in light of its competitors improvements.
With Marquez holding a massive advantage in the title race, a championship challenge may appear over. But Petrucci has fulfilled his own aims. Ducati felt his results deserved a contract extension and he remains with the squad for 2019, a just reward for one of the class’ more solid performers.