Ducati's MotoGP Reshuffle: Gobmeier, Ciabatti To Lead MotoGP Program, Preziosi Moved Sideways

The reports of a major reshuffle at Ducati which emerged at Valencia turned out to be accurate. Today, Ducati Motor Holding announced a complete reshuffle within its racing department, which sees the current leaders of Ducati's racing projects moved aside to make way for new blood.

The biggest change is at the top of Ducati's racing department, Ducati Corse. Current general manager and technical lead Filippo Preziosi is being moved out of the racing department and reassigned as head of R&D for all of Ducati, though his focus will shift to production machines. In his place, former BMW World Superbike team manager Bernhard Gobmeier has been appointed as General Manager of Ducati Corse. MotoGP project director Alessandro Cicognani has also been replaced, by Paolo Ciabatti, who was director of the World Superbike Championship for Infront Motor Sports until it was taken over by Dorna. The only person staying in place is Ernesto Marinelli, who will remain Ducati's WSBK project director.

The changes are not unexpected. Though Casey Stoner complained of several serious shortcomings with Ducati's Desmosedici MotoGP machine, his ability to win on the bike despite its problems meant that a sense of urgency was missing at the project. The arrival of Valentino Rossi at Ducati was expected to see the last few problems ironed out with the bike, and win the Italian factory their second world title. Rossi's nine world championships and record of moving the Yamaha in the right direction left little room for doubt about his qualities as either a rider or someone who can provide the right feedback required to develop a MotoGP machine. So his abject failure to perform would only ever be laid at the door of Ducati Corse. And that meant that heads would eventually roll in Borgo Panigale.

The arrival of the Germans, in the form of new owners Audi, saw the top of Ducati Corse win a reprieve, while the Germans assessed the situation immediately after the takeover. With the season at an end, and Audi now having seen Ducati from the inside sufficiently, it was time to start making changes. Preziosi was the obvious victim: as head of Ducati Corse, he was ultimately responsible for its success or failure. As its Technical Director, he was also responsible for the direction in which the Desmosedici had been developed. His methodical approach, changing one thing at a time and testing it fully before adopting it on the bike, meant progress was often too slow for the MotoGP team, and especially for Valentino Rossi. As head of R&D for Ducati Motor Holding, the same methodical approach is probably more suited to the pace of development for road vehicles.

Parachuting Gobmeier in as head of Ducati Corse sees a man with experience of both engineering and management take charge. Gobmeier was instrumental in the turnaround of BMW's World Superbike effort. It went from an expensive but uncompetitive team to winning races and eventually challenging for the 2012 title, injury and bad luck ending Marco Melandri's title charge. Before taking over at the WSBK team, Gobmeier was a highly succcessful engineer for BMW, having worked on chassis development and the German manufacturer's M vehicles. Gobmeier also has experience running BMW's ALMS racing activities.

In charge of the MotoGP team will be Paolo Ciabatti. The Italian is a former member of Ducati Corse, having run their Superbike team for many years, before moving on to join WSBK organizer FGSport (which later became Infront Motor Sports). There, he was in charge of running the championship, helping it grow and retaining its popularity through a very difficult economic period. Current team manager Cicognani will continue with Ducati Corse, but return to sponsorship and marketing activities.

What effect the changes will have on Ducati's MotoGP program remains to be seen. Various paddock sources have confirmed Italian reports that a large part of the responsibility is to be handed over to Eskil Suter, Ducati's German owners preferring to work with the Swiss engineer. Unlike FTR, who have been building frames to Ducati's specifications, Suter will have input on development as well, including helping design the chassis, and providing input on engine design, such as sprocket position and gearbox layout. Just how much of an improvement this will be remains to be seen. Suter's record in MotoGP is mixed at best, having been responsible for the Kawasaki MotoGP project, designing the chassis for Ilmor, the MuZ 500cc two stroke and the Suter BMW CRT machine used by Forward Racing and, in the latter part of the season, IODA Racing. The MuZ was the most successful of the projects, Jurgen van de Goorbergh putting the bike on pole twice in 1999. Kawasaki eventually dropped Suter from their MotoGP project, turning instead to a Japanese engineer poached from Yamaha, Ichiro Yoda.

A very different future approaches for Ducati. The sweeping changes in management will be just the first part of the process, with more to come. The Italian factory will need to make rapid progress, however, as paddock rumor suggests that Phillip Morris is losing patience with Ducati, and demanding some successes in return for the 20+ million euros the Italian arm of the US tobacco giant is said to be investing in the project. Should Phillip Morris decide to leave, the cost of the MotoGP project would fall entirely on Audi, and it is as yet uncertain whether they are prepared to bear the full cost of racing in MotoGP.

The official press release announcing the change is shown below:

Bernhard Gobmeier appointed as General Manager of Ducati Corse

  • Bernhard Gobmeier becomes the new General Manager of Ducati Corse
  • Filippo Preziosi assumes the position of Director of R&D Ducati Motor Holding
  • Paolo Ciabatti appointed as Ducati MotoGP Project Director

Borgo Panigale (Bologna), 20 November 2012 – Ducati announces the appointment of Bernhard Gobmeier as the new General Manager of Ducati Corse. Utilising his significant experience in the world of motorsport, including more recently his role as Superbike Director with BMW, the position will draw upon the 53-year-old German’s extensive managerial experience ready to enter the new phase of development for Ducati’s racing activities and to achieve the targets set during the recent acquisition by the Audi Group.

Mr. Gobmeier will report directly to the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio, and count upon the experience and professional support of Filippo Preziosi.

Engineer Filippo Preziosi, the current General Manager of Ducati Corse, will now assume the position of Director of Research & Development for Ducati Motor Holding and report directly to Claudio Domenicali, General Manager of Ducati Motor Holding. The prestigious and strategic company role will enable 44-year-old Preziosi to apply the valuable experience of his 18 years in Ducati, 12 of which in Ducati Corse, to the development of new product.

Paolo Ciabatti (55) has been appointed the new Ducati MotoGP Project Director. The Italian now returns to the Borgo Panigale headquarters in Bologna to take advantage of his extensive experience in the world of motorcycle competition, which has included coordinating the World Superbike Championship as General Director.

After two seasons in the position, Engineer Ernesto Marinelli (39), is confirmed to continue as Ducati Superbike Project Director, with the activities of both Marinelli and Ciabatti coordinated by Mr. Gobmeier.

All appointments will commence from January 2013.

“With these new appointments and the 2013 riders announced in MotoGP and World Superbike, we are well prepared to move forward into the new racing season,” said the CEO of Ducati Motor Holding, Gabriele Del Torchio. “We are confident that with this new organisation and focused strategy, we will achieve our targets and continue with the fundamentally important transfer of ‘know-how’ from racin

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I find this management shakeup fascinating. I do not believe that the old team was incompetent. I thing competition from the Japanese is as tough as it can be. Honda and Yamaha are making incredible improvements to their bikes. Ducati were not the only struggling to maintain the pace; Suzuki and Kawazaki could not keep up either.
It will be intersting to see the kind of results a new managemnt style brings to the table. In the mean time, Honda and Yamaha are moving the goal post even further. Good luck to them. They will need a major breakthorugh or a significant technological advantage to catch the Japs. They don't even have the best riders on board. Oh well...

... but no one will ever be able to explain to me what real value Marlboro get for $20+ million/year when they can't even have their name on the bike, and Corse's racing color is already red! The people who have been selling this idea to the Philip Morris boys over the years have got to be the greatest sales people ever. I can't even image the line of B.S. these guys have been coming up with to keep that money flowing at this point...

Anyway, I don't have a lot of faith in Suter, good luck to the riders with that, they'll need it.

Oh, and the characterization of Preziosi's move as "sideways" is kind of ridiculous. He was all but handed his hat in terms of racing.

Maybe because PM has 70 billions revenue each year ... motogp is a toy for them .... if sometimes they win, they're happy, but with the last two years...

I'm not sure that is a fair assessment of Suter to be honest, they did win the Moto2 title this year (your feelings regarding Marquez making up for the bike noted) and they did the Kawasaki project proud, as well as the short lived Hayate project on which Melandri had some decent finishes.

Edwards' season has been ruined, and he has had a public war of words with Eskil Suter but it appears that the bulk of the issue with that bike is the engine/electronics package. Edwards was the 1st signing of CRT after all, and kudos to him for taking the plunge but being first up, he took the risk and the only ride that was available, prior to Aprilia announcing their ART for sale package which in hindsight would have been a safer option. The Suter/BMW was always going to be an uphill battle as they started from scratch with everything.

More engineering minds at work on the Ducati is what is needed, this can only be a plus in the long run.

Great comment on Prezi's development style being more suited to road bikes - spot on.

As I understand it, Suter was involved early on, and the bike improved immediately once Kawasaki took the project in house in 2007. The Hayate project was basically the 2008 Kawasaki with a swingarm update.

I understood that it was just the opposite. Remember the original Kawasaki bikes that had the awful boxy frames and bad science fiction movie bodywork? Those were the early in-house bikes. Suter came in and built some decent stuff for them - new frames, bodywork, and put them together into a whole package. I think that was 2004? He was involved for a few years for sure after that. Those were the bikes that turned the corner, so to speak. The '07 Kawasaki was based on the '06 frame as I understand it but they went in house more due to Eckl, and his close relationship to Suter meant that Suter was on the outs too. Also in 2007 they had the same Bridgestones that Casey did so well with.

The Ilmor too, and the Foggy Petronas SBK were his designs. not great track records, but they were engineering experiments a la KR/Modenas - an attempt for a small team to compete with the Japanese.

I'm not sure that any other small private manufacturer has had so many successful designs as Suter? MotoGP podiums, Moto2 championship etc.

I am afraid that your idea of Suter doing Kawasaki proud is a little misplaced. After riding the Suter chassised Kawasaki, Gary McCoy who was riding for Kawasaki said that steering the big was like steering a truck without power steering and he said he needed to have biceps of a wrestler. It was after this negative feedback from McCoy that Kawasaki decided to drop Suter especially since Suter and Kawasaki Manager Harald Eckl were hobnobbing with Ilmor to build an 800cc MotoGP which did race in a couple of races. Till then the team was called Kawasaki Eckl but then they poached Ichiro Yoda and made it an all Kawasaki affair with Michael Bartholemy as Manager. It was after the Kawasaki became a bike built entirely by Kawasaki that some promising results came from Randy De Puniet and Jeremy Burgess even said that Kawasaki needed a rider like Valentino Rossi to make up those couple of tenths that could make the motorcycle a winner. In the 800cc era the Kawasaki with its own frame did well in the hands of Randy De Puniet, Olivier Jacque and Shinya Nakano. The Hayate was again a pure Kawasaki effort with no inputs from Suter and Marco Melandri rode it to a podium and to some 5th places despite there being no development on the bike.

Next year will be interesting to see in terms of who rides/tests what, where.
If they can make 2013 a development year and then hit the ground running in 2014 this will be deemed a masterstroke (for both WSB and MGP). I’m pleased that Audi only waited for a few days after season’s end before acting.
Moving Preziosi sends a powerful message and I hope he finds a niche in the street programme as suggested by the title. He's a clever guy and whilst he probably wasn't the right person for the racing programme as suggested here (who knows the budget constraints/crises he had to work within?) he could be a very important link between the two.
A V4 (what angle?) road bike could be a superb machine, but that L2 rumble is a lovely sound…..decisions, decisions.
As for Suter, I suspect Audi need a supplier who can act quickly and do what they are told/asked with at least a decent pedigree in racing. Their location also keeps it all fairly local, which will help with communications and response times. This may be just a sign that Audi are leveraging/reinforcing their supplier base rather than depending on one outfit.
BMW’s approach was similar – they sub-contracted the RR development but kept it all close to hand and with a firm grip on the important bits. Those types of organisation can respond much more quickly than the corporate R&D machine and it’s easier/less disruptive to change when you need to too. The corporate/career types can return to base and the subbies send their CV’s out….
PM can relax – as pointed out their cash isn’t huge in the grand scheme of things and Audi could afford to pick up the tab if necessary. Big bucks to Ducati is small change to Audi if they get the results they need. All this is getting huge exposure so they may reckon it’s almost as good as winning from an airtime perspective (when their name doesn’t get a mention).
No messy departures, respected names back in play, Mr P treated fairly. Four good riders to test and race. I wish them well and eagerly await the next episode!

Sounds like a reset for the Ducati GP bike. I hope this is what they need, but I fear that the rest of the "Italian" will be taken out of the bike - much like the BMW S1000RR, will it be simply refining and improving of the known "best" formula for creating a fast GP bike? I'm sure the V angle of the engine will change, new chassis, the only thing Ducati about the bike will be the badge on the tank.

If Audi wanted a third party consultant involved in the designing of the next Chassis, then surely involving the German Kalex firm makes more sense than Suter?

Kalex is based in Germany which gives them better access and communication and also have a reputation of building a well balanced chassis which is what the Ducati seems to be sorely lacking.

The success of Kalex has been in growing in a very measured way. Next season, they will have 10 Moto2 bikes and 8 Moto3 bikes. If they had wanted to, they could have had 20 or 30 Moto2 bikes, but they did not want to overextend themselves. Building the MotoGP bike for Ducati would have been a lot of work they are not capable of handling at the moment, so I would guess that even if it was offered, they would turn it down. That is a sensible business decision, and one of the reasons they have been so successful.

I hope. They are just getting a little help from their owners. The Swiss are neutral. FTR might be good too, but they chose Suter. It would be a bad day IMO if they moved the race team to Germany. The brand needs to be rooted in Italy and Audi have shown with other top brands like Lamborghini that they understand that. Just guessing though.

Its like expecting Porsche to go V rather than flat. Preziosi may be out of the limelight and its a good thing for him as an engineer. I guess he deplored the presence of Marlboro/Rossi as much as he enjoyed the presence of Capirex/Stoner back then. Next time Gobmeirs' ideas re Desmo future wins a race will be his first time at GP level. Good luck to the rider's anyway. The shuffle can no way be worse than the rider lineup shuffle they construed back in 2009 for 2011/12.

great rider lineup - a mix of young and old, agressive and more thoughtful, experienced and non with lots of input coming from riding latest bikes, especially the Yamaha.

I am rooting for them, but do also realise the late start (how come we keep saying that year after year?) they are getting with respect to their competition.

Gobmeier is a chassis specialist with experience building aluminum unibodies and racing experience with a control tire in WSBK. His credentials basically confirm that Ducati have been unable to adapt the bike to the tires. The two-year experiment with Rossi-Burgess was unsuccessful and the Germans are clearing house.

If Gobmeier had Melandri as #1 rider during his shakeup of BMW Superbike I wonder if he had a quiet chat with Marco over his MotoGP experience & the personalities involved?

Do not hire a rider that hones his skills faster than your bike development.
Otherwise you'll think you're doing great when you're not.