Ducati believe it is not an unrealistic goal to be challenging for the podium in the second half of the 2013 MotoGP world championship, despite a tough start to the winter testing campaign.
When preparations for 2013 kicked off in Sepang earlier this month, not one Ducati finished within two seconds of Dani Pedrosa’s best pace, with factory duo Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso finishing only ninth and 10th respectively.
The Desmosedici tested in Sepang was almost identical to the GP12 version that struggled so badly last year, with American Hayden failing to score a podium for the first time in his Grand Prix career.
Italian icon Valentino Rossi also struggled to race consistently close to the front throughout a two-year spell with the Bologna factory that saw him claim only three podium finishes in 35 outings.
Ducati has resisted making radical changes to its Desmosedici concept so far until it any new upgrades and development parts have been thoroughly tested and assessed by new test rider Michele Pirro.
But despite the gap to the front being so big at the first test in Sepang, new Ducati MotoGP Project Director Paolo Ciabatti is still optimistic that the Desmosedici can be challenging for the top three before the end of the season.
He told MCN: “My opinion hasn't changed and we said we would realistically like to be fighting for the podium before the end of the season. Realistically this is going to be in the second part of the season.
We were clear when we spoke about this year saying it is a transition year and we have to work. We can’t design a new engine and we don’t think there are major problems with the engine concept. Hopefully we can be in the upper part of the standings halfway through the season. I hope earlier because it is important for the riders to see that things are moving in the right direction.”
The early part of the season is clearly to be an uphill struggle while improvements come on stream but Ciabatti isn’t concerned that Hayden or Dovizioso’s motivation will suffer as a result.
He said: “We told Andrea that there will be a plan but realistically in 2013 we will be trying to steadily improve the bike. Obviously it is never easy if you don’t get the results because what counts are the lap times and the results at the end of the race.
We didn’t hide anything from the riders. We didn’t tell them we have a brand new bike out of the box. It is interesting to hear what Dovi says after riding the Honda and Yamaha recently and he has a lot of experience of the two best bikes. We knew it was going to be tough and it is. This change isn’t going to happen overnight but we need to see significant improvements very soon.”
Ciabatti gave a frank assessment of Ducati’s current situation, admitting the Desmosedici need to be improved in every area.
He said: “We need to improve the chassis, we need a better connection between the throttle and response of the engine and we need to give better rideability. We need to make traction control more predictable for the rider. It is quite simple.
The bike is not at the same level as the other two bikes. We want to win otherwise we wouldn’t be working on significant changes if we thought it was just a problem of set-up. We are working on radical things and time is not in our favour but we know we have some deficiencies on the bike and we need to fix them in order for the rider to be able to push harder.
In the end it is a problem of the behaviour of the bike and confidence given to the rider for them to push 100%. We have a lot of work to do and I wish we had a magic wand but unfortunately we don’t want to come to races with unproven and untested components. I’m honest and I can’t tell you that at the next Sepang test you will see a completely new bike.”
For comprehensive coverage of the second Sepang test in Malaysia, see the March 6 issue of MCN.