MotoGP: Lorenzo and the Ducati-forced metamorphosis not going so well

Jorge Lorenzo needs to drastically change his riding style to work with the Ducati, but doing so is proving tougher than expected

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Figuring out how to ride the Ducati Desmosedici GP17 to maximize its potential has proven tougher than expected for Jorge Lorenzo and the Ducati team. His 11th place result at the season opener at Qatar shows the three-time MotoGP world champion still has a lot of work to do.Photo courtesy of Michelin

The special circumstances under which the Qatar GP played out showed that the question regarding Jorge Lorenzo’s adaptation to the Ducati is still an unanswered dilemma. While Lorenzo showed some promise during the Sepang preseason test, the following Phillip Island and Qatar tests demonstrated that there was still a lot of work to be done. And if you only take into account his performance at Losail a few weeks ago, it’s clear that things are not going well.

After 11 full days of practice on four different tracks—Valencia, Sepang, Phillip Island and Qatar—plus the GP weekend, it’s easy to imagine that the Ducati engineers have put the bike through a thousand laps, trying everything under the sun to supply Lorenzo a base with which he feels at ease. That's essentially what the preseason is all about.

But it’s clear that the base is not there yet, that Lorenzo is still not comfortable with his Ducati. His performance says it, his body language on the bike says it...and he says it himself. The Desmosedici is the polar opposite of the bike he has piloted over the eight years that he’s been in MotoGP, and thus it requires an inevitable period of adaptation. Lorenzo and everyone involved in the Ducati project were aware of this, but everything is probably proving more difficult than expected.

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Ducati Corse general manager Gigi Dall'Igna (left foreground) and the rest of the Ducati crew have been working overtime attempting to give Lorenzo a base setting on the Desmosedici GP17 that provides the comfort and confidence he's looking for. The search continues...Photo courtesy of Ducati Corse

After so many days of testing at four different locations (plus one race), the feeling is that this particular blockade in Lorenzo’s adaptation is now due to the rider rather than any particular setting. Maybe the first pauses were of technical origin, not understanding the bike for example, but when the rider tries to find answers and does not find a way out of the weeds, the technical problem ends up becoming a psychological wall.

The one advantage of this situation for Lorenzo and Ducati is that Andrea Dovizioso's performance (where the Italian finished second to winner Maverick Viñales) serves as a benchmark. It demonstrated that there is a way to ride Dall'Igna’s Desmosedici competitively. The bike is clearly capable of winning now; it just needs someone capable of riding it the way it needs to be ridden.

It’s true that it took Dovizioso a lot of time and effort to figure out how to get the most out of the Ducati—he moved from the Repsol Honda squad to the Borgo Panigale team—but Lorenzo's starting point is different. Lorenzo arrives with a different status; he comes from a place where he was winning world championships, and has a certain mindset regarding his status and where he should be. It’s not the same when a rider arrives as just another one of many versus when he arrives as "the champion." The former wants to demonstrate he is capable of riding well; the other comes with an obligation to win races and championships. Dovizioso joined the team without pressure to perform; Lorenzo joined as the rider who would win Ducati its second world title…and the sooner the better.

As Lorenzo himself has recognized, in order to have a chance to meet these expectations, it will be necessary to drastically change his riding style. He doesn’t have a choice; he will go well at some circuits—a few—and will struggle at many more unless he discovers the key to unlocking the Ducati's performance potential.

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Lorenzo doesn't have a lot of time to get his riding style modified to suit the Ducati because he was hired to win races and championships, not spend a year getting accustomed to the bike and then getting up to speed.Photo courtesy of Michelin

The necessary metamorphosis won’t be easy. The Mallorcan will have to change a riding style that gave him three MotoGP titles (and two consecutive 250cc Grand Prix titles before that). Giving that up is mentally complicated. Put yourself in his shoes: Suddenly, what allowed you to win in the past, and what ultimately led you to the Ducati team and what they chose you to do—return them to the top—no longer works. Admitting this certainly would not be easy, and accepting the need to change surely affects motivation.

Lorenzo needs to adapt his riding style to take advantage of the Ducati’s strengths: its stability under braking, and its ability to accelerate. Ironically, neither are strengths of his riding style, which emphasizes corner speed through precise turn entry, rounded cornering lines, and getting on the throttle early. If he wants to get the most out of his new motorcycle, he will have to push his brake markers further forward and brake harder, minimize the time the Ducati is at maximum lean and get it turned as quickly as possible, and then take advantage of the engine power from the Borgo Panigale engineers. The Ducatis will obviously not change their basic design that gave them their strengths.

If Lorenzo manages to break through the mental block that he is in, his progression is expected to be rapid; he is a three-time MotoGP champion, after all. He’ll find the first half second quickly, and from there he will enter the "normal" process of shaving off the tenths that will separate him from the head of the race through the work of refining the details.

But Lorenzo urgently needs a circuit that will "help" him, a circuit that will allow him to find a way to go fast more or less comfortably. That is, in a way that gives him some confidence in the Desmosedici. For that to happen, he needs a track with grip. And of the circuits that are in the near future, two of them are not ideal in this regard.

The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit surface is not in the best state in terms of grip because the Argentina facility is used very little over the year, thus the tarmac gets dirty and there is little rubber deposited on the racing line. Also, it's not a race that Lorenzo has felt very comfortable at the last two years.

As for Jerez, with its rounded corners and asphalt that gets more slippery every year, it is possibly the worst place of the season for Ducati. It was no coincidence that Lorenzo and Dovizioso tested there following Qatar. The next races will therefore require a lot of peace of mind, a lot of mental strength from Lorenzo, and a lot of teamwork. His next hurdle will be in Argentina this weekend.