spoke to Ducati Corse Sporting Director Paolo Ciabatti at the German Grand Prix about his impressions of 2016, working with Casey Stoner, and the factory's disappointment at hearing of the ban on winglets that will come into force at the end of the year.
We're coming up to the halfway point of the season. It's usually a good time to assess where you are and whether you're fulfilling your ambitions at the start of the year. What would be your assessment of 2016 so far?

Paolo Ciabatti:
I think we maybe see the situation from two sides. On one side I think the Desmosedici GP - the 2016 version - has shown a high level of competitiveness almost everywhere, but obviously we didn't achieve all, or we didn't bring home all the results that we could have achieved. So if you look at the standings we're not happy, as you can imagine. We got podiums but we threw away a few more. Obviously the change in the construction of the tyres which happened after Argentina, especially on some circuits with low grip, has been slowing down our progress. So we have developed the bike with a certain idea of what the tyres will do, and then when they had to change because of Scott's [Redding] problem in Argentina we struggled maybe a slight bit more than other manufacturers. But I think now the work that Michelin has done has been remarkable, even though for all the teams it has been extra work because you come to a race on Friday and you are trying new tyres. So you don't know exactly what to expect. But I think luckily we did a good job in the right direction. Now I think we can be again competitive as we were in the beginning of the season.
At World Ducati Week Casey Stoner said the current bike is very strong in many areas. He also voiced the opinion that had one of the Andreas won a race at the start of the season they would then have the confidence now to perhaps achieve better results. Would you agree?

Paolo Ciabatti:
Obviously a comment from Casey is always an important comment. He has been testing the bike for two days before Ducati week. So he had quite an extensive knowledge of the status of the bike, because honestly before that he only tested pre-season in Sepang and one day, maybe a couple in Qatar. So I think as usual the bike is not perfect, but it's very good. I can agree on the fact that if we could have achieved some results which were both possible to achieve, even winning races, then probably the general self-confidence in the team and the riders I think would probably have helped the whole situation. But as a fact, we didn't achieve this race win yet.

So it's difficult to accept that when you are close to making it happen and for whatever reason it doesn't happen, it's a wasted opportunity because they don't happen every time. Already beating Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo and many times Pedrosa is not easy. When you have the perfect situation, a situation where we are competitive - take Mugello. Iannone had a very poor start and he was I think 13th at the second corner. And then he came third, four seconds from Lorenzo and Marquez, and the best lap time of the race he did on the last lap. So what if he had a normal start and was with the leading group? But races are made of results. What could have happened... if it didn't happen it makes little sense.
You mentioned Mugello but also if you look at Qatar and maybe even Assen...

Paolo Ciabatti:
Qatar and what about Le Mans? I think Le Mans also we had the pace to go and try to win the race. But obviously if you must finish first first you have to finish. So we had a few opportunities. Qatar, Mugello, Le Mans. Assen obviously we were in the perfect situation, and then Petrucci had a technical problem and Dovi crashed in the same place where Rossi crashed, or just after. They were much faster than anybody else. But if Dovi stayed up and Rossi crashed the lap after, then you would win the race. But thinking like this, we know we are there. We know we are capable of fighting for a race win but we didn't do it yet. We must fix this between now and the end of the season. I think we will have a few more opportunities and hopefully this time we will not make any mistakes.
For a man in your position I imagine the events in Argentina were difficult to accept.

Paolo Ciabatti:
I think for the whole team obviously it was something that you just cannot believe. These things happen. Also in other teams it happens. If it happens at the beginning of a race is a huge disappointment but if it happens with two corners to go when it's second and third then the disappointment is much, much bigger. It was a huge disappointment, obviously difficult to accept and digest. Luckily there are races basically every second weekend and this is helping to go ahead, to move forward. Still I think it's probably one of the biggest disappointments we had since many years. But it happens. We just need to make sure it doesn't happen again. If you look at even Formula 1, the thing is it happens on the first lap, disappointment. But if it happens after a race, a very strange race like Argentina with flag-to-flag, changing bikes, good strategy and you are savouring a taste of the second consecutive podium of a season, and it doesn't happen, it's disappointing.
Did you notice a change in the dynamic or the atmosphere within the team after that? And how did you manage that situation?

Paolo Ciabatti:
No, I don't want to be a hypocrite and say we are always good in managing these situations. Sometimes the situations are difficult to manage because obviously it creates friction between the riders, and also a huge disappointment within the team. In the end the mechanics work very hard and for them both riders on the podium, we will celebrate with both groups. And then there is no celebration. Packing everything to ship it to Europe with that mood was not easy for the boys. And also we had to speak to the riders and analyse what happened. It's not like who to blame, one of the riders, but obviously we had to make it clear that Ducati comes first. It's an individual sport, but Ducati comes first. So a good result for Ducati must be more important than the personal result of a rider. Hopefully the message went through.
Looking towards next year, it appears there's going to be eight Ducatis on the grid again. Are you in a position to know which bikes will be available to the satellite teams?

Paolo Ciabatti:
We have a general idea even though it's not really finalised 100%. Basically it will be mostly Desmosedici '16 bikes. But I cannot tell you exactly because it's not really decided 100%. At least all the teams will get at least one '16, let's put it like this. With no wings!
Speaking to some different team managers it appears that a year later in 2018 we're probably going to see a bigger presence from Suzuki, and we're probably going to see a bigger presence from Aprilia too.

Paolo Ciabatti:
I think this is clear. As you know, yesterday there was this announcement with the independent teams will sign this five-year contract with Dorna. I perfectly understand the final target of the promoter. If I was the promoter I would try to reach this goal myself. So when you're going to have next year six manufacturers and you have 24 spots on the grid, your best situation is that you have one factory team and one satellite team for each manufacturer so it makes it easy, so four bikes. When it can happen obviously it's much depending on when the manufacturers will be ready to offer a package within the conditions set by Dorna, which is 2.2 million Euros maximum per rider excluding crash parts.

Also you want to make it competitive. I think on one side we understand the situation that we have now, and we're going to have next year is very peculiar and it cannot last for long. On the other side there were times when Honda had lots of bikes on the grid and nobody complained, but at that time obviously it was a period of time when manufacturers were not so present. We had the CRTs and all these things. Some factories don't want to provide more than two bikes for satellite team, like Yamaha. And then they provided the engines to Forward and it was a specific time in the championship. So now if you look forward six manufacturers, sooner or later they must be because also Dorna will give an incentive to do this, able to provide same or similar material at least to another team.

So 2017 is set, what will happen in 2018? We will see. I expect Suzuki will be in the situation to provide competitive material to a second team. Aprilia is in the same situation, but the level of competitiveness currently is not comparable to Suzuki. KTM, I think it will depend on their policy but also how successfully they can enter into the championship next year to feel strong enough with a factory team to be able to supply to another team. I tell you it's not so easy. It has a lot of logistic problems because you need to think not only for what you need but what they need. You need to put in place a system because a racing team normally thinks to the needs of a racing team. So to have as a manufacturer somebody thinking to blame the parts order, there is your needs, the team's needs, plus also the technical support that you give to the team. It's quite complex. I don't say impossible because we are not the only one doing it, but the fact that we have been so successful recently I think is because we have been able to supply good material at a reasonable price with technical support. Even the bikes from the second part of 2014 like Avintia and Aspar are using look quite competitive. Unfortunately for the factory team, but luckily for them, the best-placed Ducati rider is Hector Barbera. He's constantly close to the top ten, if not top ten. But as you said I think in maybe three years' time to be more likely to have four bikes per manufacturer in the championship, which I think is good for the series.
Would Pramac be the priority satellite team at this moment?

Paolo Ciabatti:
Pramac has always had, because they've been with us so man years, they had a kind of different status as a factory supported team. It doesn't mean that we put more effort in Pramac than we put in Avinitia or Aspar. It's just historical reasons. Obviously, personally I'm good friends to Paolo Campinoti [Pramac Racing team principal], to Raul Romero [Avintia team owner], Jorge Martinez [Aspar Racing team owner] and all the guys. I think one day obviously it looks like some of these entities will have to take a different direction, and we will see. But for the moment we try to give the best possible service and the best possible material, and what will happen, will happen.
The big silly season news was your capturing of Jorge Lorenzo for 2017. There have been a lot of rumors about who his crew chief will be, with Christian Gabbarini's name being mentioned quite a lot. Are you in a position to say how likely this is?

Paolo Ciabatti:
Honestly for this answer you can imagine we are not in the position to really comment on this, but it's clear that it will not be Ramon [Forcada - Lorenzo's current crew chief]. It's also clear that it will not be Marco Rigamonti, the crew chief of Andrea Iannone. There were a few names mentioned and I think soon we will make the announcement.
At the start of the year Davide Tardozzi said that Marquez was potentially an option for 2017, as was Lorenzo. Was Casey an influence in the signing of Lorenzo at all?

Paolo Ciabatti:
Honestly not. This year we thought that it was the time to try to get one of the two top riders. Rossi is a top rider but for reasons you can obviously understand he was not a target. Because both had their contracts expiring, so either we would move quickly at the beginning of the season or it was probably they would be gone for two more years. We approached both of them but it looked like Lorenzo was in a situation where this negotiation could move forward and be successful, while our impression was that Marc would put us in a position where we would have to start a fight in terms of money with Honda, which obviously we cannot win because they are bigger and they can spend more money. Honestly without Marquez they would be in trouble. Today it looks like we will be in trouble, so we start something where the size of our opponent will be too big and we will maybe just lose time and make them spend more money but without getting the result. So we thought that considering both riders, two top riders at the same level, there was a chance to be successful with Jorge. So at a certain point we just focused our efforts on him. Obviously at that point the fact that Casey knows Jorge and he has a good relationship with him was an additional benefit to the whole thing, but it didn't influence our choice.
Speaking of Casey, how have you found working with him in terms of his feedback, his attitude and motivation?

Paolo Ciabatti:
He's just great. Unfortunately I did not have a chance to work with Casey when he was at Ducati in 2007 because I left the company at the beginning of that year. So I can only speak for Casey now. Obviously he came to Ducati with a really positive approach in terms of putting his immense talent and his technical sensitiveness for us to use in order to improve the bike. Even maybe improve road bikes because he's also really interested in giving his point of view on production models. But for what concerns racing, he is just as fast as he was in the past. Maybe he doesn't have the physical strength compared to a rider who is used to ride these bikes every few weeks. But in terms of speed, feedback, bringing the bike to the limit and so on, is kind of unique. So we are lucky to have a rider like him with us, who is very, very fast, but obviously to have the speed and the feedback from a rider who has done so many races, two times world champion, probably even today one of the most talented riders in motorcycle history, is adding that little more that you need to make your bike perfect.
It brings an added motivation to those that are working with him too?

Paolo Ciabatti:
Yeah, obviously he's very demanding but in positive terms. Also I think now that he doesn't have the pressure of a championship with racing weekends and a lot of activities around it he's more relaxed. He's really enjoying his new job. I think we are very, very happy about what we did so far in terms of development and kind of double-checking a few ideas that we had, but we didn't have time to test thoroughly with our riders because as you know this year we have only five days with factory riders. Some of the things you need probably to be able to bring them to the limit, those couple of tenths of a second that only a rider that is at a super high level can do, and with him we have this luxury of being able to work with such an extremely talented rider. So far it was fine. Next week is going to be two days in Austria with all other riders, except for two Honda riders. So it's going to be also interesting in that respect to see how he feels with the bike, what he can do on the bike. Also one of the reasons why we decided to take Casey back with us was his value as a brand ambassador. Definitely he is still a hero for all the Ducati fans. And the Ducati fans are our base of our business. So this was very important, but on top of this he's very useful and he's doing a great job. He has a perfect attitude.
Do you think his performance at the test in Austria will determine whether he races later in the year?

Paolo Ciabatti:
No. He just said, 'Let's do this test. And then we'll plan for the next part of the season.'
It was revealed in Assen that the winglets will be banned for 2017. What was Ducati's reaction to this?

Paolo Ciabatti:
We will have now to design a 2017 bike in a slightly different way from what we would have done if the winglets would have been kept. As a decision we think it's wrong and unfair. Wrong because it's taking away from the championship a very distinctive feature which was making the GP bikes very different from any other bikes. I think it is important to differentiate. If this is a pinnacle to cycle racing, then if the bikes look slightly different from superbikes or any other bikes, it's also good marketing for the championship.

[It was] Unfair because there is no reason to ban them. Nothing happened. Some riders started to complain about safety, but I think all bikes have winglets now. There are unfortunately accidents and contact even between our riders, or Iannone hitting Lorenzo. So did anybody ever get even a small scratch somewhere because of a winglet? No. Was anybody injured? Did anybody hit a winglet which was left on the asphalt and cause an accident? No. So based on safety, I think it's an excuse from some manufacturers to remove an advantage of Ducati. Since the beginning of the 2015 season obviously before because we raced them in Qatar we were studying them, so we spent some time on a solution which was perfectly legal within the technical rules. Everybody was laughing at us in Qatar and then somebody started to put something on during the 2015 season, and then everybody's using winglets in all different shapes and sizes now. So if it was unsafe they should ban immediately.

So this decision I think is a compromise between some safety concerns from FIM, but as I said it's not justified. We made a study even with some trauma centres that understand shape, weight, material is dangerous, what is not dangerous, but basically nobody wanted to discuss this. Then we were willing to accept a compromise that the winglets would be limited within a certain angle from the bike, which reached an agreement on Thursday and a disagreement on Friday. So nothing was changed from Thursday to Friday except probably some political decision of the Japanese manufacturers.

I think it's unfair because when Honda introduced the seamless gearbox, it was giving an advantage maybe a tenth of a second, I don't know. It's very expensive. Very expensive. So everybody either you stay with your conventional gear box or you would have to develop your own seamless gear box, which we did, everybody did, spending lots of money. But clever for Honda to first think of this and since it's allowed in the rules they did it. So now I don't see why the winglets are something different. I cannot accept those childish excuses about safety because it's bullshit.

I need facts, and there are no facts. Maybe Dorna had the concern about cost. But we would go anyway to a wind tunnel as much as we do know now, and we didn't go to the winglet more times than we did without winglets. Next year we will go to a wind tunnel exactly the same number of days we are doing now. With no winglets you need to shape the bike in a way which is doing a similar effect. Plus, I think in our case it helps to keep the front wheel down. So I think the bike with the winglets is safer than the bike which does not use them.

Again, our position is that we accept the decision. We are very upset by the fact that it was not possible to reach a unanimous decision with the MSMA because I think the goal of the MSMA is to put together the needs of all manufacturers involved and try to make fair rules for everybody. So a fair rule is maybe to make it more detailed. Now it doesn't speak about material. You can make winglets, any shape, more or less. Obviously if you make them in stainless steel they can be dangerous. If you make them as we do in carbon fiber with polystyrene inside and their weight is 100 grams, how can you get hurt with something like this which is anyway detaching?

But anyway, I think that the role of the manufacturers' association should be to find a solution for the technical development of the bikes, and not to ban something because one manufacturer is ahead of the other manufacturers. This is not in my opinion the role of the MSMA. But at the moment it's three Japanese and two Europeans [manufacturer] so I think everybody's just thinking of their own short term interests more than about what is good for the sport and what is fair, and to respect the work that one manufacturer has done and you must admit he is ahead of you. We were not strong enough to come up with a solution which would have been accepted by FIM and Dorna so in the end FIM and Dorna took the decision.