‘These two guys were incredible, on and off track!’ So began the reply of Tech3 boss Herve Poncharal, when asked to cast his mind back to 2012 and, specifically, Andrea Dovizioso’s career-changing year at the French team.

The reason for the question was simple. As we were speaking, in Poncharal’s office at Silverstone, Dovizioso was announcing he will call time on his 20-year grand prix career after Misano.

Memories of Dovizioso’s brilliant season on a Yamaha at Tech3 had played a major role in the Italian’s decision to return with the RNF team, just under a year ago.

The French connection continues with Dovizioso’s replacement for the final six rounds of this year, Yamaha test rider Cal Crutchlow, having been Dovizioso’s Tech3 team-mate in 2012.

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After three seasons as a factory Repsol Honda rider, winning one race, 15 podiums and finishing third in the 2011 world championship, Dovizioso found himself out of a ride as HRC downsized from three bikes to two after the arrival of Casey Stoner.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Dovi’s career was at a critical point. Very few riders ever return to factory status after ‘stepping down’ to a satellite team, but the #4 made it work in style.

At a time when the satellite Yamahas were still year-old machines, and the single ECU several years away, Dovizioso scored six podiums - still the most in a single season for a Tech3 rider - and finished fourth in the world championship behind Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner.

Crutchlow, starting only his second premier-class season, added to the success with his first two podiums in MotoGP and seventh in the standings. Their combined efforts took Tech3 to third in the teams' championship, behind only the factory Honda and Yamaha squads.

‘These two guys were incredible, on and off track!’

“2012 is one of my best seasons, because I worked with Cal and Dovi. And these two guys were incredible, on and off track!” Poncharal, whose team switched from Yamaha to KTM in 2019, told Crash.net.

“I have a few riders that I like I lot. Dovi, who we’re going to speak about, and I could talk forever about Cal. Because I love him! Still! This guy is unbelievable and a real character.

“Like Dovi, these guys are real human beings. Some riders have lost that part now and are a bit more like a product. I think it’s the whole way of life, the social media, all these things, but I don’t want to sound like I’m prehistoric!”

'That journey was unforgettable'

Turning to 2012 with Dovizioso, Poncharal said: “It was only a one-year journey, but that journey was unforgettable.

“Honestly, he was fantastic. Because when he came, I couldn’t pay him anything near what he was getting at Repsol Honda. It was not the factory Yamaha team, only a satellite team, but he said ‘Herve, I’ll come. I believe in us. We’re going to make it’. And he made it.

“Although Dovi was already a big name, every night he would eat with the rest of the team in hospitality. Every single request we had, for even the smallest sponsor, he was always happy to do it.

“Sometimes there would be friends or fans coming into our hospitality and, even if he was eating, he would get up and take a photo with them or sign a poster.

“Dovi will always be a special rider in my heart. He took more podiums with us than any other rider in one season. And Guy Coulon, his crew chief, loved him! The whole team loved him.

“He was a fantastic asset in terms of performance but also in terms of behaviour.

“This is important because sometimes you have riders that are fast, but you don’t gel so much with them. Okay, at the end of the day it doesn’t always matter, because you are here to get results. But with Dovi it was different.”

'Dovi’s dream was a factory Yamaha, Ducati was not the Ducati it is today'

“So I enjoyed that year a lot. On track he was very fast, six podiums, fourth in the world championship. And thanks to that season, he got the Ducati offer. Of course, he was very much looking to go to the factory Yamaha team. That was his dream, he always wanted a factory Yamaha.

“It was not possible because the factory Yamaha line-up was already done [for 2013]. But he got an incredible offer from Ducati.

“He hesitated because he was also maybe willing to stay with us. But even though at that time the Ducati was not the Ducati it is today, still it was a full factory ride. We talked a little bit and I told him, ‘I’d love you to stay, but if I think about your future…’”

Dovizioso joined Ducati at a time of turmoil, taking over the seat abandoned by Valentino Rossi on a bike that still hadn’t won a race since Stoner’s departure.

Dovi’s debut season in red was the factory’s first (and so far only) in MotoGP without a podium. But the upward curve began the following year, culminating in Dovizioso taking the title fight to Marc Marquez and finishing runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

“Dovi did incredibly well,” said Poncharal. “He was the leader of the 'red armada' for many years. They were the best times of his life in terms of results. Title runner three times, 14 race wins and really the only one at that time that was challenging Marc.

“Remember what he did in Spielberg, how he won at the last corner?

“I was happy to see him do what he did at Ducati. Later when it was finished between Ducati and himself [in 2020] I think still the dream in his head was a factory Yamaha. He never forgot that year he had [on the M1].

“I don’t want to speak for him, but I think this is also why when he tested the Aprilia, he knew there was the possibility [to race for them]. But then when he got the chance of a factory-spec Yamaha [at RNF] he said ‘let’s go’.

“But everything is different now. The grid in 2022 is not what it was in 2012. Still the leading machine is a Yamaha, but he can see that Fabio is riding it in a way that is not going to be possible for him.

“There is always a next generation that raises the bar and brings some new technique. Dovi is 36 now and you don’t change everything, he’s got a way of riding and what I like about Dovi is he’s very honest.

“Every time I’ve spoken to him or read his comments, he doesn’t complain about the Yamaha. He basically says, ‘For me, I would like this [from the bike]. But if I was Yamaha, would I do what Dovi needs now? No. Because you can win with this bike riding it the way Fabio is riding, but I can’t do that’.”

'Dovi might have spent the rest of his life thinking, 'what if'’

“In a way it’s sad to see a great rider like Dovi finishing his career on a low note. But on the other hand, he’s fulfilled his dream [of racing a factory Yamaha],” Poncharal said.

“If he had stopped after Ducati, he would have maybe spent the rest of his life thinking ‘what if’ - especially looking at the Yamaha winning with Fabio this year. ‘Wow, if I had that bike, maybe I could be fighting to win’.

“Now he’s seen the reality, which is that he cannot. So he’s going to go back home and maybe retire more peacefully.

“Valentino was one of the greatest of all time and last year Fabio was winning with the same bike. At some stage you need to give the baton to the next generation.

"I think it’s time for Andrea, like it was time last year for Valentino. But that doesn’t mean these guys haven’t been great champions and superstars of our sport.

“And for me personally, Dovi has been one of the best guys we ever had. Polite, kind, human values.

“When he invited us to his home, we had an incredible dinner, but he was the one doing the shopping and the cooking! You could see how well he looked after his mum, his daughter.

“This guy has values. He doesn’t behave like a superstar. Maybe some - some - of the young generation don’t have those same kind of values.”