Subscriber Feature: Andrea Dovizioso On His Transformation Into A MotoGP Title Contender

It has been a remarkable year for Andrea Dovizioso. After years of being dismissed and overlooked, the 31-year-old Italian went from being placeholder for his new teammate Jorge Lorenzo – far more successful previously, and vastly better paid as a result – to being Ducati's main weapon in the 2017 MotoGP championship.

Viewed from the outside, Dovizioso's transformation has been truly astonishing. After a slow start in MotoGP – a podium in his first year with the JiR Scot Honda team, then a solitary victory at a soaking Donington Park the following season in 2009 – Dovizioso got into his stride in the Repsol Honda team. He scored seven podiums in his first season on the factory Honda, but that was not enough to secure his spot at Repsol. Early in 2010, Honda announced they would be signing Casey Stoner.

Dovizioso refused to budge for the Australian. He held HRC to their contract with him, and three Repsol Hondas lined up on the grid in 2011. Despite finishing ahead of Dani Pedrosa – helped by Pedrosa's absence with a broken collarbone for three races after he was knocked off at Le Mans by Marco Simoncelli – Dovizioso was dropped by Honda at the end of the year, when the Italian's contract expired.

The Nearly Man comes good

Dovizioso gained a reputation as the nearly man: always fast, but never able to finish the job. After moving to the Tech 3 Yamaha squad and finishing fourth in the championship, he was offered the seat at Ducati vacated by Valentino Rossi when he left at the end of 2012. While the media still focusing on the fallout from the inevitable break up of the marriage between two Italian icons which had ended so badly, Dovizioso got on with the slow and steady work of developing the bike.

It was a long and sometimes painful process. He stuck with Ducati as Bernhard Gobmeier,  parachuted in by new owners Audi, then moved aside to make way for Gigi Dall'Igna after Ducati poached the Italian engineer from Aprilia.

His results improved as the bike developed. Two podiums in 2014 were followed by five in 2015, with the introduction of a radically new bike. Another five followed in 2016, along with his second victory in MotoGP, Seven years after his first. But questions remained over just how good he was: his win at Sepang was taken in the wet, and he had lost out to teammate Andrea Iannone in the dry in Austria.

Ducati, too, seemed to be having their doubts. They signed Jorge Lorenzo to a monster contract early in 2016, forcing a battle between Iannone and Dovizioso over the remaining seat at the Italian factory. It was a battle Dovizioso looked like he had lost, with reports that Ducati had already settled on Iannone for 2017. But Iannone scuppered his own chances by taking out Dovizioso on the last lap in Argentina, when they looked on for a double podium.

Dovizioso picked up his bike and pushed it across the line to finish thirteenth, picking up three points in the effort. Iannone sat disconsolate, having given up. That incident, and the way Dovizioso handled it and the incident in Austin the following week, where he was taken out by Dani Pedrosa, helped to make up Ducati's mind. Dovizioso stayed, as dependable teammate and second fiddle to Lorenzo.

The unseen change

Things did not work out that way, though. Throughout the 2016 season, Dovizioso had been making changes to his approach to life, and to training, and to racing. Those had slowly been paying dividends, but they went largely unnoticed as everyone focused on Jorge Lorenzo's switch to Ducati in 2017, and Maverick Viñales' move to take the place of the departing Lorenzo in the factory Yamaha squad.

People started paying a little more attention after the race in Sepang, where Dovizioso won quite convincingly as others struggled and crashed. They were intrigued at the beginning of the 2017 season, when it became clear he was outperforming his highly paid teammate Lorenzo, especially after nearly winning the season opener at Qatar and finishing between Viñales and Valentino Rossi. But he was still only fifth in the championship after Le Mans, and fans and pundits alike were looking forward to what Ducati would be able to do in 2018.

Dovizioso forced the world to sit up and take notice by winning convincingly at Mugello, but victory a week later at Barcelona under difficult conditions – a track lacking grip and searing heat – was what made the fans and media look at him differently. Suddenly, Dovizioso was within 7 points of the championship lead, and clearly capable of beating the Yamahas who were starting to struggle.

A new spirit unleashed

The second half of the season saw Dovizioso become a serious challenger for the 2017 championship. It was not just that he was winning races, it was how he was doing it. Twice, in Austria and at Motegi, Dovizioso disposed of Marc Márquez in final corner battles. Dovizioso, the nearly man who would never win in a straight fight on the last lap, was suddenly a force to be reckoned with, a hard-bitten rider outsmarting the best racer in the world, luring Márquez into mistakes and taking advantage of them to beat him at his own game.

In the end, Dovizioso lost out to Marc Márquez, finishing 37 points behind the Repsol Honda rider. But it had gone down to the last race, and Andrea Dovizioso had established himself as a force to be reckoned with, and a title contender in his own right. He has also changed the way riders, the media, and fans looked at the sport. He got where he was thanks to a totally different attitude to racing, a far more cerebral approach based on maintaining focus throughout the weekend.

I spoke to Dovizioso at the Jerez test about his transformation over the past eighteen months. In a way, he said, he was lucky to have remained in MotoGP for long enough to be able to make this transformation. "I think this is like Formula 1," he said. "If you are on top, you can stay in this level for a long time, but if you are a good rider, you take a lot of risk. You don’t have a chance to continue to work on yourself, to try to get that result."

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That was a great interview! The best motorcycle racer interview I have ever read. Dovi is a very interesting person.

Brilliant interview. I think I now understand the process Dovi has been going through and the personal philosophy underpinning it. Found it especially interesting that the stated aim wasn’t about winning more races, it was about improving relationships. And the winning has flowed from that. Change takes effort, time, commitment etc etc. More than that, it takes the desire to bring about the change. I wonder what happened to give Dovi this desire. Was it knowing he was battling with Iannone over which one stayed, for example, and the implications were he the loser. Was it Ducati signing Lorenzo? Was it something in Dovi’s personal life, nothing to do with racing at all? Was it the relationship building approach Gigi brought to the team? Or something else, or a combination of something elses entirely? Any thoughts? 

Dovi. This is an insightful look into the man and the racer, and this article could be a start to an extensive in-depth study into the minds of Marc and Dovi's 2017 season, which is a great story by itself, and would make a fantastic case study in determination and will of the MotoGP rider. 

Anybody think that Mark Neale will produce another movie about MotoGP?

I'm hesitating about adding a sarcastic comment about Mark Neale's worship of Rossi, so I will leave that to others :0

...wondering about the timing of Stoner's rejoining Ducati as a test rider and the influences/ers which guided Dovi on the path.  Dovi's rejection of fame, distraction, and sponsor-puppetry sound reminiscent of what I understand of Stoner's gripes.  

Then again, some people are just plain smart, and it stands to reason no one should be credited with Dovi's motivation to make changes other than Dovi himself.  I know he repeatedly states the numerous around him which are a part of the winning ways, but it still takes one's self to recognize change is needed, seek those with the truest intention and wisdom, listen to them, and then apply it.  You can lead a horse to water...

2018 will be perhaps more of a test for Dovi than 2017 was.  There's a certain pychological advantage to achieving when nothing's expected of you.  That is no longer the case for him.  I absolutely hope he succeeds.  

Thank you, David - great read.  

Great piece about Dovi !

He always had something that interested me since his 250 day's .. and now he is a force who people look at.

That was a good read. Despite his being a man of few words, Dovi has always struck me as one of the most cerebral riders on the grid. I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard of course. I'm always happy to hear what he has to say because it's almost always thoughtful and not a canned response.

In fact, I think it would be a treat to one day in the future have Dovi & Zarco interview each other (no offense David). wink I feel that would be fascinating.  

I spend most of my life bringing the full of people and their experience to the transformation at the pliable edge. Yes, "mental coaches" an be hugely helpful and in unexpected essential ways.

But we can't make an alien out of a mortal. Dovi's greatness is his own. Well, plus this bike - which he has helped to create.

The fundamental relational piece is compelling. We don't just have a relationship with other people, we have one with ourselves. And everything. My racing still educates my human experience, even my work as a therapist.

As soon as I know I am going to hit that turn in point I am to reach through to the apex. As soon as I know I am to hit the apex point I am to reach my awareness to the drive out. In everything.

Relationally we have opportunities to learn about aspects of us that are first just interpersonal. They then become apparent as intrapersonal, and extending to how we move with all of life experience.

The bike as a lover is a natural way to work. Idealizations, willfullness, too tight/too loose with hold. We also see caregiver representations with adults. Biaggi must have been bottle fed or had little comfort. Rossi has been indulged. The Iannone vs Dovi picture is rich. Dovi is a very mature character, balanced. A bit rational. He lacked some passion, tinder laying about needed spark. A therapist can very much help light what is there. He speaks of his subjective experience of relationships, and his awareness has been there consciously. Less consciously he has also done good work unobscuring some raw unburdened full presence. Some aggression without undue amounts of fear and self doubt.

He has done good work. His relationship with his shrink has been a testing ground for what is possible there in a very focused way. Very individualized particularly for him. We can never tell anyone anything about who we are working with, not even our spouses. We are all alone with the intimate compelling stories, sworn to air tight confidentiality. But get us talking of the process itself and our understanding of the human inclination towards wholeness itself and we can share volumes.

Everything here is Dovi's. But he has gotten some good therapy for sure.

Thank you David for the interesting read. Made even more interesting by the fact that Dovi does not give many interviews...
I belong to that (wrong!) majority who never thought he had it in him. And then comes 2017 : what a great surprise. How wonderful for once to be proven wrong.
I do think that one of the major factors of his stunning season is the organic relationship he built with his bike. They sort of grew together: he knows exactly what to expect from it (her?) and how to get there. Of course every racer expects to have the ideal bike. But in Dovi case I think there is a symbiotic process set in motion with Dall'Igna arrival and new working methods and the role of Dovi of really participating to the evolution of his ducati.
Also it's interesting the episode in his career when he strongarmed Honda and stayed until the end of his contract: can anyone imagine what it must have been like to be where nobody wants you for a whole season ? For once there isn't a more a propos quote than what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
I still think there must be some awkward atmosphere in the Ducati garage: nobody there thought Dovi capable of being so far ahead of Lorenzo. The power balance there must be so fragile! JL went there on the understanding that he was the undisputed number one. And everything he's done so far until the very end shows IMO that he still believes it.
2018 will be the most crucial year for Dovi's career. Will he be able to face the challenge? I think he is ready. Will Ducati management follow? That's the big question mark.
But I wish him the best.

It must be rare for racers, at the top of thier game, to think outside of themselves and truly undertand how important other people are: team memebers, family members, and freinds. Thier professional upbringing puts them in the center of attention. See the engineers huddle around the riders when they get off the bike, hanging on thier every word? See how focused they are on the grid? It's all about them. It's how they survive. But Dovi, by looking outward to others, might have found a more meaningful motivation. The burdeon to win could be even greater than before. The things he's talking about can set him up for success in life years after he's left the paddock. Ducati managment should keep a keen eye on him. Watch Dovi speak in the documentary on Mancini. He has heart. 




Whilst at Donington GP in 2006 with our first 250 wild card attempt apart from nearly knocking Dani P flying as I left the Arai truck, Dovi was my stand out rider. Having a good nose around the paddock on the Friday evening well past 8pm I remember being surprised that Dovi was still in his box (garage to the UK) supporting his team. It struck me he was there because he was part of the team. This was no wet behind the ears young rider as he was already the 2014 World GP125 Champion.

I would loved Dovi to have won the championship this year but all good things come to those that wait, train, focus and watch from the touch line. So may be 2018 will be the year Dovi lifts the title

I went to the Laguna Seca race every year from 2006-2012. I would always head back to Vegas directly from the track after the race. In 2012 my brother and I met a few other fans that said we should stay and go to the bar in Monterey. They said a lot of the riders would be there that night. We went and a bunch of the riders were there. I was able to talk with Stefan Bradl for a bit. James Ellison was outside after the bar closed and everyone was still hanging out. Dovizioso was there and it was so cool to be in such a relaxed environment without the onslaught of fans rushing to get autographs. I was able to talk with him for a while. I believe this was right around the time that Rossi announced he would be coming back to Yamaha and taking the factory seat that Dovi was likely to get if Rossi stayed at Ducati. I told him how much I knew he deserved the Yamaha seat and he one of my favorite riders. I think this was also the year that Dovi had used his own money to get the better brakes from Brembo being on a satelite bike he needed the better brakes.

I'm glad he has been able to get the Ducati performing at the top and I really hope he can get a title. It was probably the best experience I had ever going to Laguna Seca and it wasn't even at the track.

the low ratings on Motoshrink's and MGM's comments, and I have to confess to being a little mystified by Dovi's interview, too. It's like he's being a little cagey and secretive about the whole deal. And if it's his secret, not to be truly shared with the rest of the world because of the advantage it brings him, so be it. Or perhaps it's truly as expansive and all-encompassing as he states, and I'm just not getting it.

I have enjoyed his success this season, though, and wish him continued and even greater success in 2018 and beyond. Some pundits have made it seem like Dovi's 2017 season was a fluke. I hope he proves them wrong. And instead of resting on their laurels, I hope Ducati gives him that little bit extra in the machine to bring a title home.

Fantastic work, David!

I was thinking the same: why the poor ratings to Motoshrink and .... myself! :)
Just kidding, of course. But thank you for the remark.
More seriously, you are right, Dovi seems cagey and holding back and we are left a bit frustrated. But this proves the effort David had to put in to get there. I've never met Dovi in person but I've seen many of his itw in his mother tongue: he is not the type to pour his heart out. He just does not. He could have been a very good diplomat! I guess that it's a mix of many factors: first his nature, never the flamboyant one. Then the circumstances, for fan media and fellow Italians always in the shadow of the GOAT (I'm not opening here a debate on who is GOAT or not, it's just an easy way to express the concept) and finally his rather good but not outstanding results in his many years in the premiere class. Barring the 2 last seasons. Not only he's always been the underdog but moreover he's never been treated as a first choice. Besides the Honda problem, he could not go to Yamaha and they kept him in Ducati because Iannone made too many mistakes and Ducati bosses could not take the chance of having crazy Joe throwing pissing competitions with Lorenzo. All this gives a picture of someone who had to swallow his pride more than once and at the same time found within himself the strength to not give up.
I'm sorry, this is probably too long and will get NO ratings! Ah ah!
The point being that it must be extremely difficult to get Dovi to really talk. Praise to David for really trying.

I remember early in this season wishing Dovi would share more when it became clearer that he was operating on a new level (at least visibly.)  I had to get through the entire season including David's interview and the comments above to realize we're asking too much of him (to share "it all") and most if not all riders, too.  I've come to believe that riding at this level is much different from our usual exposure to and expeience with athletes who participate in sports like (American or Eurpoean) football, baseball, tennis, golf (yes, it's still a sport, at least this morning :-) etc.

From watching, reading and mulling this over this season, I equate riders to astronauts in the early days of the U.S. Space Program.  Bear with me...In those years, teams at different locations labored for weeks, months and years to "get it right" and often didn't know how "right" things were until launch.  They put everything together at one location and finally had a complete system to use.  Much like these bikes receiving parts to experiment with throughout the season.  Once in space (especially in the Gemini and Apollo missions) the astronaut had to improvise and sometimes wrestle their "systems" to complete their mission.  When I listen to riders especially post practice, post qualifying and post race, their comments remind me of those astronaut debriefs.

I think it's near impossible for "the rest of us" who have not raced competitively especially for years and years (myself included) to fully grasp what it's like to wrestle a bike around these tracks under the conditions that these riders are exposed to.  Asking them to put it into words is going to be even tougher.  I hear a lot of talk about "feel" and "feeling" (and those words are used a lot in professional cycling to describe the riding) and this makes sense to me more and more.  Musicians often relate their performances the same way.  Riding that bike (a much more intimate and personal experience than a space capsule) in full view of your team, your sponsors, your mates, and the public is about as transparent as one can get, too.

That was beautifully worded. Using the context of the early Astronaut and his support staff as well as the Musician brought it into clarity. I dabbled in motorcycle roadracing and dabbled at being a musician, and could never quite grab what the truly talented brought to their craft.  I got it. Thanks!