With Ducati Corse’s notoriously secretive boss Gigi Dall’Igna unlikely to give away too many engineering secrets ahead of the start of 2024 MotoGP pre-season testing, and no changes to the rider line-up or main sponsors, Ducati’s launch event at Italian ski resort Madonna di Campiglio wasn’t expected to produce many earth-shattering revelations.
But there were still things to be gleaned after reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia and his team-mate Enea Bastianini pulled the covers off a machine that at least has changed a little bit visually from last year and - surprise, surprise - features even more red paint than before.
'EXTREMELY DIFFERENT' BIKE TO COME
Perhaps the most exciting news of the whole launch came in almost a throwaway line from Dall’Igna.
He casually mentioned that the bike that actually hits the track at Sepang next month will feature “fairings extremely different to those we’ve used before”. And that means that there’s likely a serious escalation in MotoGP’s aerodynamics war in the pipeline.
It’s an area that was basically invented by Dall’Igna’s team and which has since been consistently driven forward by Ducati not just through wings on the front of the bike but with new innovations like rear seat unit aero devices and ground effect fairings. But we’ve not seen any huge aero leap forward from Ducati in a few years, with the other European manufacturers Aprilia and KTM quick to catch up.
That could change for 2024, if the veteran engineer’s words are to be taken at face value.
The upgrade certainly wasn’t on show at the launch, with the bike on show a 2023 model (at least aerodynamically) in what was clearly a deliberate decision to ensure rivals have as little time as possible to study and copy whatever Ducati has in mind.
NEW MANAGEMENT'S DEBUT
The launch also marked something of a changing of the guard in Ducati’s management structure, as the team’s long-time sporting director Paolo Ciabatti formally moved over to his new role heading up the factory’s new motocross project and the team welcomed Mauro Grassilli into his place in MotoGP.
While it might be the first significant Ducati management shake up since Dall’Igna joined the team a decade ago, it’s unlikely to have a major impact on day-to-day operations, given both Grassilli’s own extensive Ducati experience and Ciabatti’s move being sideways rather than out of the factory all together.
Ciabatti's role in recent years has largely been preparing the team for going racing rather than taking an active role in managing it on a day-to-day basis, and while he's likely to be most missed when it comes to negotiating new contracts for 2025 and beyond, the fact that he will remain a key part of Ducati's racing efforts means that Grassilli is likely to have a willing mentor on hand to smooth the process.
WHAT THE FLUORESCENT BIT'S FOR
While the 2024 bike hasn’t changed significantly, there’s one new design element that Ducati was keen to talk about at the launch, not just because it changes the colour of the bike slightly, but more importantly because of the unified front that it aims to push between its three factory projects.
The bike now sports a fluorescent red design element across its side, and that graphic also features on the Aruba.it World Superbike machine and the new Desmo 450 MX off-road racer also unveiled in Madonna di Campiglio, linking them all as Ducati hopes that some of the on-track success rubs off on the new project in its first year.
SIGNS PERSONNEL LOSES ARE HAVING AN IMPACT
It’s no secret in MotoGP that other manufacturers have been trying to steal a piece of Ducati’s success by luring top engineering talent away. KTM has been the most successful so far, by securing not only Dall’Igna’s former right-hand man Fabiano Sterlacchini but also successful crew chiefs Alberto Giribuola and Cristhian Pupulin.
Yamaha has secured the big names over the winter, though, by stealing away Ducati’s vehicle performance engineer Massimo Bartolini to join its former head of aerodynamics Marco Nicotra - and Bagnaia admitted at the team launch that Bartolini has previously been a fundamental member of Ducati's behind-the-scenes crew.
Ducati's performance hasn't been affected to date, as it still dominated in 2023. But with rivals gaining extra concessions for the coming season (another worry, according to Bagnaia), this might just be the year when Ducati finally starts to feel the squeeze.
THE 2025 QUESTION
It's bizarre to already be talking about 2025 on what marks Ducati's opening day of the 2024 MotoGP season, but it won't be too long until speculation starts to build about the future - specifically, who's in the team's line-up for what will be the final two seasons of the 1000cc era of MotoGP, given the substantial rule changes expected for 2027.
Both Bagnaia and Bastianini were relatively tight-lipped when asked by The Race about when they expected contract talks to get under way - but reigning world champion Bagnaia’s final line of the press conference hinted at where his intentions lie, joking that "he looks good in red".
While it’ll come as no shock to anyone should Ducati rush out an extension to Bagnaia’s deal, the question of who his team-mate will be might take a little longer to establish.
It’s likely to be someone from Ducati’s existing pool of talent - but with names like Marc Marquez, Jorge Martin, Marco Bezzecchi and current incumbent Bastianini all included in that discussion, it might take a while to see which of them gets (or wants) the nod.