The expected re-shuffling of Ducati's race team was announced just over a week after the end of the most expensive and disappointing period in the Italian firm's history, with an unexpected candidate being installed to head the effort heading into Audi's first full year in charge.
Former BMW Motorrad Motorsports Director Bernhard Gobmeier, a persistent critic of the costs of racing in MotoGP, was named the new general manager of Ducati Corse. Under Gobmeier, BMW's Superbike effort was considerably strengthened. Gobmeier hired former MotoGP rider Marco Melandri and his crew and gave them the resources needed to win. And Melandri did until he didn't. The Italian was leading the championship coming out of Russia, then failed to score points in five of the six final races, falling to third.
During an interview earlier this season with Italian magazine "Motosprint," Gobmeier said BMW wasn't interested in MotoGP under the current rules, but left the door open if the rules changed. He also said that Yamaha and Honda, though not Ducati, were "killing MotoGP," adding, "It's the truth. The Japanese have a vision of racing different from ours. All they can think of is reaching technological leadership. Their objective is to beat the rivals. If this sports war ruins the show, it doesn't matter."
Ducati's general manager Claudio Domenicali learned secondhand of Gobmeier's thoughts on the costs during a media gathering at Wrooom 2012, the Ducati team intro. Domenicali was told by an Austrian journalist that five years ago BMW believed they could enter MotoGP for 40 million euros, but that "Now they think they can do it with 20 million."
"Now they think they can make with 20 million?" Domenicali said, laughing. "Good luck. Germans are not famous to spend a limited amount of money." That could change.
During an interview with Cycle News at the 2012 Miller Motorsports Park World Superbike round, Gobmeier praised the racing in World Superbike, while softening his position on the MotoGP factories, saying, "You don't see such good races in MotoGP just for a spectator's view.
"I don't want to take anything away from what they're doing," he said, "I think that what Honda, Yamaha and Ducati are doing is just excellent work, for sure. But the racing, as a show, and racing is a show and especially you in America you know it-you have the biggest show in NASCAR, which has the primitive, most primitive technology on the one side, but it's the best show, and that's what racing is about - and the show is better here. And as long as the rules are so uncertain and so expensive we cannot afford to buy into something which is unpredictable." Now Gobmeier is in charge of the unpredictability and certain to have Audi's very deep pockets to call on.
Technical boss Filippo Preziosi, who was widely expected to be replaced, has been named the Director of R&D Ducati Motor Holding where he'll be involved with motorcycle production. The move wasn't a surpise following two disappointing years with Valentino Rossi. Rossi and his team were brought to Ducati with great fanfare, but failed to deliver. The nine-time world champion became consistently more critical of the project as his tenure wore on. In the end, he admitted that only Casey Stoner could ride the bike and that the problems he'd encountered at the first test in Valencia in November of 2010 hadn't been solved. Given the staggering amount of money Rossi and his team were being paid, the costs of re-designing the GP12 around the FTR chassis, and the paucity of podiums delivered, the return on investment is probably the worst in the history of grand prix racing.
Stoner won the 2007 MotoGP World Championship for a number of reasons. First was his undeniable talent. Second were the Bridgestone tires. In the era before control rubber, Bridgestone built tires tailored to both Stoner and Ducati. And, third, Preziosi had a greater understanding of the electronics and how to make the most of the restricted fuel capacity. Stoner won 10 races and the 2007 MotoGP World Championship, the first of the 800cc era.
But in each successive season the talented Australian won fewer races, which caused him to bolt to Honda at the end of 2010. And since Rossi joined Nicky Hayden in 2011 neither came close to winning. With Audi now in charge, something had to be done.
Gobmeier will report to Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio, while Preziosi will report to Claudio Domenicali, who retains his position as general manager of Ducati Motor Holding.
Former Ducati Superbike boss Paolo Ciabatti will now head the MotoGP project. Ciabatti is well known and respected in racing circles for his success as the leader of the Ducati Superbike program during the glory days. Ciabatti, who speaks fluent English and is a media favorite for his candor and accessibility, won championships with a number of riders, including Carl Fogarty, Troy Bayliss, James Toseland, and Neil Hodgson. He also oversaw Ducati's Superbike efforts in the AMA Superbike Championship. Following the 2007 World Championship, won by Toseland, Ciabatti moved to WSB promoters Infront as Superbike director. Now he returns to Ducati, with engineer Ernesto Marinelli named as the Ducati Superbike Project Director. Marinelli and Ciabatti will assume their posts in January 2013 and report to Gobmeier.
Not mentioned in the Ducati release was the future of current team manager Vito Guareschi and MotoGP Project Director Alessandro Cicognani. Cicognani was widely seen as being more involved on the commercial and marketing sides.