If ever Valentino Rossi
needed a strong performance, it's this weekend at round two of the 2012 MotoGP
World Championship at Jerez
Having gone public with criticism of Ducati after struggling to tenth place from twelfth on the grid (and last of the manufacturer bikes) in the Qatar season-opener, the rumour mill has gone into overdrive about a possible divorce.
Rossi's contract, like those of all the leading MotoGP
riders, expires at the end of this year and both rider and team have since played down the radical suggestion that he could quit early.
Gabriele Del Torchio, Ducati president and CEO, referred to Rossi's comments as 'letting off steam'.
But there's no doubt that the seven time MotoGP
champion, seventh overall with one podium during his debut season at Ducati, needs to see tangible progress with the Desmosedici project sooner rather than later.
Fun has always been a key racing ingredient for Rossi and losing week-in, week-out on a bike that doesn't seem to respond to his changes isn't much fun.
Ducati can point to a constant stream of modifications, based on Rossi's feedback, since the start of 2011 as proof of their determination to return The Doctor to the top. The fact that Rossi was beaten by other Ducati riders at Qatar also complicates the situation.
When Ducati was regularly winning, with Loris Capirossi
(990cc) and then Casey Stoner
(800cc), it was the differences in its motorcycle design that were hailed as the key to its success (tyres, engine, frame).
The same view is now working in reverse, with the Desmosedici's main features being compared with those of its Japanese competitors, and the differences branded as faults.
As such, it is Ducati's wide 90-degree V between its cylinders that is increasingly cited as causing the understeer and lack of front-end feel that Rossi has experienced ever since his Valencia 2010 test debut.