With Casey Stoner aboard, Ducati won 3 of the final six races last year. Stoner finished second at Valencia, the final race of 2010, after taking pole position during qualifying. In the off-season, of course, Ducati hired arguably the greatest racer in history, Valentino Rossi, to replace Stoner. Expectations were high, to say the least, as fans and industry pundits expected Rossi to improve the notoriously difficult-to-ride Ducati. Rossi was also expected to ride the machine to victory… Indeed, this went without saying. What happened?
Rossi found the Ducati difficult to ride, just as everyone else had (aside from Stoner, on occasion). He and his crew chief have worked diligently to improve the bike, and Ducati seemingly has provided all of the resources requested to accomplish this. In eight races this year, Rossi has but a single podium (a third-place at Le Mans). Although his race performances have certainly been below his high standards, his qualifying has been abysmal.
While Stoner qualified on pole position in three of the final six races of 2010 aboard the Ducati, Rossi has recorded the following eight qualifying positions so far this year, including positions 9, 12, 9, 9, 7, 13, 11, and 12. Rossi is running out of excuses. He and his crew chief have had plenty of time to develop the bike, but appear to be going backwards. His qualifying position has fallen below that of other Ducati riders several times.
Although Ducati is clearly looking forward to racing next year’s 1000cc machine, and Rossi has recently begun to race next year’s chassis (albeit, with an 800cc motor), it is inconceivable that Ducati did not intend to win with Rossi this year. Ducati clearly hoped for at least a podium out of Rossi at its home race at Mugello a week ago, but Rossi qualified 12th and finished sixth.
Why is this happening to the greatest racer in history? Will 2012 be any different?