2012 Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Of Fresh Excitement and Fallen Heroes

Writing about MotoGP is hard at the moment. There are so many great stories to tell - the astonishing rise of Romano Fenati out of nowhere in Moto3, the legion of Kalexes taking on Marc Marquez in Moto2, the frenetic pace of development among the CRT machines, the ascendancy of Dani Pedrosa as a challenger for Jorge Lorenzo and Casey Stoner, the rebirth of Cal Crutchlow as a serious force to be reckoned with, the HRC design gaffe that left the RC213V seriously afflicted by chatter, just to name a few - but it is hard to get around to telling them. Because the vast majority of fans only want to read about one single subject: the enigma of Valentino Rossi's continuing battle with the Ducati Desmosedici, and his fall from championship contender to mid-pack straggler.

Each race adds another chapter to the epic saga that Rossi's problems have become, and the weekend of the Spanish Grand Prix is no exception. It is a tale that needs to be told, however tiresome it may have become to some, and I shall return to later on. But first, we have three fascinating sessions of qualifying which need attention.

The weather is still a key player at Jerez, the rain slowly dying out after lunchtime, leaving different conditions for all three classes. For Moto3, it was pretty much wet, and for Moto2, it was just about completely dry, with MotoGP once again left to suffer in between. Fortunately, the track was drying quickly, with only a few damp patches right at the very end.

Moto3 was dominated by two young Australians, Jack Miller seemingly having a secure hold on pole for most of the session, and former Red Bull Rookie Arthur Sissis, who was close. In the end it was another rookie who took the pole, young Spaniard Alex Rins grabbing the top spot with a last-ditch lap. Sandro Cortese and Miguel Oliveira complete the front row, but like Moto2 before it, Moto3 has thrown up a host of new names, previously consigned to riding uncompetitive bikes. Alexis Masbou rarely set the world on fire on a 125, yet he starts from 4th on the grid on Sunday. Likewise, Louis Rossi, once a shambolic backmarker, is now regularly at the sharp end.

Rins' pole was down to choosing the right strategy, fitting slicks and timing his lap just perfectly, also helped by his extensive local knowledge. Rins' experience from racing in the Spanish championship means he knows Jerez well, and without a new track to learn, the Spaniard excelled. Rins may have been helped a little by the shortcomings of the two title favorites, Maverick Vinales and Romano Fenati. Vinales elected not to use a slick tire, choosing safety over speed with an eye to the title chase, ending up in 9th, just ahead of Fenati.

Moto2 saw a tense battle between Spanish heroes Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro, with Takaaki Nakagami, Thomas Luthi and a reborn Mika Kallio adding a little variety to the mix. The clash between Marquez and Espargaro is shaping up to be a classic confrontation between the Golden Boy and the Wild Outsider, in the vein of Wayne Rainey vs Kevin Schwantz some twenty years ago. Marc Marquez is Spain's anointed champion - and rightly so, the boy oozes talent from every pore - while Espargaro is just some kooky kid who happens to be really, really fast. Both men were new to the class last year, and while Marquez hit the ground running - helped, no doubt, by having almost unlimited testing, given the nearly unlimited budget of the team - Espargaro took a while to find his feet. But once he understood how a 600cc four stroke works, his results improved massively, and the switch to the Kalex has been the missing link. Marquez is clearly the favorite for the race tomorrow, but pleasingly, the list of challengers is getting longer, ensuring that Moto2 retains its title as the closest racing series in the world.

But the MotoGP qualifying session turned out to be heart-stopping, and an example of why an ordinary 60 minute QP can be just as exciting as any other qualifying format. The excitement was helped along by the weather, with the track drying fast throughout the session, with a few remaining wet patches adding to the tension. There were two such patches at Turn 1 which caught several riders out, including Casey Stoner and Alvaro Bautista. The reason for that, Ben Spies explained, was because both of them were on the ideal line, and riding around them was made extremely difficult.

The wet patches made things even harder for Casey Stoner at Jerez. The Spanish track is one that the Australian has never liked, and has never had a good race at, but adding insult to injury was the fact that while the wet patches on the racing line were drying out as riders used them, Stoner's less orthodox style means his lines are different, leaving him to deal with track that was still wet. The reigning champion believed that had he taken more risks, he could have cut another half a second off his times, but while that would have put him on the front row, the other half a second he is missing needs setup work to achieve.

Cal Crutchlow helped liven qualifying up, the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riding proving that his 4th at Qatar was not just a one-off. The Englishman went back and forward with Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa for the lead, but once Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo started ratcheting up the pace, Crutchlow had to let them go. If the weather conditions permitted it, he told reporters, he would be gambling rather than playing it safe. He knows he is not in the title race, and so would rather crash out of the lead than ride around in 6th collecting points.

But the real battle for tomorrow's race will the same one that unfolded during qualifying, with Jorge Lorenzo just getting the better of Dani Pedrosa at the last minute. Every time he passed his pit board, Lorenzo said, he saw Pedrosa's name in 1st, and a small gap for him to close. He crossed the line and saw a better time on his lap timer, but by the time he got back round again, Pedrosa would be back in the lead again. In the end, Lorenzo came out on top, but in reality, there is nothing to choose between the two.

His strength has been a confidence booster for Lorenzo, but it is Dani Pedrosa who looks capable of upsetting the apple cart. With all the talk preseason - at least, all the talk that wasn't about Ducati - of the battle between Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, it is Pedrosa who has come out looking stronger and faster than he has ever done since moving to MotoGP. Pedrosa is riding with more aggression than in previous years, aggression he readily demonstrated in Qatar. Where for the last couple of years, Pedrosa has not been able to put up much of a fight, expect Lorenzo to have his hands full with his compatriot. The 2012 Spanish Grand Prix has all the marks of being a classic, with the added bonus of seeing two Spaniards fighting for victory in front of a home crowd. Only the weather may dampen proceedings.

Which brings us to Ducati, via the front row of the grid. For the first time in a very long time, there is a Ducati on the front row. But it is the Ducati of Nicky Hayden, rather than that of Valentino Rossi, which will start from 3rd spot. After yesterday's euphoria, with Rossi posting the 2nd fastest time in the wet, the Italian was brought back down to earth with a thump. A thump hard enough to put a massive dent in his confidence, and perhaps harm his increasingly fragile mental state.

Nicky Hayden, meanwhile, is getting on and riding the Ducati, and not worrying about what is wrong or right with it. Though Hayden described the bike as "the Ducati with the most potential I've ever ridden," it is far from perfect. But Hayden grits his teeth, puts his head down and finds a way to use the rear to work his way around the problems the bike is having at the front. Hayden's podium is well-deserved, for finding a way to ride the bike, and for his team and crew chief Juan Martinez finding a setup that works for the American.

And that is where Valentino Rossi is falling short. Rossi simply cannot ride the bike, and his crew, led by the legendary Jeremy Burgess, simply cannot find a setup for him that allows him to ride it. Rossi had tried Hayden's setup, but the Italian cannot replicate Hayden's style, which allows the American to get to full lean much quicker without running wide. Rossi is losing too much time right there, in the transition from braking to full lean, and his crew has not been able to find a solution to it.

The problems for Burgess and co, according to Rossi, are the same as those of Rossi himself. They have all spent plenty of time on different bikes, and learning how to get the best from those different bikes, but it turns out that the difference between those bikes was not as great as they thought. The style of bike - the design philosophy and direction, if you will - was more or less the same, so lessons learned on one bike could be adapted to the next bike with very little difficulty. The same could not be said for the Ducati: it required a completely different mindset, and left both Rossi and his crew quite bewildered.

The situation is starting to wear Rossi down, and was probably made worse rather than better by the Italian's promising time in the wet on Friday. Going from 2nd and thoughts of a podium to 13th on the grid, last of the Ducatis and stuck behind a CRT bike is a blow to Rossi's confidence that should not be underestimated. Rossi's demeanor at his daily press briefing was flatter than usual, the spirit slowly draining from him with each passing debrief to talk about how he still can't ride the bike.

His situation isn't helped by the barbs being aimed by other riders, with Casey Stoner pointing to the performance of Nicky Hayden and opining that the problem was not just down to the bike. Even Jorge Lorenzo, when asked if he would object to Rossi being given a Yamaha to ride, said that it would be good for Yamaha to have "another fast rider" to keep the brand competitive. "Another fast rider" is quite a comedown for the man so many refer to as the greatest of all time.

There is no easy way out of this situation. Different power characteristics would help, but what is really needed is a narrow angle V. Rumors that the engine might make an appearance at Estoril are being scuppered here in Jerez, the talk now being of Le Mans, Barcelona, or even much later in the year. For any top sports person to perform to the maximum of their ability, Rossi said, they had to find enjoyment in what they do, and much of that enjoyment comes from being able to compete at a top level. That enjoyment is gone for the Italian. Without it, even Estoril seems a very, very long way away.

What will Rossi do? That is impossible to say. For the moment, all he can do is either suffer miserably at the back, or override the bike in an attempt to do a little better than 5th. For Rossi's sake, he would do better to choose the path that brings him most enjoyment. Otherwise, we may have already seen the best of the Italian.

The final and undeniable sign that decline has set in will be when he is turned upon by the Italian press. So far, they have sided with Rossi against Ducati. When I asked one Italian journalist when the Italian press would start to write Rossi off, his answer was simple: "Never. He puts bread on the table for too many journalists." If he keeps finishing outside the top 10, that might start to change.

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I would be inclined to call "conspiracy theory" somewhere, somehow. Can't be true that people that speak the same language and share the same genes , just can't make a bike work. There has to be a mystery here, whether Ducati is filling up VR46's chassis with hydraulic oil to make him look bad, or VR46 is under severe anti-depressant medication, is maybe VR46 is sandbagging and come showtime he will just ride in the distance or maybe he's mad that another Italian can't understand his requirements and he's deliberately slowing down?

Something is going on here behind the scenes that I can't pinpoint.

Agreed, Luiggi.
It's getting too weird, can't help but wonder about something behind the scenes that we can't pinpoint.

Even with all speculation and suppositions, every other Ducati rider is doing better, and that's the reality of today. The fastest Ducati rider is the very least one can expect from the 9-time world champion.
Excuses and justifications from Rossi are getting really fragile every race-weekend. It can't be just the bike, no matter how bad it is. Sometimes it even looks like Rossi is going "slow" on purpose (?), I don't know...

Anyway, whatever it is, with or without solutions in sight, Rossi must take at least the positive example of team mate Nicky Hayden and go the "grits his teeth, puts his head down" way, as David described.
I have a new found respect for Hayden since a couple seasons ago and it's increasing immensely this year. Call him a "yes man" if you wish, but that's a professional rider with the propper atitude towards the current situation.

Brilliant write up. Especially, "When I asked one Italian journalist when the Italian press would start to write Rossi off, his answer was simple: "Never. He puts bread on the table for too many journalists." If he keeps finishing outside the top 10, that might start to change."

With Hayden, who I dare say is the hardest working man in Motogp, (as far as trying to get faster), out qualifing him, it is starting to look pretty bad for Rossi. I was watching Qualifying, saw Rossi wave to the camera after it was over, maybe my TV was not up loud enough, but I did not even hear a murmur. Normally Rossi fans have been LEGION. But as time passes, support seems to wash away. It is sad to watch, but it happens to every champion, one way or another. You either quit while on top, get injured so bad you cannot continue, or fall from high heights. Watching Hayden, it is clear the only way to get a Ducati to go is to learn how to ride it the way it can be ridden. Livio Suppo said this when asked about Rossi on a Ducati. He said he will have to adapt to the bike. At this point, he is going to have to. Seems like no matter how many changes Ducati makes, he still has a problem. So all that is left is to change his riding style to suit the Ducati.

Still won't write him off though. ;)

I'm just flat out enjoying watching a good rider, of calm demeanor; a regular guy who's best known talent is his incredible work ethic; and definitely NOT an alien getting his due. Go Nicky!!!!

I was wondering why casey was so slow and wouldn't push. It makes sense now. Great write up.

Ross isn't the only rider getting beat by his team mate. Dani Pedrosa is looking the best he has, at the beginning of the season, of any year in the premier class. In the wet, he wasn't having the amount of problems the others were with tyre wear. Unless he cracks, it looks as if we could very well get a battle, as David pointed out, between him and Lorenzo to the finish.

When Hayden became champion he was roundly derided as being a champion-by-default. There was much discussion as to whether he was the least deserving champion since Schwantz (!) and I remember a discussion about whether it would be possible to become world champion on points without winning a single race.
This may be his year to set the record straight. Not by becoming champion again - you'd have to be a world-class optimist to think that - but by taking a bike that reputation has written off and finishing somewhere in the upper echelons, proving that he really did have it after all.

As to Rossi, he's the first of the greats of the last twenty years to limp on into ignominy. Rainey, Doohan, even Schwantz, they all retired through injury. Is the increased safety of MotoGP what's made it possible for Rossie to gradually fade away? Capirossi has already filled the two-wheeled Barrichello role, the man who couldn't retire at the top and had to gradually be squeezed out. I wonder if the only things keeping Rossi going at this point are reputation, pride and a cast-iron Marlboro-backed contract. I fear that, whatever happens, there will be no happy ending.

Not to mention he rarely if ever complains about the bike. He just tries to go faster. It's impossible not to like him, and to pull for him.

But competitively...

There was much discussion as to whether he was the least deserving champion...

Understandably so. Look at the statistics: Hayden has won only 3 races in his entire career, none since 2006. He's been on the podium less than 20% of his starts, and has exactly 1 podium finish in each of the last 3 seasons, all of them in 3rd place. Quite honestly, since the title win in 2006 -- when he won 2 of this 3 races -- I think it's being charitable to call his competitive record as a factory rider mediocre.

Don't know what happened today in Jerez, but he seemed to again 'pull an Edwards' -- qualifying well but then disappearing in the race.

I would be very surprised to see Ducati sign him again.

The Rossi situation is very strange. They went fairly well in the pre-season test at Jerez, 1s from the front.... how can he loose an extra 2.5s to the front in the space of a month on the same track??

or so it would appear.

In a perverse way, it is perhaps a wall created by his very experience - that of knowing all too well what he can and can't do with a bike. The Ducati has a fearsome and deserved reputation for doing that to riders - Melandri being perhaps the canary in the mine for this syndrome.

When Melandri joined Ducati in '08, it was almost inconceivable that a rider of Melandri's ability, one with the confidence to slide a bike around the final corner of P.I. with the tyre smoking and one hand off the bars doing a victory sign - could be cowed and beaten by any bike. That it WAS the bike effect and not a terminal decline for the rider is obvious from Melandri's post-Ducati career.

The Ducati also nearly beat Hayden in '09 - but Hayden is like a Staffordshire Terrier vs. a teak log, he just keeps gnawing away with no recognition of the size of the problem, just that there is a log there to be beaten. A bit like Sisyphus, he will continue to roll the stone up the hill, and unlike Sisyphus for Hayden the hill wears flat and there is no slope left for the stone to fall down.

Stoner simply refused to allow the Ducati to beat him, it was personal - every time. No horse is unbrakeable to a man who lives for the challenge - it might win a session here and there but each new session starts out afresh, two wills clashing once again. Stoner left Ducati because of Ducati's attitude - not because he couldn't ride the bike itself. Three wins, one second and a crash in his last five races says that he was still entering the enclosure with the same intent as always up to the day he finished with them.

Rossi got on the Ducati believing that his skill transcended the rather obvious nature of the bike - and it bit him. He had - as he has later expressed - seriously underestimated what Stoner had been doing. Rossi's usually excellent judgement of the capability of other riders, both at a micro (this corner and now) and macro (championship) level, was obviously distorted by a clash of personalities. Stoner both confuses and irritates (sometimes infuriates) Rossi.

I believe that in no small measure, Rossi's current problems with the Ducati are more that there should be a way to use it better than Stoner did, and his frustration is that he cannot find that. His comment last year when he got a podium at Le Mans - that he had managed to get on the podium sooner in '11 on a Ducati than Stoner did in '10 - says to me that besting Stoner's record was the foremost thing in Rossi's mind.

Basically, Rossi's performance on the Ducati has gone steadily downhill from when he started out with residual physical problems in '11 and rather like an investor with his funds tied to a non-performing stock he is witnessing his capital eroding with no chance of bailing out. It is a vicious circle and it seems to have almost engulfed him. We can hope for a switch to flick, for a spark to ignite, but it just seems that Rossi's powder is wet and his eyes too crusted to see the target properly. That is no condition in which to enter the O.K Corral, because there are way too many hungry gunfighters arrayed on the other side.

Nice post! Great minds think alike. I was working on my post when yours went up. Didn't see it until I posted. We're obviously in convergent mindsets on this.

There are many terrific contributors to both the comments on articles and the forum on this site, and I believe everybody gets value and insight from their input. That is why I tend to get narky when I see some posters trying to carry the MCN/Crash et. al brawls over here - because we could lose the gold stuff that we get here from disparate and considered opinion and insight if it is swept away in 'the flood'.

I know you are experienced and articulate and have far more to share than focussing on David's reporting style - come join us! (hopefully, NOT to have the dogs of war over at MCN yapping after you)

I'm actually feeling sorry for Ducati.

If they had all their riders outside the top 10 and complaining about the same thing, then their engineering direction would obvious.
At the moment they have 1 factory bike sitting 3rd on the grid and the other bike nowhere and the satellite's in the middle, so the engineers must be wondering if they really do need to build another bike (or engine) or can they just tweak this one.

It also appears that Hayden, lately, has been given more responsibility from the factory. When Rossi was signed by Ducati, Hayden alluded to his role going back to the way it was when he and Rossi were team mates at Honda, that is, in Haydens own words, a "parts tester" for the other side of the garage. Now It's looking like Hayden and crew are being given free reign to do their own thing.

Also,compared to last year it seems that Ducati are dragging their feet in providing updates (I't doesn't take 3 months to build some different stiffness frames), so I'm wondering if they are "pausing" while they shift their focus more to Hayden (and crew's) requests rather than Rossi's.

It would be interesting if you could get more info on this David

The last chance Ducati really have of getting a better result out of Rossi is when they finally introduce their new engine, the frame changing is pointless right now because any frame changes now won't have the same effect when they introduce the next engine.

".... when they finally introduce their new engine"

A certainty huh: Are you Italian? Do you work for Ducati?

Don't feel sorry for Ducati. It's a manufacturer of institutional and legendary proportions, and it will outlive any rider's achievements and glory -including Rossi's- no matter how bad the results get. It's the Alfa Romeo, if not the Ferrari, of two wheels (and now with Audi's big bucks and suits behind).

If you take the word of past riders, be it WSBK or MotoGP riders, the rider complaints falling in deaf hears are almost historical. That ridigity from the factory, that sort of "we never do it wrong" atitude (a-la Honda) has caused problems with plenty rider associations (M.Melandri in MotoGP being the most blatant one).

Regarding this year bikes updates, I don't think for a minute that Ducati and the Corse department are "pausing" while choosing which rider to switch their focus.
For the engine, and based on some else's opinion, I would speculate that it takes several months to build a new engine. A certain time is needed for the design phase (the supposed shorter "V" is a 1st in a Ducati, AFAIK), then more time to understand the "right" casting procedure, and then some more before the engine goes to the test bench to check and power and reliability, fine tune, etc.
So the long time for that new engine to show up may very well be going as predicted, and not delayed or postponed.

I really think the biggest problems of Rossi will be starting now.
If the team mate (Hayden) keeps getting decent -and better- results, it will undermine his complaints (Rossi's), which actually makes it comfortable for the factory. It even suits the moment, if you think about it.
He has demanded a sort of bike that Ducati has clearly failed to deliver in every iteration. I think that's clear enough.
But the point is it may eventually get to a situation where the fiasco can become big enough to make him look (or actually be?) the weakest link in the chain.
I really hope it doesn't get to that but I wouldn't be surprised if this all ends with Rossi fighting for his own survival in the series (or quit) instead, now that there is big -and much cheaper- potential to be found in younger riders, plus the burned bridges he left behind.
I certainly feel Rossi still has it, just not with Ducati. But how and where can he prove that? (which bike, which team?)

re: "I would speculate that it takes several months to build a new engine. A certain time is needed for the design phase (the supposed shorter "V" is a 1st in a Ducati, AFAIK), then more time to understand the "right" casting procedure, and then some more before the engine goes to the test bench to check and power and reliability, fine tune, etc."

yup, it takes all those things and then some, but ignorance compounded by desires for instant gratification brought on by a culture of "microwave popcorn" has a way of blinding us to these inconvenient truths. not sure when designing and manufacturing something as complex as a bespoke racing engine became as simple as downloading a pirated MP3...? the reasons you mention above are actually reasons we will NOT see a narrow angle V... EVER...!!! even if we were to ignore the technical requirements for a second, it's a costly undertaking who's end result sorely lacks any kind of performance gaurantee...!?!? see entry for KR/Proton V5. see entry for the "ne-er-do-well" decade of suzuki's XREO/GSVR.

Thanks for reminding me. It was absolutely clear in the articles of at least one famous British journalist that the problem with the Suzuki was the V-angle.

It was too narrow to make power.

I think it was the same 65° as the Aprilia, the fastest bike in WSBK. Go figure.

I wouldn't have thought. Last year Dani was reasonably fast at Qatar and finished second to Jorge at Jerez also. Its worth noting though that if not for arm pump Stoner would still have won Qatar in all likelihood (set the 5 fastest laps of the race before arm issues), and even though he didn't get any points from Jerez last year after being taken out by Rossi he still won the title.

I'm never surprised to see Dani fast in races, but whether he's able to sustain that challenge over 18 rounds is the real test.


Dani's biggest problem the past 2 years has been injury. Knock on wood he keeps healthy and injury-free this year, he should definitely be top 3 every race.

Doesn't hurt that Marquez is lighting a fire under his seat either.

I think it's pretty clear that Pedrosa is capable of winning almost any race. Of active riders, only Rossi, Stoner, and Lorenzo -- i.e. the other 'aliens' -- have won more races (Lorenzo only 3 more, but then he's been in the top class 2 fewer years). And Pedrosa has finished on the podium more than half the time he's started.

An earlier interview with Kenny Roberts Jr. sums it up. Paraphrased was being able to put any piece of $*** on the front row but why risk it all when you know its not a front row bike for race distance....Rossi has said as much this year. I am a huge homer Nicky fan, but unless it is wet, he won't be on the podium tomorrow. Ain't Happenin'

Nicky did well in Quali, but he's still 1s back, which is pretty much where Duc's been since start of last year.

I feel bad for him... he is a champion. Kind of got shafted when 800cc came around, now he's shafted for riding a Ducati.

Another well written article Mr Emmett. I do enjoy reading your articles, even though I don't always agree with everything you write. Being able to write well is something that I envy. It is something like James Joyce said..."Yesterday I had the words, but today I got them in the right order." You get the words in the right order.

And it is the same for Mr Rossi. He has the ability, he just doesn't have the bike in the right order. I'm not a Rossi fan. I don't believe there is any conspiracy and I don't know if he has lost his ability to ride fast. I only know that for something to be absolutely true there must be no exceptions. The exception here is that unless he gets on another brand of bike to compare his performance against equal riders, then it's all just conjecture.

What I believe is that despite Hayden's results, Rossi is "wired" differently and that translates into how he rides.... how he brakes, how he tips in, the line he takes, the amount of throttle he uses etc etc it is all different to other riders. His "wiring" requires a more "confidence inspiring" feel from the front end. Obviously the Ducati just doesn't give him that feel, but nothing is insurmountable. Even though at the moment it all appears hopeless and depressing, if they have the motivation and drive, it will eventually turn around (after all, it is just mathematics and engineering). I have no doubt he will be back near the top one day, and may even inherit a win.

First off, I'd like to give David credit where credit is due. Loooong, long ago (or sometime last year), possibly even before the various aluminum chassis came onto play, he wrote a piece that was a methodical, component-by-component analysis of what the hell is wrong with the Duc. Although a few things were discussed, the moral of the story was that the culprit was likely the engine, it's wide angle, and the associated inability to adjust weight distribution sufficiently. Since then, the focus has been back on the chassis, but now we return to David's astute and dare I say precognitive assertion about the engine. Perhaps Burgess should be making secret midnight calls to the MotoMatters troubleshooting hotline! 1800FIXADUC $46 the first minute, $0.46 each additional minute.

In all seriousness, I think the big story, and a clue to the solution, is the heart of a certain Kentucky Kid. But I'm ahead of my point. We know the Duc has issues, or at the very least is very, very different from the rest. Casey Stoner, amids his successes with Ducati, struggled with the same issues, but was better able to overcome them, for whatever reason. Every other rider has struggled with the red devil, and besides Casey, Nicky is the only one that has battled through the adaptation process to find decent success in recent years -- first in 2010, and potentially again this year. Every rider that comes to Ducati thinks they're going to know what's up with the bike, fix it, and be the hero -- that they know better. I seem to recall everyone talking about how Rossi needed to "make the bike his own" with all the changes.

Not Nicky! He, in typically humble fashion, made no assumptions that it was going to be easy, that he knew better, or that the bike was flawed when it proved difficult to ride, as predicted. He just kept his head down and quietly worked hard on how he could adapt to the bike, chipping away at it, and not thinking so much of his own abilities that he placed blame anywhere else. And guess what, he figured it out! Given, this year his familiarity with steering from the rear is playing a big part, but I think it has more to do with attitude. Never give up, never give in -- just do your best and things will get better. The reed that bends remains unbroken.

Alternately, other riders have had such pride in their own skills and knowledge, they thought they could bend the bike to their style. Then, when low-and-behold, they didn't, it's such a huge confidence hit that they are broken by it. Unable to see that they need to accept at least partial blame, and start over from scratch.

As for Rossi, I sure hope this isn't the end. But I think that he's been such a success for so long, that it's almost like he hasn't had to work, doesn't remember a time when it was HIM that had to change, learn, and progress rather than just demand changes of the bike to suit his needs. Also, he's backed by a crew with the same problem. I think today he saw it, felt it -- a one-two punch delivered by Nicky's joyous smile after QP, and Randy DePuniet's Aprilia CRT-mounted bum sailing past him on the time sheets. Knockout.

A line in one of my favorite movies goes: "We have an expression in prize fighting. 'Everyone has a plan until they've been hit.' Well, my friend, you've just been hit. The getting up is up to you."

My hope is that Rossi takes some time for personal reflection -- maybe while he's circulating at the back if tomorrow is dry -- and realizes that he has a choice to make. He can accept failure (thinking the bike has a mystery gremlin bent on his destruction), be the most tragic victim of Ducati Syndrome, hang his head, and fade away from the series he carried into the modern era. Or he accept that the bike is not the only limiting factor, that his mindset is holding him back, and decide he doesn't want to go out like that. Then he needs to take a lesson from Nicky: Get back up (as many times as it takes), shake it off, unlearn what he has learned, and start anew. No entitlement, no demands, just get on the bike and earn it. This is the bottom of the pit, and unless he want's it to be his new home, the only path is up, and the only way is through hard work, bloody fingers, the inevitable backslide, and unyielding optimism and hope.

Here's to a good race tomorrow. Hayden for the podium!

David, you are on-point as usual about the Rossi/Ducati story continuing to be at the forefront of the Headlines! I am a fan of most of the riders on the grid (not Jorge & his off-track personality though) and the 2012 season in MotoGP is the Rise of the Underdogs? Not a Dani fan but this is his year to show he's a champion before Marc takes his seat. Hayden? Always a champion on and off track... marketing genius. As it's been said by myself and others, Hayden deserves more credit. Love to see him in the Top-5 tomorrow. And Rossi? It's really sad when your greatest rivals are feeling sorry for you! I hope Rossi can turn this Ducati situation around soon because it will make for a great sequel to FASTEST...

is bearing bad fruit for Rossi. Remember 2004 when Rossi stated "Gibernau will never win another race"? It came true. Karma (if you believe in it) is a bitch sometimes. More likely, though is Rossi has gotten into his own head...Stoner's mojo is just too much. The latter's success on a bike "no one can ride" and shift in general opinion about who has the most talent on the current grid (not Rossi, is the opinion) must be weighing him down tremendously. Add on top of that, the death of Simoncelli in which he may have had a helpless hand and you have the makings of a psychiatrist's dream (or perhaps nightmare). Rossi's way back to the top lies in his own head and his own ability to re-make himself. This may be a much harder fix than making the GP12 a manageable race bike.

"Is the increased safety of MotoGP what's made it possible for Rossi to gradually fade away?"

This is one of the best theories I have read about Rossi's slow fall. All the speculation about brand, and rider aside, I think that point, is a very telling one.

I stand to be corrected by the man himself or others, but from what I've read by Graham he has a pretty comprehensive and diverse knowledge base upon which he draws. I thought he taught or lectured on mechanical engineering / material properties?

But if it's cancer research then I believe he's identified a benign tumour in the D16 L vee.

These days I work in cancer research as a statistician. My PhD was in applied mathematics/mathematical physics and I used to teach engineering maths courses. Plus I build some stuff occasionally.

The gap from pole position to Rossi is like an ice age in MotoGP terms, and Hayden's relative performance and that of the other Ducatis is self evident and has been variously discussed.
But what I find most staggering is that until the very last moments Rossi was trailing Emanuelle Pirro on the Gresini CRT - the newest and least developed of the CRT's, based around an engine which was chosen for political rather than practical reasons. Pirro is obviously a talented chap but is well and truly in the deep end on an unfancied machine and was ahead of Rossi up till his last lap.

Staggering. It's as remarkable to me that such an underdog effort could prove the naysayers so wrong and punch well above their weight, as it is the polar opposite in Rossi's case.

Looking forward to the race, whatever happens.

I'm not sure why anyone expected Rossi to be fast in a single damp/drying session on the GP12 he said was unrideable after Qatar. The bike hasn't changed, and he obviously hasn't figured it out at all, so it's normal service resumed as far as that pairing is concerned. In a full wet race, he would be more competitive, but not if he has to push on a dry track, and it appears a drying tack might be worse than a dry track.

I don't think Hayden's performance means anything regarding the performance of the Ducati. Unless people think he would have qualified 3rd after 4 dry sessions, it only means he rode well and had a fortunate qualifying session. He's obviously more suited to the current Ducati than Rossi, but he was horribly off the pace at Qatar and a single good result in a dodgy qualifying session doesn't mean the Ducati is even better than a satellite Yamaha or Honda yet.

Yesterday represented a new low for Rossi in his career at Ducati.

Following on from his statement at Qatar about bringing the bike in, it is clear that he is losing interest in riding the Ducati.

What I think we saw yesterday at qualifying and the day before in free practice is a pretty good sign of what is going on.

When Rossi has a chance to compete with the others (and at this point, it's only in the wet) he will put some effort in. That is after all what he enjoys about racing. However when it is situation normal and he knows that he can't be competitive, he dials down his effort. His body language and demeanor is that of someone doing a job they don't care about and he is unwilling to risk himself going flat out for 5th. He clearly feels that Ducati are either unable or unwilling to give him the bike that he needs and so until they do, (or the conditions allow) he will just mark time and circulate.

As David stated in his article last week, Rossi is unlikely to quit Ducati; Philip Morris will have made sure that the contract that he has is watertight. Therefore, what I think Rossi is doing is trying to provoke Ducati to terminate his contract. By doing so, not only will he avoid the financial penalties of quitting; but he will also leave the blame at Ducati's door.

What he will do after that is unclear. However I cannot see Ducati being happy to have him circulating in 12th and complaining about them indefinitely.

I think there is blame on both sides in this situation; however the biggest loser are the fans and the sport in general.

Great job, David. By far my top site for MotoGP news. I wonder why I bother with any others ;)

Last year, all the Ducatis struggled. Usually Vale was at the front but when he wasn't, hey the GOAT was entitled to a bad day on a bad bike.

But in testing this year, and now in the races, Vale is not the fastest Ducati. Not even midpack - he's at the back of the Red brigade. And Nicky, who never seemed to have Vale's raw speed, has worked his way up front.

So it's odd that as the chorus of criticism rises against Vale, and to a lesser extent Filipo, that so little has been said of Burgess. A great rider gives great feedback and his engineer translates it into a setup that best favors the bike, the rider and the track. The engineer also has to build and manage his rider's confidence so that he can push to the maximum.

So in a field where other Ducati's are going well, and the 46 is going backwards, what should we make of JB? Got lost trying to make an M1 out of the GP12? Too willing to blame Ducati for a bike design he did not agree with?

I liken it to Dunlop promising David nadal the best ever tennis Rackett., when he joins them they completely ignore all his experience and success and knowledge of what he knows has won him countless titles and give him an old rackett that has been universally slammed, every player to use it did better before and after using it(dare I say even randy on a CRT.). And they continue to tell him he is not getting the most out of it. Rossis biggest crimes are overestimating ducati(and Phillip Morris desperation for exposure in accepting anything Ducati do) and I suspect the contract. As above when 3rd on the grid is over 1sec behind 2nd with even worse race pace the sport is desperately in need of front runners. Frankly shocked at how dire the competition looked.

I was thinking about why Nicky is going well (and Casey before) while Vale is struggling (as Melandri did.) I was also thinking about what Vale has said about not being able to use Nicky's setup because he has no confidence on corner entry and wears out his front tire.

I've not raced bikes, but I've raced cars and done a bit of engineering, and here's my punters opinion -- fire up the flame throwers!

Like drivers, each rider has their own style and likes their own setup. Here's the way it works with cars, obviously oversimplified:

Some drivers go fast with lots of corner entry speed, where they trail the brakes into the corner, balancing on a knife edge, and carve into the corner to get the car turned. They carry high corner speed and feed the power in as the car is turning at the apex to the exit. They need a really stable front end and the car can't be loose or it will spin. These drivers ask a lot of front tires.

But hey, what do I know ;) Looking forward to the race and I hope VR/JB/FP get it figured out!

Others go fast with a more squared-up style. They brake hard in a straight light, then flick the car into the corner, setting up a little rotation and power out. Instead of high mid corner speed, they get a bit straighter a bit sooner and power out with a bit of a powerslide. The car needs to be set up loose - it can be, since there is less trail braking - and it needs to rotate more in mid corner and exit. These drivers tend to wear out rear tires.

As I read what Nicky and Vale say about the bike, it seems Vale is a corner entry rider and Nicky corner exit. And when you put Nicky's setup on Vale's bike, he can't turn into the corner with a loose bike, so he has to overslow to get it settled. Then he has to turn the bike hard, which pushes the front, wearing it out. Rather than powerslide for the exit, he is trying to feed the power in, and the abrupt throttle upsets the bike. (Many drivers who complain of exit understeer actually have exit oversteer, but each time the rear slips out, they chase it with the front, running wide.)

If Ducati has been working to make the bike turn better - shorter wheelbase, more weight on the front, softer front end, etc, this would work against Vale's style.

Count me as one of those tired of the Ducati/Rossi saga.

Two guys I find more interesting at the moment: Spies and Crutchlow. Or rather, what might happen next year if their respective current form continues...

Cannot see Spies being retained by Yamaha, at least on the factory team. You'd think with the way Crutchlow's performing Yamaha would rather give him a chance. But then with the problems at Ducati, might Ducati be interested in Crutchlow? And if they were, would Crutchlow be interested in Ducati? No one could blame him for deciding going to Ducati would not be a smart career move...

Dovizioso could end up 'odd man out' again, at least at Yamaha, depending on what happens with Crutchlow.

Unless something dramatic happens, can't see Rossi back with Ducati. Maybe Ducati would want him for other than racing reasons. But on the track he's just not competitive, and for that reason Rossi most likely won't want to stay. By the end of the year you'd think Ducati would also be ready to pull the plug on Hayden, since his results are just not consistently good enough to warrant a factory ride. Plenty of guys in Moto2 to consider. Ducati might also want to talk to Dovizioso, who would probably be an upgrade over Hayden (and Rossi as well on current form).

The signing season later in 2012 is shaping up to be really interesting.

Thanks to Mr David Emmett, we discovered Ben Spies was handed a misaligned motorcycle to race at Qatar. And people want to criticise Ducati? Good lord, what sort of an operation is the Yamaha factory outfit, or do they want to get rid of Spies to make way for Crutchlow - and inferior equipment is the solution? Hard to believe from a factory team. Yep, there's more to modern MotoGP than looking into the tea leaves to prognosticate about a washed-up Italian. Let's read about tyre choices, brake choices and set-up choices of the riders in the tricky conditions that Jerez presented.

"or do they want to get rid of Spies to make way for Crutchlow"

I think maybe you have been watching too many X-Files episodes. It's not a conspiracy, it's a mistake.

It's his crew. How many WSBK races did he have mechanical issues in? 5? 6? He's had a few in MotoGP as well. At this level, twice is 2 times too many. As a fan, I'm annoyed by sloppy mechanics.

Just a bunch of observations:
1. This was not the first time Nicky has qualified ahead of VR then dropped back to him in the race, it happened several times last year. I wonder if they are able to make the Duc handle ok by stiffening the suspension up to the point it destroys its tyres in a few laps?

2. The fact that the two alloy frames Ducati have built, or had built by FTR, have not fixed the problem does not imply that the chassis is not the problem. That would be to suggest that all alloy frames are equal, or that Ducati are so clever they designed the optimal alloy beam frame in their first two attempts... whereas Honda needed to try 5 in 2009, 2 in 2010 and the current one chatters. Suter is rumoured to have built 10 for Moto2. Yamaha have several times had to go back to previous designs or change frames mid-season.... yet those guys have long years of building alloy frames for GP, SSp and SBK.

3. The idea that a stiff frame makes the wets work better is interesting. It does completely contradict the idea that a stiffer frame is needed for the higher loads generated by the greater traction of the Bridgestone GP tyres vs the WSBK Pirellis: we are now to believe that a stiff frame works with low loads but not with high loads? Back in the day, it was said the Honda 250 was a better wet-weather bike than the Aprilia, partly because of its more flexible frame. Remember that Rossi was never competitive in the rain on an Aprilia.

4. West led most of a wet M2 session then qualified 29th in the dry, back with all the other Moriwakis. It could just be that the rider matters more and the chassis matters less in the rain.

5. In comparing the rate of destruction of the current wets to the old ones, it should be remembered that the bikes are heavier and more powerful, yet again...

6. Back in 2006, Ducati were experimenting with fuel cut technology on corner entry. Loris got to test it and hated it, said it ran wide, if I remember. Maybe it's the engine management software that is the real problem.

7. If Tech 3 are only getting second-rate electronics, Crutchlow is some sort of genius. Isn't he the guy we were saying was a disappointment last year?