Analyzing The Ducati Desmosedici GP15: Smaller, Sharper, Faster, But Can It Win?

Anyone watching the presentation of Ducati's 2015 MotoGP bike will have learned two Italian phrases: "Emozionante" and "tanto lavoro". Both were extremely apt. Getting from where Ducati were to where they are now with the Desmosedici GP15 had needed "tanto lavoro", a lot of hard work, and they still had "tanto lavoro" ahead of them. The results were "emozionante", a fantastic word nearer to exciting than emotional. But both exciting and emotional were apt phrases. The sense of eagerness was palpable among Ducati staff at Bologna on Monday.

For good reason. The GP15 presented in a long, loud, and rather meandering show is radically different from what came before. The presentation was a very Italian affair: an Italian TV presenter introduced the Italian managers and Italian engineer of an Italian bike, to be ridden by two Italian riders, to an audience consisting entirely of Italian journalists, with the honorable exception of Slovenian channel POP TV, a team from Dorna, and the rather less honorable exception of myself. But the bike being presented looked very far from Italian: from most angles, this looked like a very Japanese motorcycle, in concept and in execution.

What has changed? Everything. Even with the fairings on, it is clear that this is a very different motorcycle. The engine is still a 90°V4, using desmodromic valves, but it is rolled back much further than its predecessor. The engine in the GP14 had already been rolled back around its axis compared to the starting point some three years ago. The rotation is now complete, the engine a few degrees further back, and very close to the location used by the Honda RC213V.

More importantly, the engine as a whole has been made smaller. The cases holding the gearbox are shorter and narrower than the GP14, and parts have been rearranged and relocated to make the whole more compact. When I asked Gigi Dall'Igna about the work he had done, he would answer only in the most general terms. The design goal had been to achieve a specific set up, a mixture of geometry and weight distribution, but with a shorter wheelbase and better ergonomics. The changes made to the various iterations of GP14, culminating with the GP14.3, had allowed Ducati to reach the set up they were after, but the bike was still too long. Long bikes don't want to turn (as anyone who has ever ridden a chopper will tell you), so making the bike shorter should make the bike turn better. What was the main thing that needed fixing? Understeer. A shorter bike should help with that.

The compactness of the bike is visible everywhere you look. The tank is shorter and narrower, the top frame is narrower, the bottom of the frame, where it passes underneath the engine, is narrower. The seat is much narrower where it joins the tank. The tail section is shorter, further forward, more aggressively cut.

The biggest difference is in the frame, however. The line of the frame is now totally different, more akin to the Honda RC213V than the GP14. The upper members are angled down much more than the GP14, forming more of a straight line between the headstock and the swingarm pivot. The upright rear member is significantly shorter, perhaps as much as 15cm. Engine mount points are all different, with the front engine spar now several centimeters longer than it was on the GP14. This is a common strategy, an attempt to create some flexibility and feel from the front end when the bike is on its side.

The exhaust has changed too, the rear cylinders routing their pipes to the right of the tank, rather than around it. This is in part an attempt to reduce the heat transfer from the exhaust to the tank, cooler fuel making for more power. The pipe for the front cylinders is much shorter, centralizing the weight more. This will have to change, however, as the heat from the lower exhaust is causing problems for the swingarm, which is getting too warm. A solution like Yamaha's slash-cut exhaust is a possible option.

For the riders, the biggest change is in the ergonomics. A more compact bike means more freedom to move around on the bike, and greater control over the GP15. Test rider Michele Pirro is the only person to have ridden the bike at the moment, and he was forbidden from speaking. After he had taken the bike for its shakedown test, Andrea Dovizioso called Pirro, and the test rider was tight-lipped even to Dovizioso. All he would tell Dovizioso is that the seat position is different, and better.

It was not much of a test ride. Nobody would tell us where it was that Pirro rode the GP15, but it was not a normal race track. Various comments hinted at it being too limited a place to actually give the bike a proper test, but then again, it was really only a shakedown. The objective was to ensure that it ran without blowing itself up, or anything major falling off. The first full test will come next week at Sepang, where Dovizioso and Iannone will get a better idea of the potential of the bike. Even then, they will not spend a lot of time on the GP15. Each rider will have one GP15, and one GP14.3, and only Pirro will ride the GP15 on the first day, ensuring that the bike works well.

Has the engine changed much internally? Again, Dall'Igna was cagey, admitting only that he and his design team had been working on the thermodynamics, by which he meant the combustion efficiency. Andrea Dovizioso let slip that the engine did sound different, suggesting either a different firing order or a different engine character. If the aim of the redesign has been to make the engine more compact, it is possible that Ducati have switched from a big bang firing order to a screamer, as that has better primary balance, obviating the need for balance shafts. That, however, remains pure speculation. We will get a better idea of the engine changes once the engine is fired up at Sepang.

At the root of the GP15 is not a design philosophy, however, but something more fundamental. Gigi Dall'Igna's first task when he arrived at Ducati was to thoroughly reorganize the racing department. Some people left, some people joined, most remained, but now, all of Ducati Corse's departments work together. "We managed to create harmony within the working group, both at the track and here," Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told me. The engine department speaks to the chassis department, the chassis department speaks to the electronics department, the electronics department speaks to the engine department.

This allowed Dall'Igna to design and build the bike he wanted to. It is not just the fruit of his brain, both he and everyone at Ducati were keen to emphasize. Dall'Igna explained something of how he worked, setting out objectives, listening to ideas from the staff, picking and choosing from the best of them and then molding them into a single concept. This is not the work of a single man, but of an entire team. Even so, nobody hesitated when asked if this was "Gigi's bike".

Just how big a deal is the GP15 for Ducati? Very big, Ciabatti, Dall'Igna and both riders admitted. It is the first time Ducati has built a completely new bike with a new engine since they decided to enter MotoGP in 2003. They are determined to succeed, and nobody was willing to contemplate failure. This bike was the basis for the future, and had plenty of room for improvement. Already, various evolutions of the bike were being planned.

Will they succeed? The objective for 2015 is to try to win a race. That is not easy, Ciabatti was at pains to emphasize. To win a race means beating Marc Márquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, riders with 20 world titles between them, of which 11 in the premier class. It means beating the engineering might of Yamaha and Honda, something which only the mercurial genius of Casey Stoner was consistently capable of doing since 2007, and the wiles and doggedness of Loris Capirossi before then.

But there is an overwhelming sense of optimism among everyone in Ducati. A win is no longer seen as a pipe dream, the kind of thing which riders tell themselves to keep themselves motivated, and justify the long hours which the mechanics and engineers put in. It will not be easy, but it is no longer impossible. Yes, Ducati will still have more fuel than Yamaha and Honda. And yes, they will have the soft qualifying tire. And yes, they are allowed to introduce engine updates, while development for Honda and Yamaha is frozen. But after being lost in the wilderness for so long, to be in contention again is truly an achievement. Yes, Ducati have several advantages thanks to the rules. But there is nothing they want more than to be forced to give up those advantages because they are winning races again.

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It would be marvelous to see Ducati succeed.

Yes we have all been fooled a million times by "We seem to have found the problem." news from Ducati. When Vale was there they blamed the chassis (or rather the lack of one), then the swingarm, then the engine, and inbetween the Bridgestone tyres, but you know what, call me stupidly optimistic, I think they might have a case this time.

Suzuki has, it seems, made a great bike which just lacks a little bit of power, but I don't think it will pose too much of a problem for them, in other words I am optimistic about Suzuki squeezing more power from the engine.

So, could we, possibly, for the first time in a very long time have 4 capable, yet different bikes on the grid?

The only ones who seem desperatly lost are the people at Aprilia.
Yes I know they decided to enter the championship earlier than expected, but it seems that Marco Melandri has almost no desire to be here and the bike is a rather strange venture.

I certainly hope that isn't the case, and that they find their heading, because I've always admired Aprilia. Pre-Piaggio era, Aprilia did many things with very limited resources, and to win titles on a budget, is the mark of doing something right.

I only hope we don't have the spiritual successor of the RS3 cube.

I can't help but wonder if Aprilia haven't decided to go racing in MotoGP simply due to the good old Italian contest of honour... they can't help themselves... "Ducati are racing with Gigi? Vaffanculo! He's breaking my balls. OK, Fausto, we race in 2015, yes? No no no no no, nevermind that the bike she is not ready - we race!"

With apologies to our Italian readers : )

particularly with the new regulations and their bike had nothing left to prove either. With 2016 in line of sight, return to moto gp came as a natural process to them. They always knew how to develop a chassis but the RS cube era and its lame F1 input is over. Aprilia's biggest asset today is its engine and they know they got an absolute gem with that homemade V4, they just couldn't wait to prove it.

I think Aprilia will be surprisingly fast already in 2015, I mean fast, relatively speaking of course.

My 2 cents. Cheers.

I don't ever recall them saying they'd found the problem. They've sure tried a lot of things over the years, but I've never heard them say anything was gauranteed to fix their known understeer issue

You may be right, and I may have been the viction of newspaper sensatiolism and reading between the lines.

One way or another, Sepang and Qatar cannot come too early.

Ducati have the same problem as Suzuki and Kawasaki. When the control tire was introduced, the manufacturers could no longer ask for specific tires to help mask deficiencies or accentuate strengths of their bike. Instead, everyone had to throw a small fortune chassis development. Suzuki and Kawasaki dropped out. Ducati persevered, even when it required them (in their minds) to fire Preziosi, and scrap the carbon fiber monocoque development. Scrapping carbon fiber was probably part of a cost-cutting agreement. One that also forced Honda to abandon their V-angle development for an L-configuration. The same agreement is probably why Suzuki canned the V-configuration entirely, and developed a crossplane I-4, like Yamaha, but I digress.

Maybe Dall'Igna will be the man to make Ducati work, but it's hard to imagine them beating the Japanese at their own game. Harder still to imagine another 2007 season, where one team makes the others look silly.

Maybe we'll get lucky and Michelin will change the game again. If they develop a variety of tires, the manufacturers might be able to make a variety of designs competitive.

compared to the costs of electronics & engine development. Kawaski particularly dropped out because of the non-stop regulation change regarding the engine size. Suzuki and Mitsubishi couldn't keep up with the electronics race expansion.

As for their chassis, the ZX-RR and the GSV-R actually handled extremely well, even after the control tire introduction. Poor electronics and weak or rider-unfriendly motorisation were by far their 2 main weakness.

Ducati built a carbon monocoque, hired Rossi/Burgess to develop an aluminum perimeter frame, and now Audi is throwing money at the problem via Gigi Dall'Igna.

All of these companies can build motorcycle engines, and they can hire people to sort the electronics, like HRC did. Few companies have the ability or the motivation to engineer a motorcycle chassis around a Bridgestone control tire. What do the manufacturers gain by learning how to use a Bridgestone GP tire? It's an irrelevant black hole for development spending.

Maybe you have forgotten that Suzuki and Kawasaki were the first two manufacturers to invest in pneumatic valves? They are not afraid of spending on engines.

Phoenix seems a sure bet that the Michelin has changed the game. If there are dynamics at play that are more organizational big picture synergy at Ducati, and a groundswell of momentum rising in tandem with new electronics AND fuel amounts AND engine allotment AND new tires I can imagine the perfect storm arriving for them along with a certain rider for them. Big ships change tack slowly. Honda can get caught out.

It is hard for me to see Duc not making steps forward this season and continuing an accelerated path. They finished strong enough last yr that this would mean front pack challenges. For 2015 I focus on them being a rival for everyone but Magic Man MM93. Can you picture that?

David, a great summation - and your presence at the launch says a great deal about both your dedication to the sport, and to the esteem with which you are regarded within the highest echelons of the sport.

Your 14th paragraph really should have Stoner's accomplishments set against the comments about the mighty riders at the top, rather than the manufacturers, but I guess it was hard to frame it that way when Marquez has never raced against Stoner (and more's the pity there, but we all know that).

It's commonly held that Dovi and Iannone aren't up to matching the top four guys, let alone beating them, but in my opinion neither of them have peaked as riders yet - so anything is possible, including a Ducati on the top step of the podium sometime during 2015. And it would be a fairytale indeed, with Ducati an entirely home-grown team, especially if a victory came on home soil.

I'd like to be in Italy on that day...

Ducati's insistence on sticking with a 90 degree vee angle causes the
Ducati packaging problems which will never be overcome well enough
to allow Ducati to beat Honda and Yamaha consistently enough to win
a manufacturer's title.

Sure, this year Ducati tilted the engine back. But what they really need to
do is start from a clean sheet of paper and forget everything which has
been done before. Tires won't fix the problem, nor will any number of
frame or swing arm changes. The 90 degree vee has to go, and it really
is that simple.

Or, they could hire Stoner away from Honda ( not gonna happen ) and pay him to race the bike ( this will never happen). Stoner has so far been the only human on earth who could keep a Ducati at the front of the MotoGP pack in the current era. This alone proves there is a fundamental design problem with the Ducati. Only one alien could make the bike work well enough that it was competitive. It's not like the other riders who couldn't make the Ducati work are not among the best in the world, and they have
won on more than one brand as well. The variable which is problematic
is the bike.

I understand why Ducati is reluctant to abandon the traditional 90 degree
vee. The bikes they sell the public all use this configuration. But adhering to a design which doesn't work any more is eventually going to result in the
street Ducati line looking like yesterday's design news.

Personally, I expect KTM to soon become the foremost competitor for Honda
and Yamaha.

"The 90 degree vee has to go, and it really is that simple."

Except that it's not, as Honda has so admirably shown. Do you think it was by accident that a photo of the 213V was allowed sans fairings? That Honda didn't have control over that? Honda allowed that photo to be taken, and they did so to provide just a little boost to Ducati to let them know that the angle isn't their problem.

"Personally, I expect KTM to soon become the foremost competitor for Honda
and Yamaha."

Based on what? Their stellar results in WSBK?

"Do you think it was by accident that a photo of the 213V was allowed sans fairings?"

Actually I suspect it may have been a deliberate deception.

Honda shows what it wants to show.

I believe the person who took that photo also believes that Honda made it possible on purpose. The funny thing is, now, we journalists move in and out of the garages where the Production Honda is being raced, and there are engines sitting around unintended. Only the fear of getting mechanics into trouble stops me from whipping my phone out and snapping a few shots.

I do like KTM. They make great dirt bikes and I ride one of them myself. But let's be realistic.

First of all, they said numerous times that while they are going to get involved in MotoGP, they are not going to set up a factory team. So basically, you're implying that it would have to be a satellite team, soon to "become the foremost competitor for Honda
and Yamaha." When was the last time that happened?

Secondly, let's have a quick look at the numbers here:
In 2013, as per their annual report, KTM spent a total of 26.6 Mio. EUR for all of their racing efforts. That means the Dakar Rally, US-Supercross and Motocross, the Enduro World Championships and Moto3, not mentioning several smaller racing series. That adds up to 3.7% of their annual turnover.

See here for reference:

Kawasaki have reportedly spent 46 million USD (about 40 Mio. EUR) in their last full factory season with Hopper and Anthony West in 2008. So that's more than KTM spent for their entire racing department in 2013. And see how close to the sharp end it got Kawa.

see here:

I think it's fairly safe to say, if anything, it probably has gotten even more expensive to compete in MotoGP given the fuel restrictions and all. So I think it is not a bold claim to make when I say that KTM simply doesn't have the money to be among the front runners in MotoGP.

"First of all, they said numerous times that while they are going to get involved in MotoGP, they are not going to set up a factory team."

KTM is free to change its position any time it likes.

Regarding whether KTM has the money, I think you underestimate KTM's
actual financial position.

Anyway, time will tell.

Interesting read David, but in some respects one has to ask what is this chap smoking? "where we showed the whole world that the tubular frame is much better than anything in aluminum -- contrary to what Ducati seems to think." Huh? Isn't that what all other manufacturers in MotoGP are currently using?

KTM's earnings before interests, taxes and so on and forth (ebitda) in 2013 was around 87 mio. EUR.

Piaggio group's ebitda(Aprilia's parent company) in 2012 was 176,2 mio. EUR.

Yamaha Motor Co. Ltd. in 2014: around 925 mio. EUR

Honda Motor Co. Ltd. in 2014: around 6.3 billion EUR

That's the scale of difference between the smaller and the bigger manufacturers. Obviously, Honda and Yamaha earn their money not only with motorcycles. Also, I do not take sponsorhip into account here. But I think it's obvious that KTM would indeed need a lot of sponsoring in order to get anywhere near the big boys.
IMHO Moto3 cannot be compared to the premier class. And even if one does compare it, it has become clear, that ever since Honda decided that Moto3 actually mattered to them, KTM is having a hard time staying close to the front.

I'd like to believe that KTM can be competitive on the highest level, but actually, I don't think so. And what's more, they build great single engines. Even V2s ever since they started building a superbike. But they've never even built a competitive 2+ cylinder engine with 200+ horsepower. I remember Kenny Roberts' team using KTM engines years back. Didn't work out that well.

Apart from all the problems that have been raised by many people here on the forum, there is one more important one. It pertains to the ownership of KTM. About 48% of KTM is held by Bajaj and its President Rajiv Bajaj is deaf, dumb and blind when it comes to racing. The only competition he is interested in is maintaining a "healthy and profitable" EBIDTA rating. And he has a seat on the KTM board. Can't see him allowing KTM to pour more money into racing. He is probably already in great pain that KTM competes in endurance racing and in the Moto3 class. But he can't do much about that anyway since KTM has been racing in these categories before Bajaj bought himself that handsome pie piece in KTM. I can see him kicking and crying if KTM decides to pour further money into racing. Stefan Pierer will have to ask Rajiv Bajaj to create a "frugal racing" model that has great EBIDTA and then maybe he will be happy. Right now KTM being a force in MotoGP is as distant a dream as my living on the Mars.

I wonder if they considered trying carbon fibre again. Considering that it appears that the problems weren't the choice of materials, but rather layout and configuration issues. Maybe they could have even got a jump on H/Y and leapt past them in one go

That would be interesting.
I have said repeatedly on this forum and others that in my humble opinion a "big bang" on a V4 is a step backwards. Big bang on a V4! Does my head in.

I see the urban myths about 90 degree Vee being the problem are still lurking. Reminds me of the "Stoner was only good because of electronics" myth.

You wrote;
“It means beating the engineering might of Yamaha and Honda, something which only the mercurial genius of Casey Stoner was consistently capable of doing since 2007, and the wiles and doggedness of Loris Capirossi before then.”

I do not want to be pedantic, but Troy Bayliss, should be also added to the two names above, that was a great ride, really against slim odds.

Thanks though, nice article as usual. Let’s hope Ducati can mix-it up with the Hondas and the Yamahas.

Troy's win was something special, but one win is not 'consistently capable of'.

Boy did he show what he had in the tank that day - if only he'd had that crew from the start of his MotoGP campaign.

If as you say, if he had the crew, from the start. But we will never know. I just wanted his win not to be forgotten; it was reallt against all odds, I am fully aware of it was a won off: A record in itself a 100% win record! Troy almost always showed up with the "tank" on the day.
P.S. I was a fan of T.B., by the way!

V4Racer is right: I meant consistently. Of course Bayliss was (is!) a great rider, and his 2006 Valencia win was magical, but only Capirossi won repeatedly on the pre-2007 Ducati, and he is the only rider apart from Stoner to have won on the post-2007 Ducati. And even then, it was under bizarre conditions at Motegi, where Capirossi often won. 

"We managed to create harmony within the working group, both at the track and here," Ducati Corse sporting director Paolo Ciabatti told me. The engine department speaks to the chassis department, the chassis department speaks to the electronics department, the electronics department speaks to the engine department."

I always fall back to the article Matt Oxley (I think) wrote about the gulf between the guys in the garage over the weekend and the guys at Bologna not wanting to listen.

This to me was the fundamental issue at Ducati Corse. Of course Dall'Igna is a genius engineer, we all know this, but he also seems to be a great manager.

I also cannot recall Ducati saying they'd found the problem, I think they suffered the same issues as Yamaha did in the early days of the M1. They didn't know which way to go with it, and just threw parts at it. Remember Carlos Checa saying the M1 was dangerous to ride?

The GP15 I think shows a marked improvement in both communication and working practices at Ducati. I really do hope it pays off for them all. Because they deserve it.

wondering where in all this Ducati are going to start testing with the Michelins and the spec ECU's? Clearly HRC and Yamaha are already testing with the Michelins and have (albeit in an old frame in Yamaha's case) the Magneti ECU. Surely Ducati need to start testing with the spec software and the new tyres?? And on a brand new bike, that is NOT going to be easy...

Tanto lavoro indeed.........

great insight . . . i do interesting about possibility that Ducati have switched from a big bang firing order to a screamer . . i will hear it from near between R4 and R5 sepang circuit next week david . . .

If you can record it, David can analyse it... as he's shown in the past.

Isn't it simply the case Ducati's main objective this year is to build a bike competitive enough to lure Lorenzo to use his break clause, and /or to attract the next young gun
I'm a huge Dovi fan, but he's always been second best to the to four (see his time at Respol)
Crazy Jo, well........... who knows

Didn't Ducati run a screamer from 2007 to 2009? I remember them switching to a big bang order in 2010, their worst year with Stoner on the bike. I always thought that was the reason 2010 was such a bad year for Ducati.

Looking at the pictures of this bike it looks like they have made it more compact than I thought possible. I commented on the pictures taken in another post here on all the changes that seem to be glaringly different than the last bike. Gigi Dall'Igna seems to have gotten the team to work together in one direction as one entity instead of several different parts working indecently going their own independent directions. This new bike may not be from just his brain, but the synchronizing of the work seems to be all his. Ducati seem to be going forward instead of staying stuck in one area.

As far as getting a win, we will see at the test how quick the guys can go and how they report the bike is feeling. Hopefully they will have a bike that can compete for the win. Seemed like the last one started to turn better. Some of the longer corners in last years races did not seem leave the Ducati out so bad as before. Hope they do battle for some wins. It would be great to see my favorite Manufacturer up there on the podium again.