In Qatar last weekend, Casey Stoner won on the all new GP9 Ducati Desmosedici - an all new carbonfibre chassis crafted by Ducati Corse from all things technological. It didn't just win the race, it utterly murdered the opposition. Fastest in all three practices, the two warm ups, the fastest lap of the race on his second flying lap, and victory 7.7 seconds ahead of an eight-time world champion.
Weekends when riders have such dominance are few and far between, but that weekend - or weekday night - in the desert was memorable for many in the red garage of the works Ducati squad because it was their fourth season-opening race victory on the bounce. The last time Ducati did not win the season opener was Valentino Rossi back in 2005 after he clashed with Sete Gibernau at the last corner at Jerez - a while ago.
Ducati Desmosedici GP9 © Ducati
There is this bizarre fact that it was the first carbon chassis victory in 500cc/MotoGP, while carbonfibre is now being made for the man in the street at relatively small cost. BMW's M3 has its roof made of carbonfibre nowadays, while it's almost difficult to buy a top-spec bicycle that is not carbon-tubed. The stuff can be cut, laid up and crafted into pretty well any shape you like.
But by the very fact that you are reading this article on a specialist motorsport website, you know all of that already and I'm wasting your time on that front, but there are things you didn't know about carbon and motorsport.
I spoke to Gordon Murray after the Qatar race and he reminisced upon his early days experimenting with the stuff.
"It was when I was at Brabham in 1980 and there were a couple of slow-speed incidents at Monaco. Silly incidents really, at about 30 or 40mph, but the front panels of the car completely shattered. It got me really worried for the drivers so I managed to convince Bernie [Ecclestone] to write off a modified BT49 into a wall somewhere in Munich to see what kind of damage it would suffer.
"We found that if we put more resin into the fibre, it folded more rather than shattered. We then designed and built our own autoclave and made more and more of the stuff, integrating it into chassis.
"The McLaren in 1981 had much more carbonfibre in than we had in our car. The most at that time, in fact. Ours had around 50 per cent carbon in, but it was the 1982 ATS designed by Gustav Brunner that was actually the first full 100 per cent carbon chassis. I didn't get a full 100 per cent carbon car out until 1985, but I did get some carbon brakes on a car with an eight-year lead ahead of the rest. That was in 1976."
Before then, Murray had designed a bike frame for Colin Seeley - a G50 Norton frame - but it was three times stiffer than the previous bike and no one could ride it.
So why the gap before carbon got to the top of the podium last Monday night?
Well, first and foremost the 500cc/MotoGP class was dominated by the Japanese since MV last won in 1974. Secondly, the Japanese, and also Ducati, have welded and made metallic chassis that gave the rider a feel of where the thing was going to let go, rather than being perfectly stiff. Ducati made it one of its major marketing points. It became as Ducati as the thing being red. Hell would freeze over if they had anything else.
Graham Hill (Lotus 49B Ford) 1968 Italian Grand Prix at Monza © LAT
But how naive would that be to think that motorsport stands still?
We've seen it in rallying with a leap forward by Audi and 4WD, while Colin Chapman bolted the gearbox to the back of the engine and the cockpit to the front. Oh, and he introduced wings.
Ducati has a new methodology that has borne fruit in recent years of getting a bike on the track early. It ain't rocket science, getting stuff out early to let you iron out the gremlins before you go public. The Carbon bike was on track about a year ago at a quiet Mugello; the Italian Ducati Corse test team all there, with an Englishman. Alan Jenkins had worked closely with Filippo Preziosi in getting the carbon chassis concept through to a living, breathing Borgo Panigale Ducati.
The link with the carbon F1 stuff and the quiet day at Mugello last spring was indeed Jenkins. He worked for McLaren when John Watson scored the first victory in a carbon car at Silverstone in 1981.
Jenkins had made a carbon kevlar hybrid helmet for RAF pilots at Farnborough before he ended up at McLaren. It may well have been John Barnard who drew the 1981 McLaren, but it was Jenkins who had the experience with carbon that got it to all fit together.
"We had some time in a wind tunnel in 1981 and we took a different under tray/diffuser to Zandvoort to try out. We found about 25 per cent more downforce there and then. Nowadays they have a party and crack open the booze if they find 2.5 per cent!"
Jenkins is no stranger to winning. He engineered Alain Prost to world championship success, celebrated winning the Monaco GP with the Prince and the Princesses, took Stewart GP to the top of the podium for a figure that if I wrote it here you just would not believe, helped Alinghi win the America's Cup and now, from his UK base, has assisted Preziosi and the Ducati engineers to beat the Japanese.
"We finished that 1981 carbon car at 4am with us all putting stickers on the car. Ron was there too with the Marlboro logos, rubbing the bubbles out of them before the car went to Long Beach. I wanted to get there but I couldn't, so I went to Silverstone instead. But halfway through the race John [Barnard] just piped up that he was leaving the garage to go for a walk when Wattie was up to second.
"We walked down the pitlane to Copse and then along the grass - the racing side of the barrier - all the way up to Becketts and along the Hangar straight when John took the lead. So we turned on our heels, but by the time he actually won it we were only back at Copse.
"The stiffness of that first chassis was amazing. [Andrea] De Cesaris went off at Zandvoort, headlong into the barrier. It cleft open the two rails of barrier, the car going so deep into the opening that it was swallowed right up to the beginning of the side pod. No one could believe it."
Andrea de Cesaris and John Watson (McLaren MP4/1 Fords) 1981 Austrian Grand Prix at the Osterreichring © LAT
And now maybe the bikes have too.
Jenkins sees everything. The experience of millions of miles of racing data to shoot a bullet through the bullseye rather than using a shotgun to scatter the shot over the target is what Ducati have been cooking up over the past 12 months, or even longer.
Jenkins wasn't walking up the astroturf in Qatar last Monday, but instead was watching history unfold from his sofa, but the link was there nonetheless.
Using the engine as a stressed member is nothing new, but to have the engine attached to a carbon fibre airbox that is rigid enough to be the steering head too, with the swingarm attached - as is the Ducati MotoGP norm - to the rear of the engine is completely new for bikes. It heralds a totally new page in the book of developments and all from a small drawing office in Bologna.
Ducati says that "the GP9 guarantees greater precision and stability in braking and on entering corners". So, coupled with Stoner's 250cc style and speed through those corners, they must be more than confident just off the Bologna ring road at the moment.
Monday night may well have been only the first race of 17, but the ominous sign for the others is the distance over Rossi that Stoner had, and the 16 seconds ahead of third placed Lorenzo. The others must be praying to catch up in time for the post-Rossi era. If that was now, Lorenzo would've been second. Oh dear.
Qatar was the first for a Monday race, but it heralded something as fundamental as ECUs being part of modern engines, cross ply tyres, data logging and posers on the grid. Carbon, the new black.
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