Andrea Dovizioso averaged 14.15 points per race across the 2019 MotoGP season, a feat he has only bettered once in his premier class career, but his pursuit for the world title felt further away than in his previous two championship challenges.

Clearly the Marc Marquez factory weighs heavily in this equation with the Repsol Honda rider producing an unheralded 22.1 points average per race. But for the gap between the world champion and Dovizioso to stand at 151 points by the end of the year – more points than Cal Crutchlow scored throughout 2019 – left a bemused and deflated feeling at Ducati.

Dovizioso’s defenders will point to his two DNFs caused by other riders crashing into him, Jorge Lorenzo’s skittling at Catalunya and Fabio Quartararo’s high-side at Silverstone, as the pivotal moments which denied the Italian rider a fair fight in the title battle. But with Marquez suffering a DNF at the United States round, the deficit was halved in terms of point-less weekends.

On paper Marquez dominated in 2019: 12 wins to Dovizioso’s two and 10 pole positions to Dovizioso’s zero.

But Dovizioso still finished the year runner-up, the third consecutive season he’s achieved the feat, and with a comfortable margin of 58 points over nearest rival Maverick Vinales in third.

How a MotoGP season twists and turns is never truly revealed in the race results and championship standings. The same can be said for how far Dovizioso has to go to secure that elusive MotoGP world title.

There is no question on the Ducati package’s strengths in top speed, power and braking. It’s why the Bologna factory dominates at circuits with long straights and heavy braking zones like Losail and the Red Bull Ring.

But the balance between retaining its strengths and improving on its weaknesses, combined with Marquez equipped with an improved Honda, left Dovizioso trailing on too many occasions last year.

A problematic area has been Dovizioso’s qualifying performances. While never considered a star over a single hot lap, Dovizioso was still able to put himself at the sharp end of the grid over the past couple of seasons.

But just three front row appearances across 2019 – all resulting in a podium finish including his two wins – fell short of the seven front row starts he produced in 2018. To follow that up,  last year Dovizioso totalled nine starts from somewhere on the front two rows but the season before he comfortably exceeded that with 13.

Being hamstrung by a poor qualifying position became a familiar story to Dovizioso’s 2019, as he was stuck in dog fights for positions against slower riders which allowed those who qualified at the front to bolt ahead and escape. On every occasion that front group included Marquez.

With a heavy workload of getting past other riders in the early stages of the race, Dovizioso often had to risk a higher tyre consumption and with it considered a strength of the Italian’s, the advantage became diluted in his armoury against his front-running rivals.

“We don’t have the same speed as last year [2018],” Dovizioso said at the Malaysian Grand Prix. “We speak about the real speed in practice and at the beginning of the race when the tyre is new.

“That creates a really hard situation for us as we are not able to make a good strategy. When you push at the beginning you don’t have the speed and everything is a problem.

“This is what happened, and I was able to manage myself in the right way in a lot of races and that’s why I was able to stay calm when I didn’t have the pace at the beginning of the race.

“I managed to ride in the right way and at the end I was able to make the same lap times so at the end I was able to gain seconds and positions, but it is not enough. It is not what we need, we have to be better.”

At the top of Dovizioso’s 2020 wish list from Ducati is solutions to its ongoing turning and corner speed weakness, a frustration which came out at Assen when he said “the problem is always the same” before he called on the Italian manufacturer to find a strategy for the future having lost further ground to his rivals.

“We have to be focussed on the turning because we are quite good in some other areas,” Dovi said at the following race at Sachsenring. “But that area is really, really bad. We finished the tyres, but we finished the tyres because we had to use it to be fast. We are too slow in the middle of the corners and the only way to go faster is to accelerate.

“If you accelerate better, you use the tyre. Already from the practice we were a bit slower. If you are a bit slower and you have to use the tyre then at the end of the race the difference is big.

“I think we need a strategy for the future, not for the moment. When we speak about turning it’s very difficult, and it’s the reason why we couldn’t find anything at the moment. We have to be more involved about that. I think it’s six years I’ve been speaking about that. After the last two good years, I think now we arrive in a critical moment when we need that because the competitor become better and better.

“It’s clear when we fight with other bikes, also on the TV you can see the difference in the middle of the corners and the reality is bigger. I think we need a strategy for the future. We have to create a different situation and be focussed more on that than the other things because we lose too much in that point.”

Ducati’s senior management hasn’t shirked away from its riders’ complaints, with Dovizioso’s team-mate Danilo Petrucci echoing his comments last year, and both sporting director Paulo Ciabatti and technical chief Gigi Dall’Igna hinted at significant developments focused on improving the turning of the GP20.

“We cannot be totally happy. Last year we won seven races and the year before we won six but this year we have only won three,” Ciabatti said in Valencia, including Petrucci’s victory at Mugello alongside Dovi’s pair of triumphs.

“This year we had an advantage in some points, especially in top speed but Honda has closed the gap so we need to keep working. We still have some more areas where we need more improvements and our engineers are working in 360-degrees on the bike. If we can improving the turning a little bit more that would be very welcome.”

“I'm not surprised about the Honda's engine evolution. But at the same time, I would like to make another step [with the Ducati engine] in order to maintain the gap that we have over the others at the moment,” Dall’Igna added.

“Because for sure the other engineers will also work during the winter tests and if we would like to stay where we are, we have to improve. Otherwise we will fall back. So, it's not our priority, but it's important.”

Attention duly turns to the Sepang pre-season test next month and all eyes will be on Ducati’s chassis modifications specifically aimed at improving its turning and cornering stability.

While Dovizioso has been pressing home the developments he wants from Ducati, an area he can directly influence, the Italian rider also accepts there’s another key factor beyond his control.

“Marc is on another level, Marquez and Honda. Apart from him there are a lot of fast riders faster than us. It’s not so good, the situation,” Dovizioso said. “In this moment it is difficult to know what we really have to do as the gap is ridiculous, it is a bit too much.

“Everything is possible as the last two years we have fought more so I think we have a chance to come back and fight again but every year like always it is a different story.”

Marquez’s recent dominance is replicating the control Valentino Rossi had in the 2000s and Mick Doohan in the 1990s. Dovizioso deserves credit for being able to make himself Marquez’s closest rival for three straight years, not that it will come as any comfort to him.

Not only will Dovizioso require key improvements and greater consistency to see off the resurgent Yamaha and Suzuki riders, he will also need Marquez to endure a similar season to his 2015 title miss. That season came directly after his all-conquering 2014 which previously stood as his most dominant MotoGP campaign before his feats last year.

For the stars to align Dovizioso needs a huge number of situations and factors to go in his favour, but if there is any rider capable of halting Marquez’s current momentum over a full season it is likely to be the Italian.

 

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