Why Ducati Has the Upper Hand in MotoGP Electronics

They say that good things come to those who wait, but Ducati proved that even better things come to those who are smart and know how to take advantage of situations which at times may seem to be the exact opposite. Fielding bikes which in MotoGP terms were much too slow, Ducati was not exactly faring too well in the premier class prior to the arrival of Gigi Dall’Igna.
However, it looks like Dall’Igna was exactly the mane Borgo Panigale was missing, and CEO Claudio Domenicali made a glorious move bringing him over from Aprilia and giving him a free hand to set things right. Dall’Igna first said he needed to understand how things were at Ducati and that was no surprise. However, he added that he was willing to set out and build a new bike if he felt like this could be a solution after analyzing the MotoGP department of Ducati Corse.

Knowing that nothing could be bettered on short notice, Dall’Igna managed to find a way to make the most of everything: he convinced everyone at Ducati to become a “Factory 2” team… largely with help from Dorna, who was desperately trying to find a way to put things in order as far as Factory and Open regulations go.

The so-called Factory 2 entry allows Ducati to act like a full-factory team AND benefit from the privileges of the Open class entries. This means the ability to carry more fuel, dispose of more engines, testing, and the extra soft tire. The matter was discussed so much that I will refrain from reminding you all the details. As a final consideration, these privileges would be reduced in case the team starts winning or accumulates podiums in the dry.

Ducati seems very interested in writing high-performance software

One of the common things of running a Factory and a Factory 2 team is the ability to design and write your own software for the bikes’ ECU. In fact, this is the main thing actually making the difference between Factory and open.

Somehow Ducati anticipated that the entire MotoGP grid could be running with stock software in the not-that-distant future, despite the cries from Honda or Yamaha. HRC’s Shuhei Nakamoto threatened to pull out from the premier class if all the teams were forced to run spec software, but Dorna found a way to make everyone if not happy, at least less angry – freezing software development this year after the Assen round and having all the teams working together to deliver the unified software which will run on all bikes from 2016 on.

This idea sort of calmed Honda, and Nakamoto-san said that the proposal is way more decent than the initial idea, so HRC is in. Still, many missed what Ducati had been doing all this time.

While the rest of the manufacturers and teams on the grid showed little to no interest at all in helping Magneti Marelli come up with the early Open software versions for the spec ECU, Ducati was smart enough to anticipate that, if they help Marelli, they can learn immensely on how to make the future version of the unified software more suitable for their bikes.

Honda has noticed that Ducati was involved in building the new software but did nothing. Oh, in fact they did complain about this, but refused to give Marelli a hand, being more preoccupied on fending off Yamaha’s attacks and knowing that Ducatis are slow and will remain slow.

Little did they know about the extent of Ducati’s new bike project and the development of the software they were working on. Even more, both Yamaha and Honda claimed that the seamless gearboxes the factory bikes were using were impossible to adapt to Open-class machines because of the software limitations.

Limits are sometimes nothing more than words

Ducati kept quiet and worked around the clock, with Dall’Igna having decided to build a new bike with a new engine and retain only marginal parts from the GP14 bike. The basic principles of the next-gen Desmosedici MotoGP machine remained the same, but the bike was to be completely new.

And because everyone knew that 2016 would mark the debut of the unified software, Ducati bent even more onto making its work with Marelli as competitive as it gets… while making sure it also becomes as compliant with Bolognese machinery as possible. Honda mentioned that this might give Ducati an unfair advantage but still did nothing to prevent this.

Finally, we learned that Ducati is able to field an Open class bike equipped with a seamless gearbox, namely Hector Babera’s GP14 bike, proving Honda and Yamaha wrong as far as the seamless-open software contradiction was concerned. Even more, Barbera was able to post the 8th best time in the third day of the previous test at Sepang.

In case this is not eloquent enough, let me break it up for you. We are talking an Open-class bike, even more – a Ducati bike, which was 0.332s slower than Dani Pedrosa (not in his best shape) and 1.12s off the blistering pace of Marquez. Now look back say, 2 years ago, when the top-notch Ducati was 1.5 seconds slower than the leading machine, and you’ll understand how much things evolved.

Open-class’ Avintia and Barbera just got better than a satellite Yamaha and a satellite Honda, better than newcomer Suzuki, better than a factory Ducati and leading the Open field. And this is, again, taking place on the 2014-spec Ducati running Open software, and it’s only the beginning…

Seeing Ducati doing the “impossible” and being the first to do so ahead of the solid changes which will affect MotoGP in 2016 makes me believe that we will witness a game-changing track presence as of the Qatar round. And if these bikes deliver the results Dall’Igna is expecting in the “pre-freeze” races, it’s time to grab your popcorn once more.

Sure, all software must be “frozen” after Assen this year, but you see, there’s still a half-season until then, and Ducati has plenty of time to understand A LOT of things about how the unified software might work with both its Open and Factory bikes in true racing conditions.

By the time Yamaha and Honda sort their things up, we might just get to see Ducati coming closer to the glory of old. With Iannone and Dovizioso seemingly quite attached to the Italian maker and the bikes getting better and better, we can also expect their relationship to grow stronger, while the tech advances pass onto the satellite team and the Open Ducati.

It may be much too soon for this, but if Gigi Dall’Igna and Borgo Panigale maintain the pace of their evolution, Yamaha and Honda will soon cease to be only ones with a credible claim for race, and why not, season wins.
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