‘Alvaro understands the bike now’ says Ducati boss Ciabatti

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

Just like the good old days Ducati’s top brass came to Misano, which gave us a chance to speak to Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti about Bautista, balancing rules, customer programmes and 2023 riders…

BSN: As in 2019 Ducati has signed Alvaro Bautista and after the first few rounds he is leading the championship. It all went wrong back then, so what have Ducati and Bautista learned from their previous mistakes?
PC: “Honestly, I think that the difference is that when Alvaro came on the Ducati in 2019, he was immediately fast. He got kind of a natural feeling that made him go very fast in the first races, and then all of a sudden, things started to go wrong, a few crashes, and he lost that feeling. But I think now he knows exactly. I don’t want to say that he didn’t know what was happening before, but kind of now he understands the bike better. The bike has evolved. So there is really a confidence based also on the understanding of the bike and its pluses and minuses. I think 2019 was just like a magic thing which happened. He just came, everything was good, going fast, winning and winning and winning, without really a full understanding of the whole thing. Again, after ’19, ’20, ’21, ’22, it’s four years now, we also improved the bike in some areas. He’s fast, confident. He knows what’s going on. In 2019 he was super-fast but maybe without the full understanding of the bike.”

BSN: Your WorldSBK customer program used to be incredible in WorldSBK and now it’s getting back there. How close are you to the final plan here? Would you like more teams? Is there a maximum number?
PC: “Being a production-based bike, we could even supply more. Now we have Barni who has been with us for ages. We have MotoCorsa with Mauri who has been with us a long time, but just recently in WorldSBK and we have Go Eleven. Honestly, I think we are happy with what we have. We don’t need to have necessarily more bikes because I think the situation has changed a lot from the old days, as you know. Bikes are a little bit more expensive to maintain, in a way. Very competitive, but I think also in terms of giving support to the teams, I think we are fine with the number we have now.”

BSN: How far along are you for riders for next year here in the factory team? We already see movement and announcements in MotoGP?
PC: “I think the plan is to continue with Alvaro and honestly to see a little bit more of Michael, because Michael has been with us for a few years now. Obviously, you expect both riders to be able to be challenging for the title. At least this is Ducati’s idea. Maybe somebody might think that having one rider who is capable of winning the championship and one rider who does good is enough. If you look at even Kawasaki and Yamaha, it looks a little bit like this. So, we just need to see that Michael is capable of fighting for the podium at every race. Here at Misano we expect him to do good. He won last year. But we want to see a little bit more consistency from him.”

BSN: Do you have a deadline for this kind of idea? Is there a month in the year it has to be decided?
PC: “Not really. I think obviously we come to a point when a rider needs to know and we need to know if that rider is with us or not, but at the moment, as I said, I think both riders are confident there is a possibility to continue with us. Obviously, with Alvaro, we are already talking about extension. With Michael, as I said, he knows that he has to just show that he is consistent on the top position. As you know, I’m not hiding, there is also a rider who is very close to Ducati and now is racing in America, Petrucci, with the same bike. If, fingers crossed, he can do good and win the MotoAmerica, I think a next step would be to find him an opportunity in WorldSBK. Whether it’s a factory team or not, this is too early to say, but this is also a rider we keep in the equation for WorldSBK in 2023.”

BSN: What about WorldSSP? Obviously, Supersport for Ducati has come back again into focus. You need some more freedom?
PC: “I think we got a little bit more freedom just here with 500rpm more. I think somehow the decision from the organisers was very cautious about these new generation bikes, so they were kind of more penalised than maybe they should. I think in principle, if it’s a new generation, it’s the future and you would like to see them at least competing at the same level as the older generation. But so far, for sure Aegerter is doing a super-good job, but it looks like the Yamaha R6 with the concession they have, was still until the last race the bike to beat and very difficult for these new-generation bikes to be at that level, even with equally good riders. If you look at Bulega, Manzi, these people, I think they are capable of being at the same level as Aegerter, Baldassarri, etc. So, let’s hope that now with the little bit more freedom that we got, we can be trying to win races. Because in the end, this is what we want. We don’t want to dominate. I understand that a 1000cc twin could be seen as a danger in a way, but we are less than 80% of throttle open. So, I think we just needed those revs in order to be able not to lose too much.”

BSN: Scott Smart from the FIM spoke a lot about this balancing rules situation in the winter. He said, what we’re going to do is throttle opening, not revs. This is obviously a change to get more revs. When you look at all the parameters, you would get more benefit with this?
PC: “We showed them where we were losing and what we needed. You can develop a different gearbox, or get revs. I think it’s much cheaper to get a little bit more revs. Why you should change a gearbox? Because with one click they can solve a problem, or reduce a problem. But, let’s see here. As I said, we don’t mind if a rider is better than the other riders. If he wins, it’s hats off. We would not be happy if some of the older bikes have an advantage. Again, I don’t want to be critical to anyone, but as you know, the Yamaha R6 is not on sale two years. You cannot buy that bike to go on the road. So, when you sell a bike which is race only, you can develop it as a race only. It’s a little bit, in my opinion, not really in the spirit of the championship in a way, because if it’s production-based racing and you have one bike which is just racing only, sold only as a racing kit… OK, to be fair, there are many teams with those bikes so you need to protect also the investment of those teams. Just make it a little bit more equal, and I think hopefully now it’s a little bit more equal.”

BSN: “Paolo, thank you…”
PC: “No, No, thank you”