Ducati's 2019 MotoGP line-up has yet to be finalised, but with Jorge Lorenzo considering his options, David Gruz reckons the Italian manufacturer should go back to the future with its rider choice.
With Yamaha having already re-signed both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, and Honda’s number one rider Marc Marquez also staying put, Ducati is at the centre of rider market attention.
The Bologna team declared early on its preference to keep both Andrea Dovizioso and Lorenzo. But the way 2018 has started, it’s been looking increasingly likely that Ducati’s line-up will change.
Lorenzo has had a disastrous opening three races, and Dovizioso has cemented his position as the clear team leader. The Italian now also has the negotiating strength of a number one rider – he won’t accept playing second fiddle to Lorenzo in terms of income any longer.
At the same time Lorenzo can’t take too big a pay cut and, if he doesn’t see much hope for immediate improvement in the near future, the siren call of a Suzuki move could prove impossible to resist.
Replacing Lorenzo isn't so straightforward. Lorenzo's failure (barring a rapid turnaround) echoes that of Rossi in 2011-12, and means Ducati won’t be luring away another top-line star any time soon.
Photo by: Ducati Corse
The Desmosedici is a physically demanding bike that is difficult to master in just one or two years, and Ducati needs a rider with experience on the bike - hence its investment in young riders.
Thus, two of the most logical choices to be Lorenzo’s replacement are satellite team Pramac’s current duo, Danilo Petrucci and Jack Miller, who are both under direct contract to the factory.
While Miller impressed massively in the mixed-weather Argentine GP, the Australian lacks Ducati experience. Petrucci, on the other hand, has been doing a solid job for a few years now, has experience on a factory-spec bike and has arguably performed well enough to deserve the nod.
However there is another rider, who has already proven that he can ride a Ducati and that he can be fast enough to beat Dovizioso – it’s Andrea Iannone.
Photo by: Gold and Goose / LAT Images
Iannone was a Ducati factory rider in 2015 and 2016, finishing fifth and ninth in the standings respectively. But the reasons he lost out to Dovizioso in the battle to become Lorenzo’s teammate in 2017 are still quite vivid.
He crashed while in podium contention in Qatar while Dovizioso grabbed second, and in Argentina he denied Ducati a double podium finish when he took himself and his teammate out of the race.
He crashed again while fighting for the win at Le Mans and, 12 days later, Ducati officially communicated it had picked Dovizioso, with Iannone being announced at Suzuki shortly after.
Iannone also had a disastrous maiden campaign with Suzuki, one that means he is near-certain to leave the Japanese marque at the end of the year and could leave him out of MotoGP entirely.
But despite his poor reputation, Iannone has one crucial thing going for him: unlike Rossi, Lorenzo, and many others, he was always competitive on a Ducati.
He beat factory rider Crutchlow on a Pramac bike in 2014 and made a seamless transition to the main squad a year later, bagging Ducati’s first double podium finish since the Casey Stoner era in Qatar.
Dovizioso, who was in his third year with Ducati at the time, took more advantage of a strong start for the team. But, as the team's form levelled off, it was Iannone who emerged as Ducati’s best rider.
He pulled off heroics such as beating Dovizioso by 15 seconds despite running the dry Jerez race in rain mode, taking fifth and fourth at Le Mans and Aragon despite dislocating his shoulder shortly before both events, and besting his teammate at Brno despite mechanical problems.
Iannone, somewhat contrary to his current reputation, was also super-consistent and finished the first 14 races of that season no lower than eighth, and only crashed out once all year.
Photo by: Ducati Corse
Despite a stellar 2015, Iannone’s job was under pressure. With Lorenzo arriving, only one of the two Andreas could be retained and the first races of 2016 turned into a shootout, which Iannone lost.
And yet, it was Iannone who took Ducati’s first win since 2010 at the Red Bull Ring, and despite his appalling finishing record he was on the podium in four of the eight races he finished.
Last year's poor performances were of course largely Iannone's fault, as it was he who chose the wrong engine specification before the season started, compromising Suzuki's whole season as it was hamstrung by losing the concessions after the success of 2016.
But that isn't to say the 28-year-old from Vasto has lost his speed. He may not have the technical nous or analytical prowess of someone like Dovizioso, but provided he has a more technically-minded teammate on the other side of the garage, that shouldn't count against him too strongly.
Being Dovizioso's teammate worked out well in the past, which is why it could work again.
Photo by: Ducati Corse
Should he return to Ducati, would we see the consistent, super-quick 2015 version of Iannone or the infuriating inconsistent 2016 model? Without the pressure of a shootout, perhaps it will be the former.
The way he has started the 2018 campaign - no crashes and a podium at Austin - is also promising, and suggests he might just have come out of his last two-year dark period as a more mature racer.
With Dovizioso acting as the team leader, title contender and main force for bike development all at the same time, Ducati has the freedom to put someone next to him who only brings raw speed to the table, and Iannone would be perfect for that.
Ducati forgetting the troubles of yesteryear and returning to the line-up that kickstarted its resurgence in form in 2015 could be the final piece of the puzzle for it to return to the top of MotoGP.
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