By Mike Nicks

It's what everyone's asking in the paddock. The Desmosedici GP8 has more power and better streamlining than anything else, and great tyres. So why can only Casey Stoner make it look respectable?

His team-mate Marco Melandri is used to championship pressure (he was 250cc king in 2002) and has previously won five MotoGP races.

In the Alice Ducati satellite squad, team principal Luis d'Antin wanted better results than Alex Barros and Alex Hofmann provided in 2007, and replaced them with the 24-year-old Spaniard Toni Elias - famous for pinching a MotoGP race from Rossi at Estoril in 2006 - and the Frenchman Sylvain Guintoli, 25, who already has a year's experience of MotoGP under his wheels.

The Losail results: Elias was 14th in qualifying, Melandri 16th and Guintoli 17th. They were only marginally better in the race: Melandri 11th, Elias 14th, Guintoli 15th.

Various theories are floating round the paddock to explain the gap between Stoner and the rest. They include:

Melandri's got his head all mixed up and is now at the state where he's asking for everything to be changed (a formula that leads to chaos); the Ducati is actually very hard to ride and only a madcap genius like Stoner can handle it (not believable); or, if you prefer, the bike's been developed totally around Stoner's preferences (but even so, with that much power and those Bridgestones, the others shouldn't be that far back).

So, no obvious solution, but the current performance gap between Stoner and Melandri is even larger than the Stoner/Capirossi line-up of 2007.

Stoner won 10 races and took 14 podiums en route to the 2007 crown, while a frustrated Capirossi - who had been Ducati's star rider since 2003 - stood on the rostrum just four times last year, including one victory in the wet-dry Motegi race.

Melandri finished 44 seconds behind Stoner after 22 laps at Qatar, as Stoner almost doubled his victory margin. In 2007 he won the season-opening (day) race by 2.8secs over Valentino Rossi, but on Sunday night he had pulled 5.3secs clear of Rossi's new Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo by the chequered flag.

Melandri and the rest of the 2008 MotoGP field will try to close the gap to Stoner next time out, at Jerez in Spain, on March 30.



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