Though Ducati won't have an official presence on the World Superbike Championship grid once again in 2012, the domination of Carlos Checa
and Althea Ducati last season proves bona fide factory support isn't the essential factor in a title-winning campaign.
Of course, the level of Ducati's involvement has been much debated, with Althea insisting its influence has been fairly minor, though the presence of Ernesto Marinelli in the garage at various events suggested otherwise.
Even so, it certainly required Ducati itself to delve into its pockets to retain its champion rider, the Italian manufacturer intervening just in time to prevent Checa from accepting a tempting offer from BMW.
A win-win situation for both since Checa made it fairly clear his first choice was always to stay with Althea Ducati, the level of his domination in 2011, and the harmony he has established with Genesio Bevilacqua's team, suggests he cannot be considered anything other than the favourite to win again this year.
Having shown some incredible race-craft last season, it's hard to see where rivals can exploit any weaknesses. Fortunately for his rivals (and for those hoping for greater competition than was shown at times in 2011), the organisers may have handed down the solution – a 6kg weight increase on the 1098R.
Appeasing the calls from rivals that the twin-cylinder Ducati had an advantage last year, though Althea have vigorously denied the weight parity made any difference to their form, Checa is worried about having an extra ballast to lug around and pre-season comments have been fairly negative.
Indeed, though Checa was fastest during the pre-season Phillip Island test, he admits he is at the limit and having won three of the last four races there, his form around the circuit doesn't necessarily make it representative of elsewhere.
Despite the increase, Ducati remains the most popular option on the WSBK, with seven entries being submitted, including an extra bike from Althea, who will expand to two machines for Checa and Davide Giugliano.
A reward for his excellent run to the title in the FIM Superstock 1000 class, Giugliano gets a full-time debut after a brief appearance at the end of 2011. Ducati have high hopes for the Italian and have invested a lot into the 22-year-old, but he arrives with a substantial learning curve ahead of him. On the plus side, Giugliano can learn from Checa, though the quality of the team around him there is pressure to be a top five contender by the end of the season.