I’ll put my hands up and admit it. When Andrea Dovizioso brought Ducati just their second MotoGP™ win for six long years in 2016 and his first win for 2650 days, I didn’t have the foresight to realise this was the start of a challenge against the seemingly unbeatable Marc Marquez and Honda. A resurrection of the fortunes of the legendary Italian factory spearheaded by a revitalised Dovi. Of course, the Italian from the Adriatic coast had always been a world class motorcycle racer but, wrongly, I’d only thought of him as Mr Consistency, Mr Reliable, and a really nice guy.
I’d seen him win the 125cc World Championship on the Honda in 2004 fighting off the Aprilia challenge of Hector Barbera and Roberto Locatelli. He was unlucky to face Jorge Lorenzo riding the Aprilia in 2006 and 2007 in the 250cc World Championships. Dovi finished second to Lorenzo both years riding the Honda after finishing third in 2005 behind the pretty impressive duo of Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner. All three of those 250cc contenders joined MotoGP™ with both Lorenzo and Stoner going on to taste world title successes. In 2009 Dovi, riding the Repsol Honda, won the very last MotoGP™ Grand Prix at a damp Donington Park in England. For the next seven years, he rightly earned the title of Mr Consistency - picking up 30 podium finishes for Honda, Monster Tech 3 Yamaha, and Ducati who he joined in 2013.
Honestly, I thought that Donington win might be it but there were stirrings in the red side of the paddock. After resting on their laurels for far too long after Stoner’s magnificent World title in 2007 on the 800 cc Ducati, the Bologna-based factory were back in the hunt to fight against the might of Japan. Who will forget that fantastic all Ducati last lap battle at the Red Bull Ring in Austria in 2016 where Andrea Iannone grabbed his one and only MotoGP™ win by less than one second? Iannone disappeared to Ibiza to celebrate. Dovi stayed at home to plot his second MotoGP™ win and he didn’t have to wait for long.
Two thousand six hundred and fifty-three days since that Donington victory he was back on the top step of the podium after a comfortable three second win over Valentino Rossi in the searing heat of Sepang in Malaysia. A more different venue to a damp Donington you could not imagine. Dovi and Ducati, wings and all were back in business and ready to take on Marquez and Honda. Out of the saddle, Dovi was still the friendly pleasant quietly spoken guy but once the lights changed something had altered. He explained a settled personal life had helped but spearheading a patriotic team fighting for a world title must have been such an incentive.
Right from the start in 2017, they were at it. Victory at a crazy Mugello was followed by wins at Barcelona, Austria, Britain, Japan and Malaysia resulting in the Championship fight with Marquez going into the final round in Valencia, where third place for Marquez was enough to keep the title. Second place for Dovi and Ducati perhaps not just rewards for their efforts to push Marquez and Honda off the top step.
Two Grands Prix summed up that memorable season. Both last lap, last bend confrontations with Marquez who simply loved these head-to-head last bend scraps because he usually came out on top. The World Champion didn’t at the Red Bull Ring in Austria and in the rain at Motegi in Japan. I’ll never forget the look Dovi gave Marquez when he beat him in Austria but the win in Motegi was the one to savour. Ducati beating Honda at their home circuit in the pouring rain was pretty special. Two weeks later he won again in Malaysia to keep his Championship chances alive, but it was not to be. It was a similar story a year later when four wins gave him second place to Marquez. In 2019 second again behind the Spanish Honda rider and a year later his last Grand Prix victory of 24 including 15 in MotoGP™ in Austria.
Sometimes it’s nice to be so wrong even if it takes 2650 days to realise it.