It took the exasperated departure of their national hero and sport icon Valentino Rossi after two dismal, failure-ridden years, but it appears that Ducati are finally doing absolutely everything they can to improve their notoriously finicky GP machine, the Desmosedici.
The Desmo wasn't always a manic machine to ride. In fact, its first year in MotoGP started with considerable success.
In 2003, Loris Capirossi and Troy Bayliss were the first pilot's of Italy's new two-wheeled racing machine. In the opening race of the season, Capirossi, an Italian, put his country's two-wheeled pride and joy on the podium with a third-place finish.
Five races later, Capirossi won the Desmo's first Grand Prix victory in Catalunya, Spain. The Italian manufacturer would finish their maiden season of Grand Prix racing second overall in the constructors championship, trailing only Honda, who had World Champion Valentino Rossi piloting one of their machines.
After two relatively fruitless seasons during which the Desmo began to develop the negative reputation that has dogged it ever since, 2006 provided something of a resurgence.
Capirossi took victory in the first race of the season. Ducati would go winless in the next 10 races, but would then win three of the last six.
Their final win of the season came at the closing round in Valencia, Spain. Troy Bayliss, having just achieved his second World Superbike title for Ducati, returned to the MotoGP team for the injured Sete Gibernau. Bayliss rode as if he had never left—better, actually. He qualified in second position, quickly went into the lead after the start and then led the rest of the way, all 30 laps of the race. It was a dominant performance and a fitting end to Bayliss' GP career.
Casey Stoner began building his legend as the only rider able to successfully and consistently tame the Desmosedici in his 2007 championship season.
In 2008 he scored 280 points on his way to a second-place finish, it remains the highest point total for a runner up in MotoGP history.
However, Stoner's fortunes began to shift in 2009. He started the season strong, but then became afflicted by a mysterious illness that was eventually diagnosed as lactose intolerance but not before it forced him to miss three consecutive races, effectively putting an end to any championship aspirations for that season. The bike was also becoming more difficult to ride.
In 2010, the Desmosedici defiantly and definitively turned on its new master.
Stoner crashed out of the first and third races and didn't register his first podium of the season until the sixth race.
The lack of front-end feel that Stoner and Ducati had been struggling with continued to worsen until eventually not even Stoner could effectively ride the thing.
The reasons behind Stoner's ability to ride the Desmosedici better than anyone before him were two-fold. First and foremost: he rode like a mad man, which is what one has to do when they are not getting any feedback from the front end. If they are going to go fast, they must always be on the edge.
The second reason was his particular riding style. Having started racing motorcycles on dirt tracks, Stoner learned at a very young age how to ride without much front-end feel.
It was these two factors, his style and experience, that allowed him to master the Desmosedici.
Rossi, who had learned to ride on minibikes and is more of a tactician on the track, never had a chance.
Rossi himself has admitted as much: "Casey was the only rider that can be fast with the Ducati. All the other guys that try have destroyed not only their career but their mind, so congratulations to Casey."
Before switching to Ducati, Rossi had amassed 136 premier-class podiums including 79 wins.
In his two years with the Bologna factory he only had three podium finishes. One of them came in a wet race—a condition that lessens the Ducati's problems—and the other two came because Dani Pedrosa, who would have finished in front of him, crashed out of the races.
An icon disparaged, Ducati now had no choice but to pull out all the stops to regain credibility in the MotoGP paddock.
With Andrea Dovizioso taking Rossi's place in the factory garage alongside Nicky Hayden, and Andrea Iannone and Ben Spies piloting the Ignite Pramac "satellite" team, Ducati saw a chance to have four legitimate MotoGP riders offer them feedback on the Desmosedici.
Both teams, all four riders, will have full factory machinery in 2013.
Some critics will say that none of these four riders have ever successfully developed a bike, or that the best way would be to have one clearly defined leader on whom the manufacturer can lean.
Ducati are hoping that four minds working on the same project and four divergent sets of data will expedite development.
No matter if you agree with Ducati's tactics or not, there is no denying their desire to improve as evidenced by their willingness to dedicate vast amounts of money toward that end. And they may not have that long of a road left to travel.
If the path to success is paved with failure, Ducati’s journey must be nearly at an end.
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