In the second of our MotoGP mid-season reviews we take a look back at the start that the Ducati Team have had to the 2017 season.
Lorenzo makes career changing decision
Back in 2016, there was a lot of speculation surrounding one certain rider. That rider was Jorge Lorenzo, then with Movistar Yamaha he was rumoured to be signing a contract imminently to make the move to Ducati.
It split the paddock and fans worldwide as some thought it was a great move and that the Spaniard would achieve great things, they hoped they would bring the Italian manufacturer back to championship winning ways and expected him to do it straight away. Some questioned why he would move from a team who were currently more than capable of retaining their titles.
He opted for the change however and in doing so caused a whole influx of movement throughout the paddock. He was to join Andrea Dovizioso (Ducati Team) in 2017, therefore replacing Andrea Iannone who was pushed out and moved to Team Suzuki Ecstar to replace Maverick Vinales who decided to replace Lorenzo at Ducati.
All eyes on the Spaniard as he makes his Ducati debut
The first off-season test, immediately after the final round of the season at Valencia meant was the first chance to see the riders come to grasp with their new bikes and all attention was on the one who started it all, Lorenzo. He was surrounded by media and onlookers the whole time as they thought some great feat; little did they know that it was happening in Lorenzo’s old camp instead, Movistar Yamaha.
Vinales was stealing the limelight at the show, topping the timesheets as he took to the M1 with ease. The Spaniard topped the timesheets while Lorenzo, who spent most of the first test on the 2016 Desmosedici GP, was third quickest on the opening day but then finished the test in eighth. He was around the 12th to 8th point in Sepang and 15th to 8th in Phillip Island… it was an indication of things to come.
For Dovizioso on his other hand, he was having a much easier time of it of course as he was used to the machinery, but did spend some time developing the Desmosedici GP17. In Valencia he was fifth and third overall, in Sepang progressed was from third to seventh, and in Phillip Island was eighth and fifth but seventh overall.
Second for Dovi at season opener
It wasn’t the worst start to the season for Ducati however as Dovizioso managed to finish the season opener in Qatar on the podium in second less than half a second off race winner, Vinales.
Lorenzo’s debut as a Ducati rider saw him finish the race, that almost didn’t go ahead because of the rain before the race that would significantly reduce visibility at the floodlit track, saw him finish ninth in Qatar…. that miracle wasn’t looking like it would materialise.
Disappointment for Ducati in Argentina
Argentina was a right-off as far as the factory Ducati Team were concerned as after Lorenzo qualified on 16th, and Dovizioso was just ahead on 13th, the two both picked up a DNF in South America.
Lorenzo crashed out on the first lap, he didn’t even make it past the first corner. Dovizioso crashed with 11 laps remaining, it was best that they, and we just moved on!
Steady incline of progress for the factory team
This poor result was in a way a bit of a turning point for the Ducati Team riders, as what began after the bad result in Argentina, was a steady incline of progress for both the riders (consistently for Dovizioso at least.
They turned up to the Circuit of the Americas with extra determination. A place that is dominated by the Repsol Honda team, they put up a good fight.
Lorenzo had to use Qualifying 1 to progress through to Qualifying 2 but started from the back of the fourth row in 12th, whereas as Dovizioso was 10th. The both progressed during the race, Dovizioso finished sixth and Lorenzo ninth, and then I realised that for a manufacturer that once won a championship, this is not the results they were after so we will swiftly move on.
Lorenzo proves a point in Jerez
Jerez was a chance for Lorenzo to prove that knowing and favouring a track makes such a difference, no matter what the machinery that you use. He superseded his teammate in Qualifying and the race.
Starting from eighth on the grid, and after being second quickest during the warm-up, maybe the home win was where he wanted to collect his first.
Lorenzo looking to continue his celebrations on home turf
After celebrating his 30th birthday a few days before, he continued the celebrations when he finished second collecting his first ever podium as a Ducati rider.
Having admitted to taking ‘a more scientific approach’ to the Italian machine, Lorenzo managed to pluck off those ahead of him one by one, starting with his former teammate and his replacement, Valentino Rossi (Movistar Yamaha) and Vinales, before taking on the factory Hondas and rookie Yamaha rider, Johann Zarco (Monster Yamaha Tech 3).
There was no catching race leader and winner in Jerez, Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda) who performed a masterclass at his home track and was able to manage the gap he had between him and the pack that followed. Still, Lorenzo finished second in Jerez and picked up 20 championship points.
It wasn’t too dissimilar a story for Dovizioso who after qualifying in 14th on the grid, surged through the pack during the race to finish in fifth. He would have to wait for a second podium, but it was imminent especially as the Ducati was coming strong towards the end of the race.
Mayhem in Le Mans
Onto Le Mans and the Moto3 race was extra eventful as a crash on the opening lap caused carnage on the lap two, as approximately 20 riders slid out due to a substance left on track by a fallen rider who recovered and re-joined the race. Fortunately nothing like that occurred in the MotoGP race.
Wet conditions spoiled them from making much progress on the opening day, and drier conditions saw Dovizioso qualify seventh and Lorenzo recovered some positions to claim 15th on the grid.
Race day was dry, although they had to be cautious at the corners affected earlier, and the layout of the track allowed them to use the acceleration of the Ducati to their advantage and they finished just off the podium; Dovizioso was fourth and Lorenzo was sixth.
Dovizioso makes history on home turf
It was Mugello where history was made however as after leading on the opening session of the meeting, Dovizioso qualified in third on the grid, and from the front row won in Italy; becoming the first Italian to win on Italian machinery in Italy for absolutely years.
His win not only saw him claim the top spot of the podium and made sure the Italian national anthem was played three times that day, he well and truly closed the gap in the championship. Can you believe that he did all this after suffering food poisoning that saw him sit out the morning warm-up session too?
Dovizioso’s success, and firm results bar that in Argentina meant that he moved up to second in the championship behind Vinales, passing former leader and fellow Italian, Rossi. However, Vinales had a firm lead that would take some beating. What more, than another win?
Mugello was more difficult for Lorenzo who dropped down to eighth in the race after qualifying in 13th on the grid. The Italian round was the first time the rider had led a MotoGP race since moving to Ducati, but he was forced to sit up when passed by Rossi and lost positions, from then on he dropped down the results.
Back-to-back wins for Dovizioso
Back-to-back wins did you say? Yes, that’s what the Italian did as in Catalunya at the modified track, Dovizioso claimed his second win of the season right after Mugello. The class returned to the circuit in Barcelona just after a year after Moto2 rider Luis Salom lost his life during Free Practice.
In order to bypass the turn where they were lacking in run-off areas to slow the riders before a collision with the wall, the corner was bypassed and they used the Formula 1 layout.
In 2017 they returned to the track that had been modified as a new chicane was included, plus larger run off areas, but it confused riders and proved difficult because of bumpy changes in tarmac and so they again resorted to the Formula 1 layout.
The massive straight at the Circuit de Barcelona again benefited the Ducatis, although a poor qualifying again (15th) for Lorenzo meant that his work was well and truly cut out for him. Dovizioso had a much easier rider from sixth on the grid.
Dovizioso progressed forwards through the race, but Lorenzo appeared to once again go backwards. After taking the lead on the 17th lap, there was no stopping the Italian and he went on to win in Catalunya; doing the double and stealing the championship lead in the meantime.
A late recovery in the latter stages of the race, after losing positions especially at turn one, Lorenzo was able to finish fourth, again on home turf. He was making progress but a decision during the next round was to ruin his good run.
Could he make it three on the bounce?
The penultimate round before the summer break was in Assen which in 2016 was hindered by rain. It was to be no different this year however as once again the riders had to contend with the mixed conditions during Free Practice and Qualifying and then to add to the stress, a shower hit during the race.
No matter what the machinery, and completely understandably, Lorenzo lacks confidence in the wet. Although he has said to have done independent training to overcome his barriers, with the rain he loses trust in the adhesion on track.
Lorenzo chooses to swap bikes in the wet
Lorenzo qualified in 11th and championship leader, Dovizioso was ninth. Both riders chose to sit out of the damp warm-up session prior to the race feeling the risk was not worth it as conditions were set to improve.
Their work was cut out already and the shower did not help things at all. After compensating positions, the shower hit and as Dovizioso continued to try and press on at the front, Lorenzo made the decision to return to the pits when the white flag was waved to swap bikes for his spare one with a wet set-up.
It was the best choice for Lorenzo as it helped with his confidence, and he made it earlier on, but the remainder of the riders refrained from making the switch.
Had they made the change, the fact that he did act so quickly would have helped, otherwise he lost far too much time for the change to be effective. He made up several positions and fast after the shower but only managed to finish 15th claiming one spot.
Dovizioso battles for third in Assen and takes championship lead
Dovizioso had continued on as he was challenging for the podium and the riders surrounding him also continued to push on. Dovizioso did slip backwards and ended up participating in an intense battle for third along with Marquez and Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) who invited himself to the party.
Changing positions several times on the closing laps, Dovizioso was unable to maintain the pace as he struggled with adhesion, and so as Rossi broke a 385 day drought when he returned to winning ways in Assen, making it three Italian wins in a row, Dovizioso had to settle for fifth. Still, his championship hopes were ignited as he took the lead for the first time in the season with a four point gap over Vinales.
Final round before the summer break
Sachsenring was the final round before the well-deserved summer break for the MotoGP class. Dovizioso surely would have loved nothing more but to still be leading after the ninth round before the break in proceedings.
The championship lead clearly left Dovizioso feeling confident, as he was once again quickest at the end of the opening session. He remained top 10 throughout and qualified in fifth.
It was a completely different story for Lorenzo compared to previous as he demonstrated that he has improved in confidence in the wet as although it was pouring wit rain he was able to qualify sixth and so would start from the back of the second row on the grid.
Knowing tyre choices would again be crucial, and fortunately having had completed some dry time on track were not going into the race blind however, after decent starts and Dovizioso performing stronger in the race, they both began to struggle with adhesion in the rear and gradually lost positions as a result.
Dovizioso loses grasp of championship lead
In finishing eighth in Sachsenring, Dovizioso lost his championship lead to Marquez who jumped from third to fourth with a win at the German GP.
All is not lost however for Dovizioso as he still remains very much in touch half way through the season. The top four are covered by just 10 points, Marquez leads with 129 points, Vinales is second with 124 points and Dovizioso is trailing him by just one point as he is on 123; Rossi is fourth with 119 points.
The top three have won two rounds each, and Dovizioso has only missed out on points on one round so although it is too hard to think who is in with the best chance to claim the title, the Italian is very much part of the runnings.
Lorenzo finished 11th in Sachsenring, the lack of adhesion had again become too much. At the mid-way point, Lorenzo is ninth in the championship on 65 points.
Between him and the front runners stands Pedrosa, two rookies from the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team, Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger, and the other Desmosedici GP 2017 pilot, Danilo Petrucci.
Dovizioso oozing potential heading into summer
So, so much for all them dreams people had for Lorenzo as early as midway through the 2016 season when he made that life-changing decision. It can’t be easy for the Spaniard who last won a championship title in 2015 with Movistar Yamaha. And it can’t help matters that the fella occupying his old spot is very much in contention.
Though, it is not fair to write Lorenzo off. We all know of his skill and potential, and the Ducati has always been a tough bike to crack.
Where onlookers and fans thought he may have been able to do what Rossi did not, he may have to stand back and watch as his new teammate does it instead. Dovizioso is proving that that bike is capable of achieving the title; Lorenzo just needs to back him up when they return.
Another thing that will be concerning Lorenzo is the fact that independent team rider, Petrucci, who in on the same model machinery as him, is not only pulling in the results, but he is making a name for himself as on several occasions he has been fighting for the podium.... of course they do have several years experience on them over the Spaniard. Lorenzo has brought it to the podium once... surely he can do it again.