2011 MotoGP Assen Wednesday Round Up: The Ducati GP11.1, Or Rossi vs Stoner

There was naturally only one topic of conversation in the paddock in Assen, and I'm sure you won't be shocked to hear that it wasn't the composition of the new Greek cabinet. Valentino Rossi's brand new Ducati, the legality of using parts for a 2011 bike which have been tested for a 2012 machine, and what this all means about the machine that Casey Stoner left behind for Valentino Rossi, all these things were discussed, but really, they all boil down to what is rapidly becoming the most over-debated topic in motorcycle racing at the moment: Valentino Rossi vs Casey Stoner.

The two protagonists themselves agreed on one thing: The development iteration just discarded by Rossi in favor of the chassis based on the GP12 frame was about at the end of its potential, everything else they were at odds at. Unsurprisingly, given that this is turning into one of the classic rivalries of the modern era, and that they have so much to disagree about.

First, the reason for the change: Basically, Rossi could not go fast on the GP11, and nothing that he or his crew did to the bike helped. "Everything I do, with all my experience, when I do things to go fast with the GP12, I have results and I go faster," Rossi said. "With the GP11 I don't." Rossi made his dislike for the GP11 fairly obvious: "The results of the beginning of the year are worse than we expected, and I had a lot of difficulty to go fast with the GP11," Rossi told the press, saying that the solution was equally obvious. "We pushed a lot to fix the problems on the GP11 but Filippo understood that the answer was the GP12. Fortunately the bike we have in the factory is different from the GP11 in all the areas we suffer."

How is the GP12 (and hopefully, the GP11.1) better? "The GP12 is much more stable, it puts a different pressure on the front, and gives me a better feeling on the front side of the bike. I have less movement in acceleration and I can create also more rear grip compared to the other bike," Rossi said. Will it work though? "Is a risk! Is a risk this bike is no good with the 800 engine, but when you need to recover, you need to take a risk." Rossi was also asked if the decision to switch chassis was taken after struggling so much at Silverstone, and produced one of the most apposite slips of the tongue heard in a long while: "At Strugglestone," Rossi started, before correcting himself, and going on to explain that his decision had been taken much earlier, shortly after the first test at Jerez, and had taken this long to get everything ready.

Rossi laid the problems of the GP11 firmly at the door of Casey Stoner. "Stoner was riding the bike in a very good way," Rossi conceded, but the bike had not been developing in the right direction, and the results of the Ducati had got worse every year. "I think this bike is at the end of it's development, and with the new bike, we will have a lot more space to improve the bike."

Unsurprisingly, Stoner rejected criticism of his development skills, pointing out that Ducati's budget and resources had been the biggest stumbling block during his tenure there. "There were a lot of different things we asked for which they just couldn't do, things I asked for, my technicians, everybody," Stoner said in the press conference, "But we knew they were trying as hard as they could but without the resources, this is all they could come up with. Filippo tried everything he could and tried to get things to us as quickly as possible, but he wanted to make sure that everything was tested correctly, and when you don't have the budget and the time and the resources, then it's hard to do, and with us, they weren't able to do it."

The changes made to the Ducati during his tenure there were minimal, Stoner said: " From 2007 to 2008 they changed more or less nothing. 2009 and 2010, other than the chassis? That's it. We didn't change anything also in the past years. We changed to the big bang engine, but that was it. We did small steps each year and that's all they had the time for, they had all the season to develop one thing, we changed that and that was it. They would spend all the next season developing the next thing."

Stoner was not surprised to hear of such major changes to the Ducati, though, given the problems that Rossi had been having with the bike. "Honestly, they needed it," Stoner said. "If they don't do it, they look like they're doing nothing, and without real results this year they're in big trouble." With Valentino Rossi on board, budget was clearly no longer a problem, and this is something Stoner had been expecting. "I said at the beginning of the season that because they took Valentino they will for sure put more money and more development into this program. Obviously they had the budget to do something new, and if you have this possibility, you must do it if you're struggling like this."

The legality of testing parts on the GP12 which get used this year was also discussed, and as you might expect, Casey Stoner was unconvinced that the Ducati tests were legal. "If they're using parts this year that are going to be on next year's bike, I'm not sure this is allowed," he said, but the consensus elsewhere in the paddock was that the problem is that there are no rules. The rulebook says that testing is prohibited for "machines eligible for the MotoGP class" but that is a phrase so general that you could ride a coach and horses (not eligible for MotoGP) through it without the rulemakers making a fuss. Whether it is in the spirit of the rules is largely irrelevant, the point is it is not against the letter of the law.

Whether any of that testing does Ducati any good is another matter altogether. On Thursday - race day at Assen is traditionally on Saturday, so practice starts a day ahead of the regular schedule - rain is expected for much of the day, making setup a guess at best. The forecast for the long term is excellent - tropical temperatures and bright sunshine expected for early next week, but through Saturday, the forecast is grim. Three days of riding the GP11.1 in the rain is unlikely to teach Rossi and his crew very much about the potential of the bike. He may be forced to do all of his setup work in the pressure cooker atmosphere of Mugello. But at least he has track time there with the GP12 to base it on.

We have already had the first glimpse of the GP11.1 (photos of which have appeared on GPOne.com), and I had a chance to go and have a bit of a peek at the machine as it was warmed up. The rear swingarm appears to be attached to a carbon fiber subframe rather than the crankcases, and the shock is mounted at the top on the same subframe, rather than the bottom of the engine casing via a linkage as it was on the GP11.0. The fairing is now the double-gill side vent version rather than the large single vent, and the swingarm bracing is underneath rather than above. The lower front exhaust is now large, vaguely trumpet shaped, and emerging from the side, altered from the elegantly tucked away side exit as it was previously. Whether it works or not is a different question, and one we will see tomorrow.

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It probably would make sense, but I imagine by now Ducati are under so much pressure to start producing results they just don't have that luxury.

It looks like it might be wet Thursday, Friday, then dry on Saturday, depending on which weather site you want to listen to. It would do them no good to guess at the settings on a dry track when he's never ridden it before, and there might be more wet races in the season. Seat time is essential.

Seat time is essential, but it's IMPOSSIBLE to be competitive for 12 races with only 3 engines. At some point they're going to have to use the old bike. I would think wet weekends would be ideal for just that. Save the new bike for the dry, it's already been proven that the old bike can go alright in the wet.

I don't take the view, based on those few words, that Rossi was laying the blame for lack of development at Stoner's feet - and Burgess has pretty much said it was Ducati's mind-set that was the root of the problem.

For his part, Stoner hasn't mocked Rossi's efforts, he's been pretty fair about where the problem lies. His disappointment that his development input wasn't acted upon is surely quite reasonable and he's by far the first person to query whether what Ducati did was strictly kosher. However the point remains that it has been deemed legal and so the goalposts have in effect been moved from what most people thought was the case so if Honda choose to do something similar, Ducati have led the way to having that issue defined.

We won't know what Casey is like at developing bikes until next year or even the year after when we see how Honda fair. But I do agree on a point that Stoner did not have the voice at Ducati, and they, probably didn't have the resources at the time to support. However from his results, it's hard to say it was just the bike / rider - one minute he is giving everybody a good whooping - so Ducati are going to say "well, you won there, no problem with the bike"....The other side is easy to see. But with Valentino, his feeling is probably more consistent & his demands more easy to understand / produce. I really think speaking Italian helps this to, as bike feeling can get lost in translation very easy. Looking at the GP11.1 - it looks right, it looks like it will work well. The GP10 / 11 never looked right compared with the bikes, the rear was never settled...& looked that way sitting still. I just wan't to see the battle between Rossi, Casey & Marco...if it take a GP11.1 for this to occur - well bring it!

Hasnt this been done albeit with the 1000cc motor? They would have some sort of base setting with this and it would be more of working out how the 800cc engine works within the chassis rather than testing a whole new bike from absolute scratch.

It seems there is a bit of confusion between various statement by Rossi.

Here you report:
"Rossi was also asked if the decision to switch chassis was taken after struggling so much at Silverstone, and produced one of the most apposite slips of the tongue heard in a long while: "At Strugglestone," Rossi started, before correcting himself, and going on to explain that his decision had been taken much earlier, shortly after the first test at Jerez, and had taken this long to get everything ready."

And GPone reports:
"So it was love at first sight with the GP12, which led Ducati Technical Director Filippo Preziosi to present Rossi with this pleasant surprise. “I didn't know anything about it until we concluded the most recent Mugello test - Rossi recalled - It was then that Preziosi proposed the idea of putting the 800cc engine in the GP12 chassis, and I was immediately in agreement."


In the end was the decision taken at Jerez in April or at Mugello 2 months later in June?
Is Rossi feeding different versions to the media or is it something lost in translation?

David quotes Rossi indirectly whereas GPone quotes him directly, and as hard as I try I think that it would take a huge translation mistake if the meaning was actually that Ducati has been working on that since Jerez...

Plus GPone and Vale are fellow Italians so he may have been interviewed by them directly in italian. Even if he might have expressed himself in english in a broader conference, that would have been easy for them to check with him.

I don't know anything but my feeling is that it could be more than just "lost in translation".

It is perfectly reasonable to assume that Rossi is a better development rider than Stoner. It is obvious that Rossi has vastly more experience than Stoner, and he has Burgess, the most successful crew chief in modern MotoGP history. However, it is one of Stoner's greatest strengths as a racer that's works against him as a development rider. That is, uniquely among current MotoGP riders, Stoner can ride around problems, and make even a difficult bike fast. This is a great quality for a racer, but counterproductive for bike development. If the rider's skill is masking bike problems this is of no help at all to the engineers. For development a rider is needed whose lap times reflect the problems, not masks them. So when Stoner was fast on the Ducati, as he usually was, it was too easy for Ducati to say that the bike is ok, it's just the riders that are the problem. But now that Ducati has Rossi, who clearly doesn't have Stoner's ability to ride around the Ducati's problems, Ducati and everyone else has been forced to acknowledge their bike's fundamental design flaws.
This doesn't make Stoner a bad development rider, just that Rossi is better in this respect. But it is no surprise that Rossi is trying to blame Stoner for his problems, even though Burgess himself has publicly expressed a quite different opinion. How galling it must be for Rossi for all the world to see that Stoner, his great competitor, is unequivocally a better rider than Rossi when it is a matter of getting the best out of a bike on track.

Just because Stoner was able to ride around the problem doesn't mean he didn't know what the problem was, quite the opposite, in order to ride around a problem you have to understand what the bike is doing, and what it needs. There's no hard evidence to suggest who is the better development rider, Stoner got no updates any year, and especially when he needed it when they switched to the CF chassis. Rossi has been getting constant updates and a completely new bike seven races into his first year.

The difference, if any, between their development skills will be impossible to tell until Stoner is actually able to develop a bike.

Edwards is apparently a great development rider, how do you know he wasn't a main part of the success of the M1 development? You don't. Speculation on who is doing what type of development is absolutely fruitless, because we have absolutely no way of verifying. The engineers are the ones ultimately developing the bike, if they can't succeed, a guy may be giving the most amazing feedback possible and it'll be for nothing. The converse is also true, a guy may be giving crap feedback, but if the engineering staff is superb, the rider still might get a great bike. Then there are the test riders to take into account, they are definitely a huge key to the development.

simply because he hasn't had the opportunity for his input to be reflected in the development cycle. Rossi is unquestionably good, and everybody who has worked with him has attested that, but by the same token we have some fairly positive comments from Forcada and Preziosi himself regarding Stoner.

What tends to be overlooked is the fact that at the critical phase of the c/f frame development - the latter half of '08 - Stoner had the scaphoid problem and as for the same for the '10 bike - he was as sick as a dog and Hayden had to do the testing duties at the most critical time. If one allows - as one should - that Rossi's shoulder prevented him from making a comprehensive assessment of the bike he rode at Valencia then some latitude also applies to Stoner.

The next few seasons should allow a decent appraisal of Stoner's ability as a development leader, and it may turn out that it is not great, but as things stand it is too simplistic to put him an any particular box.

Maybe Pedrosa is the best development rider of all of them: just look at this year's Honda! Or is that Dovizioso's influence, as some people have suggested? But in any case it is undeniable the Stoner's input this year has been spectacularly successful: the Honda just keeps getting faster...

A lot of the comments about Stoner not being able to develop a bike come from people trying to find excuses for Rossi's performances this year.

You also need to remember he has a different riding style to everyone else. Riders like Spies, Edwards and Hayden have all attested to his ability to get on the throttle earlier than anybody else. When he sets a bike up his job is to set it up for himself, to suit the way he rides, as best as he can with the parts he has to work with. Then he goes and rides it to within an inch of it's life. His job is not to set his bike up so that it will suit Rossi. If Rossi is not capable of riding the bike, then that is Rossi's problem and he needed to sort it out for himself, which he pretty much failed to do.

Stoner's team boss in his first year in MotoGP at LCR was full of praise for his ability to develop the bike. Remember what he achieved on that thing? A customer Honda that was down on power and running 3rd rate Michelins, yet he still managed a number of podiums. Pretty much unheard of for a satellite bike since then. He also won races in the lower classes on privateer bikes. You simply don't do that unless you know how to make a bike work.

The whole argument is ridiculous. You only need to look at how much faster the Honda is with him on it. Sure, he's probably the fastest rider out there, but he's also developed his bike in a way that suits him. I can't see how this is even an argument?

Setting up a bike and developing a bike a two different things. All riders at this level know how to set up a bike, otherwise they would never make it this far. Developing a bike requires engineering solutions rather than just fine tuning the set up. However, reality for Ducati seems to be that the GP9/10/11 has fundamental design flaws, and no-one, including Rossi/Burgess, has been able to find a solution. The fault therefore lies with the Ducati design, not with any rider's development skills, so Rossi blaming Stoner is just Rossi trying to excuse his own shortcomings.

Exactly. And ultimately, riders are not engineers. They give feedback to the engineers and it's then up to those guys to go and develop the changes that will fix the things the riders are complaining about. Any rider will only be able to develop a bike as well as the team of engineers who build the bike are capable of.

Hopefully for Rossi, Ducati have finally put the effort into making some good changes. But it's not as though Valentino has been complaining of anything that all the Ducati riders before him didn't complain about. It's just that now Ducati are in a position to act on it.

Only four riders have won a race in the dry in the 800cc era, perhaps development and setup skills are not so different. Either way it's impossible for us to tell.

Stoner and his team were able to find a solution of some kind towards the end of the season which allowed him to win three races, or he somehow adapted the bike enough and his riding style enough to be successful. But he claims it was a solution with the bike alone.

I agree that setting up and developing are two different things. As a satellite rider with LCR in 06, Stoner could only set his bike up. He couldn't have developed it without getting factory support.

I don't agree that all riders at this level know how to set up a bike. Melandri was runner-up in 05 on a Gresini Honda bike that Gibernau basically set up. He came nowhere in 06 after Gibernau departed the team for Ducati. We all know how much Melandri struggled with the Ducati in 08. Clearly Stoner knows how to set up a bike, although I'm not sure it's been proven that he can go much faster on the Honda RC212V than Dani. In the two races that both riders started and finished this year (Qatar and Estoril) Stoner was 1st and 3rd to Dani's 3rd and 1st.
Also, I think it's worth pointing out that according to Mick Doohan, this year's RC212v is basically identical to the one they rolled out at Brno last year and development on it since then has been minimal.

Every rider is different, different weight, different height, different riding style, they can't just copy someone else's settings. The fact that Melandri struggled could be due to a lot of different factors, not just bike set up. My comment about the Honda going faster this year was slightly tongue-in-cheek, but what what I said was that the Honda has gone faster this year, not that Stoner was faster than Pedrosa. Honda themselves have commented on how Stoner's presence in the team had raised the standard for all the Honda riders. As for Stoner vs Pedrosa, in terms of speed I think there is very little in it in dry conditions, but Stoner is unquestionably the faster of the two in mixed and wet conditions. I think Stoner is better than any other MotoGP rider at getting the best out a difficult bike. There will be races where Pedrosa is untouchable, such as Estoril this year, surely one of his finest victories. But I think that Stoner is an all round better racer than Pedrosa, and I would expect him to finish ahead of Pedrosa over the course of a season.

Love your final sentence about not seeing how this is even an argument. But we all know the answer to that too!

In the 990 era it was common for satellite riders to win races and get podiums. The fact that no satellite rider has won in the 800 era is often lamented in commentary circles and is put down to the increased role played by electronics. I remember two things about Stoner in the 06 season. First, he got a pole position very early on and that surprised a lot of people, who had expected Dani Pedrosa, also in his top class rookie year on the factory Honda, to get there before him. So, Stoner did indeed show promise. The second thing I remember is that he crashed out a lot of times in 06. He was soon being called a crasher. He even took out Gibernau on his last ride on the Ducati, the ride he would be taking over the following season.
Stoner said later in an interview that the reason he crashed so much in 06 was because he wasn't given the material he wanted, either from Michelin or Honda.
Given his remark in the Wednesday press conference, that they changed hardly anything on the 08 bike, how do you explain him starting to crash again?

As far as I am aware, his 2008 DNF's were largely attributable to his scaphoid injury.

Stoner didn't crash out of any race in 2007, and in fact has has more consecutive race finishes without crashing in the 800 era than Rossi. In 2008 he had a wrist injury that affected his control of the bike, especially, if I recall correctly, on right hand corners. His crashes in 2009/10 were due to the front end weakness of the CF Ducati. The Ducati's front end problems are well documented, and dramatically confirmed by Rossi and Burgess this year.

Riders aren't engineers. Only engineers can design a bike. Period. People who aren't engineers don't understand what this means. Mechanics aren't engineers either, and vice versa. Neither Rossi nor Stoner are engineers. They can only say whether or not something is working for them or if a development is taking them in the right direction.

Rossi and Jeremy proved that even they have limits given the engineering constraints handed to them by Ducati. Lots of these problems go away with money, and it's clear that Rossi brings a lot of money. In away, I guess that could be developmental magic, but he's not an engineer and never will be.

Best part of the press conference: Nicky Hayden explaining the logistical reasons why he won't get the bike until later, and Colin Edwards slapping Nicky on the back saying "Welcome to being Rossi's teammate." I feel sad for Nicky.

One thing I find interesting about the whole Ducati issue is the assumption that the various Ducati 800cc bikes only suit Stoner's "style". Maybe this is more a reflection on my lack of racing background than anything else; but surely a professional racer who's paid a fantastic salary should take it upon himself to adapt to the bike in the first instance rather than the other way around. Spies made a point of doing just this when he jumped on the (admittedly sorted) M1 for the first time. I'm sure that Rossi has tried this to some extent but I seem to remember that talk (and maybe it was just that) during Rossi's acclimatisation at Ducati was of adapting the bike to suit Rossi's "style".

A lot is made of the background of a rider: Lorenzo's 250 style/background; Hayden's dirt-track roots; Spies' superbike history. I think it would make a great article if Mr Emmit could piece together some opinions from those that really know as to how much a rider's racing upbringing really does influence their current way of riding; why it's so difficult to change (as seems to be the case) and if there really is an optimum style for a 500 2-str, 990, 800, 1000 whatever bike. I can't help thinking that the same laws of physics apply to all.

It never ceases to amaze me that the Australians performance on the bike (or ANY bike he's ridden for that matter) always comes into question despite solid and quite frankly, inspirational efforts.
The only questionable performance I see, is coming from the the newest member of his old team! In the majority of cases, according to the fans, Rossi's performance and success is a forgone conclusion and the actual results are only secondary to the spectacle. I don't understand the hype when the hard evidence brings the MAIN selling points of his reputation under serious scrutiny, and it would be easier to digest if fans of the sport and the rider would wait for the results before making such ludicrous statements of the success that may or may not even happen!
Stoner can never be accused of anything other than speaking his mind, although I must say his controlled response to the 'out of line' jibes from Rossi and surprisingly his fellow countryman, Burgess, have surely proven he is now to be considered as dominant off the track as he is on it. Chalk up another one for the Farmboy!

with the cheap shots at Stoner, laying development blame at his feet. What a load of nonsense. What was Stoner supposed to do, go to the back of the workshop and manufacture the requisite parts like Rossi himself does since the factory was unwilling to?

The thing that intrigues me is Rossi states he knew from the first test that he could not ride the GP10/11 back in November 2010. Yet the factory have thrown new CF sub frames and engines at him, presumably at the request of Burgess, which have not solved their problems. One would've thought that Preziosi would've fast tracked the GP12 straight after Rossi's first Jerez Ducati test. Then all concerned would've avoided the ignominy of the current GP11.9 situation.

...the obvious answer, from the available info, is that Preziosi wasn't ready to accept that appraisal of his precious CF abominations. It took much more convincing to get him to consider other options.

No one is questioning Stoners ability to ride. Just his ability to decide direction. Ducati gave him a new frame and a few swingarms, forks, a multitude of fairing designs, even new clip ons...what else is there? He was quoted as saying he liked them all when they came out, with the exception of the forks from which he reverted.

I'm not going to say Rossi is doing poorly at making the bike work. I'll suggest that Rossi is unwilling to crash as much as stoner did on this ducati to get those peak and valley results. He will use his brain to get the bike faster instead of risking his neck every corner by overriding it.

I'm more worried about the yamaha. Lorenzo is one sad looking boy these days. Maybe they should have let Rossi test the 2011 ;)

Bob, there's nothing inspirational about crashing out 6 times, as Stoner did in 06. I'm very happy to see that he's obviously develop hugely as a rider since he first jumped on a Motogp bike, but I don't see how you can qualify his efforts on "ANY" bike as being "inspirational" or "solid". His performances on the Ducati after 07 were erratic. You may well say that that is owing to the bike and not to Casey. Nevertheless, the word "solid" cannot be ascribed to his performances in those seasons.
As for Rossi, his reputation is based on his achievements to date. That's the only "hard evidence" anybody's achievements are ever going to be based on. You can't have it both ways. If Stoner's achievements are worthy of recognition and not to be called into question, then ditto for Rossi's. (And mind, I said "achievements" there. I don't consider falling off a bike to be an achievement. I wouldn't qualify Rossi's 06 season as "inspirational" and nor do I think the word can be applied willy nilly to Stoner's seasons).

Could it be... it's never been the front end that's the real issue? Apart from (possible) rotation of the engine to allow geometry changes at the front, it strikes me that most of the chassis changes in the GP12 are around the rear - infamous for its "pumping" issues in the GP11 and predecessors. Ironic if people had spent all this time chasing non-existent front-end issues eh?

On the arguments about whether this is cheating or not, it strikes me Ducati have been very upfront about what they are doing. If they had just said that they were trying (yet more) chassis parts for VR, noone would have batted an eyelid. if anyone has the right to complain, it will be the other manufacturers in MotoGP.

In that the factories change components through the racing season, so what's new about Ducati apart from the fanfare approach they've taken?

Had they not shown GP12 testing shots then there would be no need to do announce this as a change learnt from GP12 development, they've only needed to do this to avoid other manufacturers calling foul by using what looks to be the GP12 bike ilo the GP11.

Either way, bring on the racing, a tussle for the lead all race long is what we all enjoy, I hope that this is what we begin to see for the rest of the season.

What is significant is the gamble on using engines 4 and 5 for the GP11.1. Still a few races to go yet.
Looks as though the gloves are off regarding 1000cc test days which will be interesting to see the pace of development after the Mugello test day.

So not only has Ducati admitted that the chassis their factory riders have been testing during the 2012 test will be used this year but also they planned to use it this year back at Jerez! So they knew full well BEFORE the Mugello test that they would be using it this year.

They better hope Honda and Yamaha doesn't walk through the door that they just open. I don't think anyone would say if Yamaha and Honda started testing a current GP bike with a 21.5L tank that it wouldn't be against the spirit of the rules but that's basically what Ducati has done. So if Honda and Yamaha started testing whenever they like with a "machine not eligible for the MotoGP class" I don't want to hear any complaining coming from the Ducati camp because this is the road they chose.