It’s been almost five years since a Ducati rider last won a MotoGP race – Jamie Klein asks whether the losing streak may be about to end this weekend at Mugello.
If you told Ducati that Casey Stoner's victory at Philip Island in October 2010 would be the team's last for nearly five years, you surely would have been laughed out of the pit garage.
Sure, Stoner may have been Honda-bound by that stage, but seven-time champion Valentino Rossi was on his way to the Bologna marque – if the Aussie could turn the Italian bike into a winning proposition, ran the theory, surely 'The Doctor' would have no trouble enjoying similar success.
Two win-less years later, and it was clear that all was not well at Ducati, as Rossi returned to Yamaha to resurrect his career having followed in the footsteps of Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden in failing to tame the Desmosedici.
Bernhard Gobmeier was recruited as team manager in a bid to turn around Ducati's fortunes, the perennially underrated Andrea Dovizioso arriving simultaneously to replace Rossi, but matters only got worse as he and Hayden failed to register a single podium finish all season in 2013.
As such, Gobmeier was ousted after only a year, replaced by Gigi Dall'Igna the mastermind behind Aprilia's World Superbike success, and the team has been on a steady upward trend since – Dovizioso taking pole in Qatar and only just missing out on his own first win since that lone triumph for Honda in the wet at Donington all the way back in 2009.
Now, he and teammate Andrea Iannone arrive at Ducati's home circuit at Mugello bidding to finally end the losing streak that dates back to Stoner's final races aboard the unruly Desmosedici.
If Ducati can't break the streak at Mugello, you have to wonder where they will. After all, Dovizioso and Iannone spent two days testing there earlier in the month, circulating the 3.26-mile circuit at close to lap record pace.
Not only that, but the enormous start/finish straight at the picturesque Tuscan venue plays to the Desmosedici's key strength that was demonstrated so well at Qatar – top-end speed.
Rossi hopes to wow fans
Of course, the Ducati duo – trio if you include test rider Michele Pirro, who joins the regulars as a wild-card – won't be the only riders eyeing a good result on home soil.
Rossi has been eclipsed by Yamaha stablemate Jorge Lorenzo for the last two rounds at Jerez and Le Mans, and will be keen to reassert himself over the Spaniard in front of an adoring home crowd.
Last time out, Rossi gave himself too much work to do in qualifying, surging up from seventh from the grid to second in the first part of the race at La Sarthe but having nothing left in the armoury to catch up with a rampant Lorenzo.
Saturdays have indeed proven something of a bugbear all season for Rossi, who has yet to start a race from the front row in 2015. Finding a set-up that allows him to get the factory M1 switched on immediately in Q2 will therefore be key to his hopes of a third victory of the season.
Honda upgrades put to the test
Over at Honda, Le Mans polesitter Marc Marquez complained that higher temperatures cost his Repsol Honda valuable front-end grip come the race, but rear stability has also been an issue for the team for much of the season.
It's a problem the factory has attempted to solve with a new swing-arm, introduced at Le Mans, and Mugello, a track where rear stability is crucial, particularly in the corner leading on to the main straight, will be a key test of the upgrade's success.
The fact Iannone is still battling arm and shoulder pain makes him an unlikely contender for victory, Honda's Dani Pedrosa also still far from his best after his three-race lay-off prior to Le Mans, but there should still be four men vying for glory in the form of Dovizioso, Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez.
One of the riders' favourite circuits of the year, and at one of the most atmospheric events, the battle royale between the quartet promises to be a spectacle to behold. If Ducati can finally end its losing streak, they will have done so the hard way.