Andrea Dovizioso has revealed what he believes was the origin of his split with Ducati, focusing in on the exact point at the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix that he reckons triggered his decision to walk away from the Italian brand exactly one year later.
Speaking to Italian newspaper Gazzetta dello Sport this weekend, the 34-year-old, whose decision to part ways with the Bologna manufacturer has left him without a place on the MotoGP grid in 2021, says that tensions between him and team boss Gigi Dall’Igna came to a head at the Red Bull Ring – and the rest is history.
Coming as the latest in a series of indictments of the Ducati technical boss that have slowly emerged over the course of recent seasons, Dovizioso’s words do not paint a picture of a happy family within the team – and suggest that there’s a need for a radical shake-up in Bologna before the team finds its way back to winning ways.
“That meeting was supposed to be a technical meeting,” three-time MotoGP championship runner-up Dovizioso told the newspaper.
“There were a few different ideas, there was friction and we wanted a meeting with all the engineers, Gigi and myself. It started out as a technical meeting, but eventually, it became a confrontation between the two of us and, I don’t know how to describe it, Gigi felt… hit, attacked.
“In my opinion, he closed the doors there, but he closed them by keeping quiet. And what he has said since is the confirmation that he decided then that it was over. But it was not like that initially, because during 2020 statements were made about my motivation. Now we know that was not the truth. There was no transparent behaviour.”
That comes as no surprise given the cloud that hung over Dovizioso’s 2020 campaign with Ducati. With Dovizioso unhappy from the start with the team dynamic, and especially with the notoriously difficult to work with Dall’Igna, those tensions rose higher and higher throughout the season.
The less-than-ideal intra-team situation became apparent even from outside the garage as even close friends Dovizioso and team-mate Danilo Petrucci came to blows, and the veteran Ducati rider admitted to Gazzetta that in the end he and the firm never even reached the stage of seriously starting negotiations to keep him in place alongside Jack Miller for 2021 and beyond.
It also further fuels speculation that Dall’Igna is under increasing pressure ahead of the 2021 campaign, which Ducati will go into with new factory riders Jack Miller and Pecco Bagnaia. Having joined the brand from Aprilia in 2014 to revolutionise their MotoGP program after years of stagnation, he’s been something of a marmite figure since then.
No doubt a hugely successful engineer with a creative streak that’s been largely absent from MotoGP in recent years, Dall’Igna’s innovations have driven forward not only Ducati’s own project but that of their rivals too.
The first person to seriously apply modern aerodynamic research to the sport, he led the way in Ducati’s increasingly-extreme wing designs until his rivals had his plans curtailed by significant new restrictions.
He’s also applied his creative brains to other areas, prompting the widespread adoption of devices like MotoGP’s mechanical launch control and ride height adjustment tools – something that’s becoming increasingly a necessity.
And with that engineering savvy has come considerable clout within the team, according to Dovizioso – who says that it’s Dall’Igna who makes the decisions on who goes where, something that worked against Dovizioso in recent months.
“In 2020 there was never a real proposal. All the talks that ‘Dovizioso was asking for this money’ or ‘Ducati could offer this’, it’s all bullshit. We have never negotiated, but above all we have never received an offer. And, consequently, we have never rejected a low one. It is the confirmation that already in the 2019 meeting for Gigi it was over.
“In the end, these decisions come only from Gigi. People talk about Ducati but it’s wrong, all the decisions taken since he’s been there are his. Like signing [Jorge] Lorenzo instead of [Marc] Marquez in 2017. At the beginning of 2016, there had been the possibility of taking Marc, but Gigi had decided he wanted Lorenzo and he was signed.”
That presents particular concerns for Ducati’s future in the premier class. Radically reshaping the way its team works for the coming year by chopping both Dovizioso and Petrucci and replacing them with Miller and Bagnaia, Ducati is undergoing a significant changing of the guard and the exit of old stalwarts for younger (and perhaps more pliable) riders.
In theory that allows the team’s senior management and Dall’Igna in particular a chance for a clean reset after the tensions of 2020 – something that will no doubt be seen as both welcome and largely necessary.
It might also smooth some of the technical issues without forcing the veteran team boss to concede on his bike. The departing duo, and Dovizioso in particular, have spent years cursing the faults of the bike and its lack of mid-corner turning, only to be met by the head of the engineering department with a shrug and a command to ‘ride around’ the issues.
But now that Dovizioso and Petrucci have been replaced by two younger and more motivated racers who have already shown their ability to campaign the GP20 on Michelin’s new tyres (another bugbear of Dovizioso’s this past year), it could well be the saving of not only Ducati’s imminent MotoGP hopes but also of Dall’Igna’s role within the team.
Ducati is headed up by an outspoken CEO in the form of Claudio Domenicalli, and the eccentric Italian has shown in the past that he’s not afraid to be blunt with his employees – with three-time MotoGP champion Lorenzo and his 2018 departure a commonly-touted example.
It would thus be no surprise for Domenicali to turn his attention to the head of his race project either, should 2021 not see a marked improvement in form from the red bikes.