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Q & A with Ducati's Claudio Domenicali

Ducati admits its 2009 season was a tough one, with Casey Stoner's illness ending its title challenge and Nicky Hayden struggling to get up to speed on the Desmosedici. The winter then saw the departure of team boss Livio Suppo to Honda.

But after unveiling the new GP10 in Italy yesterday, Claudio Domenicali - general manager of Ducati Motor - told reporters he was extremely confident about the team's future prospects, and AUTOSPORT was there to hear his thoughts.

Q. Nicky Hayden has said that changing to long-life engines is actually raising costs, is that correct?

Claudio DomenicaliClaudio Domenicali: Well, Nicky's right, but I'm not wrong - meaning that clearly development is expensive, to make an engine that can last so long requires major development, this is true. However, the cost of the use of engines for the season is dramatically lower. So clearly in the first year there is a development cost, but starting from the second year and going forwards there is clearly going to be a major saving because we're going to use one third of the engines [that are used now].

Some components are slightly more expensive because they have to last longer, but the number of engines has gone down dramatically. This is particularly important for the satellite teams because the cost of use is going to be lower. Whether the sales price has decreased or not is another issue, but okay there is also a commercial policy and everyone does what they can.

Of course some makes may have been forced to do radical changes and hence their engine is going to cost three times more. I cannot talk for the others, I can talk about us at Ducati and our engine is just slightly more expensive, 10-15 per cent, but the number of engines is going to be cut to one third so overall it's going to be cheaper. So I think the regulation has been done well. We should not remove it in the future.

Q. Was there any time in 2009 when the team had doubts about Casey Stoner?

CD: One would have to be mad to have doubts about Casey's skills. He has been our dream. I brought him into Ducati and I recall tests in Qatar when he went out and after 20 minutes had a 3s advantage over second place. As a rider we have no doubts about Casey.

It was an extremely complicated year for him. He did not understand how to solve his physical problem, and we did not understand how we could help him. We had never found ourselves in a similar situation - I've been working at Ducati since 1991 and managing races since '94, so I do have a bit of experience. I've never found myself in a similar situation.

As usual when you're dealing with something for the first time it's more difficult to immediately find the right approach to be able to solve it.

Q. What is your position on talk of Valentino Rossi joining Ducati?

CD: Frankly speaking, I'm a bit embarrassed because we are here to speak about the Ducati Marlboro team of 2010 and we have our riders here so to speak about what is going to take place further on in the future is not delicate.

But I can still try to answer: I think that Casey is talent-wise the strongest rider in the world. Nicky gave us a wonderful lesson on life and management. Our motto is 'never give up' and Nicky taught us once again that we must never give up, so to think about something different with such a team is not appropriate.

However it is true that our agreements are going to expire mid-season. So between my will and what is going to happen, there may be some differences.

Q. Are the long-life engines less powerful?

CD: We have worked extensively on this issue because the regulation was known for quite some time, so this is not something which has surprised us. So we have been able to limit this to a minimal fraction. We're speaking about a little - nothing - in terms of loss of power. So we're happy.

If we had dedicated all of this energy and all of this investment into the improvement of performance, perhaps the engine would have been much more powerful. So let's say that we have worked so as not to lose rather than to gain power - but we have not lost power.

Q. Your new bike features a 'big bang' firing order rather than a 'screamer' - could you switch back to the old configuration if you had to?

CD: Theoretically we have the possibility to revert back, or to have two different engines. If Nicky and Casey would have chosen two different routes, we would have had the possibility to give them their preferred choice. It's not compulsory that you have to do one 100 per cent.

Of course there are logistical issues because the engines are quite different - we cannot change from one day to the other. But if we understand mid-season or after some races that we have made a mistake, given proper time we can revert back.

Q. The team has changed radically and the new management has less experience. Does that mean that you will have to be present at the races more?

CD: Surely this is true. We have lost a bit of experience with Suppo of course, Livio has plenty of experience. But we are going to gain with other assets. I define both Alessandro [Cicognani] and Vittoriano [Guareschi] as persons with whom you would like to go out for the evening, not just a working relationship. They're friends. They are serious and competent, and people who give 110 per cent when they tackle things, but at the same time people who like to tackle things laughing and joking. To work having fun is a bit of a motto. We do this as a passion. They do not need to be guided.

Clearly because of the experience that is maybe missing we'll try to stay close to them, not just me but Filippo [Preziosi] especially. You'll be seeing myself, but particularly Filippo at the racetracks more than in the past to compensate where potentially there could be a possibility of having to give some support.

Q. You talk of cost savings in the future from long-life engines, but were you expecting the change to 1000cc in 2012 when you agreed these rules? Will the 2012 engine require a total redesign?

CD: I think the savings that we have achieved derive from the development of new knowledge and new skills that can be brought forward into the future. So what we have learned with the 800cc engine, I'd say 90 per cent of this can be used again on a different displacement engine. The work that we have done is not going to be lost in the future.

Even though we are just at a preliminary stage and the detailed regulations don't exist yet and we just have a concept, I do hope that the concept of a limited number of engines will be kept into the future because cost control is extremely important.

The overall world of sportsbikes, in terms of volume of sales of road bikes, has gone down a lot. The promotions which are being done which are correlated to the sale of sportsbikes are more difficult to justify. Cost control is not just to overcome a period of crisis, I think it should be maintained in the future.

Q. What is your view on the possibility of having both prototype engines and engines derived from production bikes in the field together?

CD: I would say I have no problem - we have some engines with 1000cc displacement homologated which are almost at 200bhp in terms of power. So we could quite easily achieve a high-performance engine. So I think the regulations should set a limit, should set a displacement and say what can be achieved, and then leave to each one of us the possibility of developing the engine as we prefer.

I think the main teams will always develop a dedicated engine for races because you can achieve the most in terms of performance, the most in terms of weight, size and compactness of the engine. At the same time of course, I think that it could be more interesting in racing terms if we could see some new manufacturers maybe using different engines.

Q. You know Suppo extremely well and know what his goal is going to be. Can you hang on to Casey? Or beat Suppo to signing Rossi? And could Stoner live peacefully together with Rossi in the same team?

CD: It's not complicated, it's simple. Our goal is to be able to continue and to race as we like, so to be able to work by having fun and to make our fans have fun. This is the reason for which Ducati races.

Whether it's possible to hold on to Casey or to take Valentino, the answer is simple: we can try. To ask a manager publicly what they would like to do is a bit embarrassing. For me if it's a choice between one or the other, personally I have no doubt that we have the rider with the highest talent, so for me the priority is to hold on to Casey. I have no doubts about this, it's my personal priority.

But since the answer cannot stop here, could Casey and Valentino go well together? You would have to ask them. It's like asking a [football] manager would they like to have Maradona and Platini in the same team, of course, why not, we would like to, but then if the wedding is successful or not, we don't know. But the team has two strong riders and we would like this to continue, that's quite clear.

Q. Could Suppo give Honda what it has been missing?

CD: Livio is an extremely experienced person but in terms of his technical skills he's not going to take much, because Suppo always dealt with marketing and team management. On technical issues I do not think that Honda is even going to need his suggestions.

But he knows how to manage a team. I think like everyone he has pros and cons. I think that we are well organised to do well. Honda may be able to improve in some ways but may get worse in others. It's not going to lead to any major change.

Q. Can your engine changes finally decrease the gap between Stoner and the other Ducati riders?

CD: The first comment from Vittoriano after he first tested it was that the engine is much more friendly, and there is the possibility of being able to use it in a more reliable way - you can predict what it does.

Also with the changes that we did in the electronics in the second half of the season, the previous bike had become more rideable. So this should be a further step forward. Of course we're waiting for the first tests, but this is the reason why we've developed it as it is.

Q. Are there different engine options for the satellite riders?

CD: It's a logistical problem. They will start the season with the same engine as the factory bike in terms of firing order. Our forecast is that we will not change, but if from them there is a request for a change at some point in the season, we will consider it. Then it's a matter of logistics and parts.

Q. You had Mika Kallio in the factory team for three races but his performances were not so good. Have you analysed this?

CD: Of course Mika is not one of our factory riders but we look closely at the performance of our satellite teams. We discussed deeply with Mr Campinoti, his team principal, the structure, the organisation and the results. We are optimistic for this year because that was Mika's first year in MotoGP and in the races where he performed best, he crashed. We consider that part of a learning process. He's optimistic. He will benefit from the improvement of the bike so we have good expectations for him.

Q. What about his performance when he was on the factory bike?

CD: There was nothing special in these three races. He had a bike that was very similar to what he had at his satellite team, so we were not expecting a dramatically different performance. Maybe the pressure was a bit high. So this is the reason why, in our opinion, he did not have the best performance in these races.

Q. Did you decide to switch engines because of Yamaha's performance?

CD: No, we just considered our internal experience. We already went from screamer to big bang when we had 1000cc and we had a good improvement. Then we reverted back for the 800cc because we thought that with the reduced capacity the extra horsepower that you gain with a screamer would have been an advantage, and that was possibly a good choice for 2007 because our bike for 2007 was very fast.

Then going forward we started to think that maybe it was too much, so that was why we decided to make this experiment. We were not sure so it was up to the final decision of the riders.

Q. Will the MotoGP engines now last longer than Superbike engines?

CD: The answer is yes. In 2010 the MotoGP engine will last longer than the Superbike because we made the whole development in this direction. The Superbike engine, because of the rules and components, is very close to a production one, it really is. So when you try to get the maximum performance, you increase the revs and when you keep production parts, the life of the engine is decreasing. So we have a less long lasting engine even if the cost is dramatically less because it's made of production parts.

Q. When do you hope to sort out 2011 contracts and do you worry the uncertainty will affect your title bid?

CD: It's business as usual. We have one year of possibility to discuss and fix an agreement. We are all professionals so it's up to us to manage our jobs correctly - trying to do the best in the championship and to build a future. I don't see any special difficulties this year.

Q. Will you use the carbon swingarm at the rear?

CD: It's really a matter for testing. I don't think we have a final answer, it could depend from circuit to circuit - and even with the new engine firing order it could change again. It's something we'll keep testing and considering.

Q. Are crashes going to affect engine life?

CD: It's up to the manufacturer to build a kind of system in order to prevent parts entering into the engine. The damage to the engine during crashes is mainly due to stones entering the air intake or exhaust ports.

So we're considering to have some kind of device to avoid that happening. Our engine is pretty stable in terms of not damaging itself, even if you have to work with some seconds with lower oil pressure, so we don't see any problems.

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