The bizarre story of Jorge Lorenzo signing with Repsol Honda has put Ducati's MotoGP program in the spotlight. Not for the reason the engineers in Borgo Panigale would have liked but more for the drama surrounding the misunderstanding between Lorenzo and part of Ducati's top management.

This noise plus the credit given to a new fuel-tank cover as the simple explanation for Lorenzo’s resounding victory at Mugello completely overshadowed the figures that show how much better the current Desmosedici is compared with its predecessor. When I put the numbers side by side after the Dutch GP at Assen, the evidence was undeniable.

Thus far this season, riders with full-factory support—read Lorenzo, Andrea Dovizioso, and Danilo Petrucci—have won three races (as opposed to two last year) and also netted one pole and three fastest laps. More astonishing is the number of laps led: 83 versus 33. Comparing points earned by the same riders after the same number of GPs, however, that sum is lower than in 2017.

Apart from the statistics, probably the most significant proof of Ducati’s step forward is its competitiveness at historically adverse tracks like Jerez, Mugello, and Assen. Remember that in Spain, Dovizioso and Lorenzo crashed into each other while running second and third, and Dovizioso lost control of his bike at Le Mans while leading. Ducati’s engineers appear to be doing their jobs well.

“I’m satisfied because I think we made a real improvement over the winter test,” Ducati Corse General Manager Gigi Dall’Igna began our conversation. “I would say even more so not only during the winter test but also with the development we introduced in the first part of the season. We are quite happy.”

How good do you now consider your bike to actually be?

I think that we have a good balance in terms of performance of the engine and the rideability of the bike in general. Our electronics also perform well. I think we have a good compromise, which I think is the most important.

But which area would you underline compared with last year?

Maybe we made some good steps with the chassis but also in the rideability of the engine.

Electronics or engine?

Both, electronics and also the engine.

Unlike Formula 1, in MotoGP you can’t test future performance through simulators.

That’s right. It’s possible to do some simulation but far from the precision they get in F1. The dynamics of a MotoGP bike, of any bike, are a lot different than car dynamics.

Jorge Lorenzo
Quickest on Friday: Jorge Lorenzo has six career podium finishes at the Sachsenring but the five-time world champion has yet to win a MotoGP race at the German track.Courtesy of Ducati

I imagine you heard Marc Márquez say after the race in Barcelona that Lorenzo looked like he was riding a Yamaha. How do you interpret this statement?

I would say that our bike at the moment is quite good for a lot of different riding styles and also different tracks. It’s important to give the riders the tools they need to show their potential independently of how and where they ride. I think we have a good compromise.

A colleague suggested that Lorenzo’s victories in Mugello and Barcelona weren’t his greatest successes. Rather, it was turning the Ducati into a Yamaha, which is what Lorenzo has wanted since his arrival. Do you share this sentiment?

What I think is that Jorge’s success is a triumph for everybody who works on the Ducati MotoGP project. And I have to add that, in the end, what is really important and what really matters is to get these results.

After hearing for days that Lorenzo’s key to winning was a fuel-tank cover, I wanted to ask you how the engineers feel about this?

First, I have to say that we have talked too much about that. Second, that fuel-tank cover is only one of probably 100 improvements that we did on the bike. It’s obvious that just with a different fuel-tank shape we could not get these kinds of results. It’s the complete package that gave Lorenzo the possibility to fight for the victory.

In your opinion, how much of Lorenzo’s success has been mental and how much technical?

For sure the head of the rider is one of the most important things for him to perform. But the head of the rider has to be “fed” with the technical evolutions of his bike. If the rider feels confident when he rides the bike, his head works positively and he starts to improve, improve, improve, and, at the end, you can have such results like we had in Barcelona and Mugello. So the technical development of the bike and the mental shape of the rider develop together.

I’ve poured over Lorenzo’s quotes since the beginning of the season. It was an interesting exercise because I could see a big switch between Circuit of The Americas and Jerez. Leaving Austin, Lorenzo’s morale was low, but after the first day of practice at Jerez, his speech changed radically. The Ducati then performed well in Jerez and Le Mans, culminating with wins in Mugello and Barcelona. If I remember correctly, Michele Pirro tested at Mugello between these two, COTA and Jerez. Was Pirro’s test a turning point?

Could be. Honestly, it could be.

Andrea Dovizioso
“The Sachsenring has created a few problems for us in the past,” Andrea Dovizioso admitted. “Like in the Netherlands, we will have to make a good analysis of the tire behavior.”Courtesy of Ducati

Speaking of Lorenzo, I must ask about the mess, because it has been a mess, surrounding his signing with Honda. Weeks have passed since this news came out at Mugello, but it continues to fill headlines. Lorenzo said Ducati knew since the beginning what he needed and it took 18 months to get it. What do you say to this?

I think everybody should talk a lot less. Everybody. There is no story anymore, finished, end. A page has been turned. We all should look forward. We have a job to do, and this is what we are concentrating on.

Will Lorenzo get full support despite knowing he will be a major rival next season?

Of course he will, the same way he has gotten full support since the first day he arrived on our team. And don’t forget that Jorge is still a big investment for our company, and it would be stupid in many aspects not to do our maximum for him to succeed. We will support him exactly the same way we will support Dovizioso.

How is Dovizioso? He was in the spotlight last year and is now more in the shadows.

Dovi has been really competitive in most of the races. He won the first race at Qatar, and he finished second at Mugello. True, he crashed twice, once in Le Mans when he was in the lead and also in Barcelona when he was third.

Do you fear his confidence could be affected by these crashes?

I don’t think so. He understands why he made these mistakes, which is important.

After Barcelona, Dovizioso insisted tire behavior has changed since last season. He was trying to ride like he did last year, which, in his opinion, is no longer possible despite Michelin guaranteeing the quality of the tires. Do you agree?

I think the rear tires are not the same as last year, although, as you said, they are the same on paper. My feeling is something has changed. I’m talking about a small change, not a big change.

Do you have data on this or is it just feeling from the rider?

We can see it in the data. There is the feeling but also some numbers (to support it).

As an engineer, you can work on electronics, you can experiment in the wind tunnel, you can do whatever, but in the end, it all depends on these two black rubber donuts fitted to your bike. Is that frustrating?

Look, I’ve been doing this job since 1992. A long time ago, I have realized that the tires are most important thing on the bike. So it’s not something new. It’s “take what you get or don’t play.” You have to understand the tires and adapt the bike to them.

When it comes to designing a bike, the starting point should be the tires?

Always.

Was the current tire issue the same with Bridgestone?

No, the situation at the end of the Bridgestone era was more stable. I expect that, at a certain point, we will also have the same stability with Michelin. When you start with something new, like it was the case of Michelin, you have to find out what is the good compromise and this entails having to change things. This is normal. Starting from now, I think the situation has to be more stable.

Let’s talk about the future. In 2019, Honda has Márquez and Lorenzo and Cal Crutchlow. Yamaha has Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales. Ducati has Dovizioso. All these riders are MotoGP winners. Does this look exciting for Ducati?

On paper, Lorenzo and Dovizioso look like a far more important team than Dovi and Petrucci, but all my life I always have tried to do the best with what I had. It won’t be different next season. As he showed last year, Dovi is a rider who can win the championship, and I’m quite convinced that Petrucci is a good rider. Is there anybody who said at the beginning of last year that Dovizioso would perform how he did? I think we will be competitive—that we can fight. This is the most important thing.

What about Pramac Ducati riders Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia? Do you trust them?

I not only trust them, I think these riders can be the future of Ducati.