Team: Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP
Riders: Andrea Dovizioso, Danilo Petrucci
Test Rider: Michele Pirro
Bike: Ducati Desmosedici GP19
Best placed rider, 2019: Andrea Dovizioso, 2nd
Best result, 2018: 1st x7, Andrea Dovizioso (4), Jorge Lorenzo (3)
Best placed machine at tests: 2nd (Valencia), 2nd (Jerez), 1st (Sepang), 9th (Qatar)

When attempting to gauge the readiness of the six factories present on the 2019 grid, perhaps Ducati is the most difficult to understand. On the one hand, it has appeared methodical, working to ensure Andrea Dovizioso is better placed than ever to achieve world championship success during the winter.

But race pace wasn’t that of principle competitors Maverick Viñales and Alex Rins at Sepang. Nor was the speed there in the final test in Qatar, with new signing Danilo Petrucci (tenth) the only Bologna bike in the top ten at a track that usually sees Ducati – and Dovizioso – soar.

But there has long been the sense that Dovizioso has yet to reveal his cards. Both he and Petrucci were extremely content with the performance of an early version of the GP19 at tests in November around Spanish tracks now known to favour Ducati’s strengths. The ex-125cc world champion wore a wry grin when asked if he was holding something back at the final outing in Qatar.

What’s more, Petrucci’s arrival signals a new means of attack. Ducati bosses have drawn up a clear hierarchy in the newly branded ‘Mission Winnow’ garage, with Dovizioso beginning the year as a clear ‘number one’ for the first time since his switch from Tech 3 Yamaha at the end of 2012.

“We have chosen to move from two riders who think independently of each other, acting in their own interest, regardless of the good of the team, to a system that if possible, will attempt to optimise the overall results of the team,” explained technical chief Gigi Dall’Igna in January.

Petrucci has taken to his new role well. He has been welcomed into the fold by his new team-mate. And both he and Dovizioso conducted long runs and a race simulation on-track together. “When you have to fight and follow somebody it’s a different story,” Dovizioso explained recently. “If you are able to simulate that, it’s just something more that nobody did.” To have even suggested such tactics take place during the stays of Andrea Iannone or Jorge Lorenzo’s in the factory Ducati box would have been met with derision.

No other factory’s testing programme has gained as much exposure, or hogged as many column inches as Ducati’s either. From November to February at least one of the GP19s has featured an aerodynamic seat unit, a new aerodynamic fairing, a torque arm, a rear wheel cover or the mysterious ‘hole-shot device’ on the triple clamp at some time. Technical chief Gigi Dall’Igna certainly hasn’t lost his touch for keeping the media and technicians from other factories on their toes.

By the close of 2018, the Ducati was fast everywhere. Dovizioso’s four victories took him to 11 in the last 24 months [counting back to October 2016], making his the most successful rider in the class barring the quintuple world champion. This, in turn, brings more confidence.

“Andrea is sure that, OK, [Marc] is really strong and we can beat him,” said crew chief Alberto Giribuola last September. “For sure we will continue in the same way.”

Of all those hoping to run the 26-year old Catalan well placed to give Marquez the most to think about for the third year running.

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A clear number one

Relations between Dovizioso and Lorenzo were never the same after the events of Valencia, 2017. There were times the Majorcan extended a hand in friendship. But Dovizioso’s reaction varied from frostiness to firing back barbs, via the press, a tactic not usually associated with what is always a carefully considered approach.

Petrucci’s arrival offered the chance for a fresh start. “It's about having a better feeling in everything you have to do,” Dovizioso explained at the start of the year. “When you have a good relationship, it's easier to do everything. But that is not the point to really fight for the championship, but when you are at the maximum level, everything is important.”

Creating that feeling involved sharing his secrets with the new arrival. Petrucci has moved close to Dovizioso’s home of Forli so they can train together. “The reason was to create a feeling with Andrea, with this group,” he said. “Now we have the same doctor, the same psychologist. He gave me all. He said, 'In the last two years, I've improved because I stayed with these people. Now these people are available for you, because I think if you are very, very fast this year it can change your life. So you have nothing to lose'.

“I said, ‘OK, but why are you doing this? Why are you telling me all your secrets?' And he said, 'I have my own business for this and I need your help, maybe at the beginning you need more my help, but since the first test I will need you for a comparison because I know you are fast in certain situations and you can give me a help. So when you are not fast I give you help and we can [help] each other, riding together, from the motocross to the MotoGP'.”

Calmer, Fitter, Stronger

Petrucci arrives at round one in the best shape of his career. “My weight is a little bit less but my body has changed a lot,” he said. “I lost a lot of fat and this is better because now when I start to lose weight I don’t feel weak like I did last year when I was very, very low on my calories but this year I haven’t had a real diet but I have changed my training. My breakfast and my lunch are very different and with not so much effort I see my body is changing.”

This is a result of observing his new team-mate. “Working together with Andrea especially I notice a change in his way of life,” he said. “It's quite different. It's more cautious of his potential. And this makes me very calm and positive about the future. Also staying with him at home is important for me because I can pick some secrets around and it's useful for me at this moment!

“And he said, 'You don’t have to focus on the quantity, you have to focus on the quality. You have to train shorter, but more intense, for what you need. And I can give you my advice and my doctor, my psychologist who will help you to understand your body and mind and what you need to become better’.

“Because usually I had so much training that I arrived at the races already tired. And you are training, training, training, and you arrive at the race and the last five laps – not always but sometimes – I said, 'okay, what do I miss to be faster?'”

His speed has been evident in every test. Fifth at Valencia, he was quicker than Dovizioso at the three outings that followed. “Longer runs have confirmed he is capable of conserving the rear tyre in a better way. “At the moment I am better compared to last year but we have to understand in very, very hot conditions and where, for example Austin or Malaysia.

“But in Malaysia I did a very long run and was better in the second half of the race simulation. This makes me more confident because I knew I have a better bike. When you always see your name at the top you think, ‘okay maybe I am not so weak, I am quite fast’, even when you are not pushing too much. Maybe because in my mind I feel I have to recover as I was always too aggressive.”

Hopes?

Dall’Igna has been clear: “The goal we have is the same as for some years now, and it's to fight for the world championship. For sure we are not the favourites, but we will really try much harder to make 2019 a wonderful year for all the Ducatisti.”

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