David wrote a great article on the Rossi fiasco. The most interesting part to me will surely get all the Rossi fans' thongs in a bunch.
"If Rossi leaves without making the bike competitive, then his legacy will be tarnished, despite much of the blame being attached to Ducati. Failing to turn the Ducati around will leave a stain on his reputation and that of Burgess. Some seeds of doubt are already being planted. Though the M1 campaigned by Alex Barros and Olivier Jacque did not win a single race, Barros had a significant input on the bike that Rossi inherited. Masao Furusawa had already built a completely new bike for Rossi's arrival, and the Italian's role was not so much development as correctly identifying the bike that Furusawa had expected to be best. While Rossi and Burgess have received much of the credit for developing the Yamaha M1 that Rossi would go on to win the championship on, that view underestimates the massive role that Furusawa played in understanding the weaknesses of the bike and improving it, before Burgess and Rossi got their hands on the bike to tweak it."
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Valentino Rossi's Options for the Future | MotoMatters.com | Kropotkin Thinks
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Valentino Rossi's Options for the Future
Submitted by David Emmett on Tue, 2012-04-17 15:43
It is ironic that the high point of the relationship between Valentino Rossi and Ducati came as he rode the first few meters out of pit lane and on to the track at the Valencia MotoGP test in November 2010. All of the excitement that had been building since the first rumors emerged in early June that the nine time world champion would be leaving Yamaha to join the iconic Italian manufacturer culminated as Rossi emerged from a crowd of photographers and powered down pit lane, watched by a large group of fans who had come to the test to see this very moment.
From that point on, it was all downhill. Within a few laps, it was clear that Rossi would struggle with this bike, and though everyone was putting a brave face on his performance, he left the test in 15th place, one-and-three-quarters of a second behind his ex-teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and 1.7 seconds behind Casey Stoner, the man whose bike he was now riding and who had left Ducati to join Honda. The contrast between the two could not be greater: where Stoner was bullying the Honda around as if he had been born on the RC212V, Rossi - handicapped in part by his still-injured shoulder - looked like a frightened rookie, thoroughly intimidated by the bike.
Rossi learned two important but disturbing things at that test: the first was that the Ducati was a much, much worse bike than he had expected. Stoner's brilliance and the genius of his crew chief Cristian Gabbarini had flattered the machine, disguising its massive weakness. The second was that Casey Stoner had to be a much, much better rider than he thought if the Australian had managed to be competitive on the bike that had so shaken Rossi's confidence. Throughout the year, as Rossi struggled, he was forced to answer the same question over and over again. Why could he, the man with nine world titles and widely regarded as one of the greatest racers of all time, not be competitive on the bike that Stoner had won three races on the previous season, and put on the podium at Valencia before handing it over to Rossi? "Casey rode this bike in a special way," Rossi answered every time. "I cannot ride this bike like that."
Understanding that Stoner could be so competitive on the Ducati must have been a blow to Rossi's confidence and his self image. After their legendary and heart-stopping duel at Laguna Seca, Rossi had felt he had the measure of the Australian, beating Stoner more often than not and taking the 2008 and 2009 titles. Once he realized that throughout that period, Stoner had been bringing a knife to a gunfight and still regularly beating him - even after the introduction of the spec tire - Rossi must have asked questions of his own ability.
Ducati, Development and the Future
From Valencia onwards, Rossi looked to his track record of developing bikes. Together with his legendary crew chief Jerry Burgess, The Doctor worked at providing the feedback and input to Ducati that would help them turn the bike around. That, surely, was where Casey Stoner had fallen short, in not developing the Ducati in the right direction to make it competitive. And that was one of the reasons that Rossi had been hired, to help create a machine that could be competitive in the hands of more riders. At Qatar in 2011, one of Rossi's mechanics expressed the commonly-held opinion that this was the key problem at Ducati, that Stoner did not have the skills to develop a bike that was easier to ride.
Qatar 2012. After three chassis for the 800cc machine and two for the 1000cc bike, Rossi finds himself only a little better off than at the start of the process. The latest iteration of the GP12 - the bike completely redesigned from the ground up between the Valencia test in 2011 and Sepang in 2012 - does at least respond to setup changes in a way that previous Ducatis never have, but the core of the problem remains: a lack of feel from the front end, and a tendency to run wide in the corners. The bike is better, but it still has the fundamental flaws that the Desmosedici has had in every iteration since its inception. Despite all of the testing Rossi has done, despite all of the feedback he has given Ducati, real change is yet to come.
And so Valentino Rossi learned a second important but disturbing lesson: The state the Ducati was in when he inherited from Casey Stoner had nothing to do with the Australian's development skills, and everything to do with Ducati's attitude. Whether Stoner can develop a bike or not is unknown, for his input was either ignored or misinterpreted at Ducati. That was one of the reasons that Stoner himself had cited for leaving the factory. "I asked Ducati so often for changes," Stoner told the press after he had joined HRC, "But we never got them. The bike we started the season on was what we had to work with all year."
Ducati would disagree with that statement. One Ducati spokesperson impressed upon me in 2010 just how hard Ducati were working. "We've given Casey many things this season. New forks, new triple clamps, many things." That season, Honda worked their way through five different chassis in an eventually successful attempt to cure a chronic stability problem.
How To Say Goodbye
Return to Qatar 2012, and Valentino Rossi's outburst on Italian TV
- though watching the video, it was as polite and as measured as all of his responses have been since joining the Italian marque - that Ducati had not given him the bike that he wanted, and that he simply could not be competitive on the machine he had to work with. His frustration was apparent, saying that he had considered pulling in, but had continued out of respect for his mechanics and crew. Hope had died in 2011, he said. "Ducati did not follow the direction I have tried to steer them in. I am not an engineer, and I cannot solve every problem."
In the days that followed, a string of rumors emerged. Sightings of Rossi's friend and confidant Alessio 'Uccio' Salucci talking to Phillip Morris boss Maurizio Arrivabene had the press abuzz with rumors of Rossi wanting an early exit to his Ducati contract. Talk had already emerged of a Coca Cola-backed satellite Yamaha for 2013 even before qualifying had started for the 2012 MotoGP season opener. One Spanish source even went so far as to report that Rossi would not finish the season with Ducati
, and would take a sabbatical this season, to return to try again on a Japanese bike in 2013. Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio was quick to step in and dampen suggestions
that the Bologna factory and Rossi were heading for an early divorce, and at Monza, where Rossi was racing a Ferrari in the exclusive Blancpain Endurance Series, the Italian himself told a comic TV show
that he would not be going anywhere, and would be trying to make the relationship work.
A divorce before the end of the season seems unlikely, however. Rossi's contract is with Ducati via Phillip Morris, and the tobacco giant's legal team handling sports and sponsorship is notorious for writing watertight legal documents. The chances of Rossi getting out of the contract without suffering major financial consequences are nonexistent. Not only would the Italian have to forfeit his salary for this year, but penalty clauses for damages would probably also put a sizable dent in Rossi's personal fortune. An early exit would damage all three parties: Rossi, for giving up on the contract so early in the season; Ducati, for failing to give a proven champion a winning bike; and Marlboro, for backing a losing combination, and being associated with failure.