We all know the type. They stand at the back of crowded barrooms, their backs against the wall and features shrouded in a lingering cloud of smoke. They live a hard life, and party even harder in an attempt to forget. They entice you with the unmistakable air of danger, of vistas unconquered and beasts untamed. They will take you in in the bathroom stall, their movements urgent and frantic as they claw at your body. They demand all of you and yet give nothing of themselves in return, leaving you spent and gasping as they move on to the next ill-fated soul to take their fancy. Many may try to capture it, but theirs is a heart apart - cold and unforgiving.
The Ducati GP is a machine to match just such a lover. Many a rider have been lured to it with promises of factory support from an established OEM with a credible racing history. Yet just as many are the careers that lay damaged and destroyed in its wake. The most successful rider, the one person who one can claim has come closest to bending it to his will, eventually was forced to move on with results on a rapid decline. It was, admittedly, Stoner's apparent success - however much he struggled to get it - that enticed Rossi to take the plunge and join forces with Ducati. Yet after a partnership lasting almost 2 years Ducati, Yamaha and Rossi all announced that the Italian partnership is over and Rossi will be returning to Yamaha. In a way it is fitting, as Rossi previously stated that his desire was to retire with Yamaha. What has been lost amidst the flurry of speculation around why the GP-Rossi pairing has struggled to acheive the expected of the Italian pairing is just how hard Ducati has been working to remedy the problem. Ducati in fact went as far as to request the assistance of Masao Furusawa, the genius behind Yamaha's cross-plane crank currently on display in both the R1 production and M1 prototype motorcycles. How serious was Ducati? According to Furusawa-san Preziosi said, "I just want to make our bike better. It doesn't matter if I lose my position." Furusawa-san turned down the offer, claiming to prefer the quiet of retirement, and in any event the effort may have been too little and too late.
While one star returns to Yamaha, another prepares for his departure. Andrea Dovizioso has made no secret of his desire for a factory ride in the GP class. Certainly for 2012 his stellar performance has made a strong case for the claim. This season the Italian rider has done nothing less than set the bar for podium finishes on a customer bike. With 3 aliens in active competition aboard their preferred factory rides, Dovi's string on 3rd place finishes means that he has regularly stood on the podium ahead of at least one member of the established order through the year. Yet with Yamaha's announcement that it will welcome Valentino Rossi back to its garage Dovizioso saw the door to his hoped for factory M1 slammed firmly shut. Undeterred in his search, Dovi switched focus away from Yamaha and has been confirmed as signing a 2 year deal to occupy the now vacant factory seat at Ducati. The move, of course, is not without risk as can be seen clearly by the level of talent that have occupied that seat before him. However without doubt one of the key factors affecting the GP's development has been a lack of resources, either in personnel or finances, to complete the needed work to bring the GP up to speed. Ducati's radical adoption of an aluminum twin spar frame (and subsequent near abandonment of the equally radical carbon fibre and mixed carbon-aluminum frameless chassis) would indicate that the engineering team was willing to take any steps necessary to make the bike competitive. Yet constant delays in promised updates - such as the new motor promised and undelivered for Laguna Seca - point to serious shortages in Ducati's ability to move projects from their CAD software to the real world. Despite the criticisms levelled at the Bologna factory for the past year for their mid-season introduction of two radically different chassis', the fact is that such developments never troubled either of the remaining Japanese manufacturers. As indicated in a previous interview by a Honda executive, while Ducati would arrive at the test with a single new frame to test either of the other's would have 3 or 4 different frames along with different engines. Though Ducati's efforts were certainly more visually different and highly publicized, they have been outspent plain and simple. This was certainly a concern for Dovi as he made promises of financial support from new owner Audi a provision for his signature. It may take some time for those promises to bear fruit, but the team has two years to bring the resources to bear.
On the other end of the finishing spectrum, Colin Edwards continues to entertain fans with his trademark brand of scathing wit and brutal honesty. The former Yamaha rider has struggled in the inaugural season of the CRT projects, falling from a podium finisher last year to and also ran - and barely that - this year. Edwards has been pushing the Suter-BMW project bike right to, and sometimes beyond, its limits and has born the scars to prove the effort. Yet despite his enthusiasm for the budding class he has been less than happy about the progress of his bike. In fact, of late he has been openly hostile to the point of describing the Suter-BMW as a "piece of shit". A lack of support from Suter may play a role in his troubles, as the tuner has apparently offered little in the way of developmental support. At the Mugello round Edwards began making active plans to abandon the Suter-BMW by testing the FTR-Honda and the FTR-Kawasaki however a test of the Aprilia ART was postponed. This weekend's round at Indy may be the Texan's first time to ride the bike that is rumored to be his most likely choice as a replacement. Should Edwards switch to an ART it could prove to be a significant coup for Aprilia as Edwards brings a strong reputation for his ability in development. The acquisition of such a talented developmental rider may be what is needed to give the ART and CRT projects a nudge to the next level of performance and spectatorship that the fans and promoters have been hoping for.