Marlboro Ducati in 2013 was wholly uncompetitive.
Engineers were beyond frustrated and their riders were a bitter lot, all of which left fans of the blood red bikes from Bologna waving flags that may as well been surrender white in color. The team that came into MotoGP as outsiders who were able to show the Japanese factories how to go fast in MotoGP were reduced to being slower at times than they were the season before, while Yamaha and Honda set lap records and won races.
The signs that the situation had long reached mission critical at Ducati are many: Engineering maestro Filippo Preziosi is gone. Nicky Hayden is gone. Ducati actually hired Aprilia's top engineer Gigi Dall'Igna, a move which at one time was unthinkable--remember when Ducati wanted to buy Aprilia? Ducati MotoGP's Marlboro sponsorship deal, without which Ducati does not go MotoGP racing at all--expires in 2014 and Marlboro says no negotiating until there are better results on Sunday. This puts Ducati in a classic paradox: without better results they can't extend their Marlboro deal. Without the Marlboro deal there will be no better results, or results at all.
For Ducati this is essentially time to call for a helicopter to break them out of prison. There's little left to lose and the slim chance that a major gamble may pay off, and pay off big, is a tantalizing option.
Ducati, a true factory works MotoGP team, may join the ranks of the Forward Racings, the Aspar Hondas and others in 2014 when it signs on to become an "Open" MotoGP team.
Open class teams must use the Dorna-spec Magneti Marelli black boxes and software on their machines starting next season. However, open teams are allowed 24 liter fuel tanks and can use up to 12 engines per season per machine.
"Open" MotoGP teams also get more opportunities to test and get to use softer compound Bridgestone tires.
If this is true, and reports all over Italy today suggest that Ducati will try both factory and open spec bikes at Sepang next month, it means essentially that their lawyers have exhausted all appeals and all conventional routes out are blocked. Ducati has decided to run for the chopper amid gunfire.
|"Open" MotoGP teams also get more opportunities to test and get to use softer compound Bridgestone tires.|
A wonderful undercurrent to all of this is that Dorna's current minister of technology, Corrado Cecchinelli, was for many years the technical director of Ducati Corse (Racing) and was one of the founding members of Ducati's MotoGP team.
It's hard to imagine Ducati finishing worse than they did in 2013. But going to official "open" status in MotoGP may also be the ultimate mea culpa. If they chose the "open" road it means that they have seen the future and the future is that they can't compete with the factory Japanese teams, the very teams they put a target on when they entered MotoGP.