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GP Week : Issue 180
9 GPWEEK.com // 9 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: The first race at Qatar shows that Rossi returned to Yamaha at just the right time. Neither he nor his fans could have stood another downbeat season on the Ducati. His quest there had failed. Time to move, or get out of the sport. Intriguingly, there were signs that his replacement on the dreaded Desmosedici, compatriot Andrea Dovizioso, might also have timed his move just right. Dovi, himself 125 champion in 2004, is one of a slew of quality Italian riders whose careers have been blighted by the overwhelming presence of the gigantic Valentino. All of them have been measured against him, and not surprisingly found wanting. Even if, in Dovi’s case, not by very much. But second string is second string. Seven years the younger, Dovi’s time may yet come. The Desmosedici he’s riding is very much like the one Rossi rejected: it even gave off a familiar plume of oil smoke during the race, a now-and-then feature of its poor performance last year. There have been a few refinements, under the new Audi management: fuel and electronics moved to centralise mass, electronics tickled in search of a smoother throttle take-up, new aerodynamics. But Dovi’s complaints after the race were from the same hymn sheet that Rossi and Hayden have been using: understeer the persistent bugbear. All the same, the wiry and tattooed Italian led a small but heartening revival for Ducati, qualifying fourth and on the front row until Pedrosa’s last gasp; then completing the race significantly faster than the best Ducati last year – ridden not by Rossi, but by Hayden, who effected a similar improvement, finishing right on his new team- mate’s back wheel. In numbers, it doesn’t look too bad, depending as ever on how you measure what. Double winner Lorenzo was faster over race distance by 4.4 seconds – 0.172%. Dovi finished one place lower than Hayden last year, but improved his race time by 8.4 seconds, or 0.326%. Dovi also improved on Hayden’s qualifying time, on a track where Lorenzo was actually if marginally slower than last year; and was a heartening 1.7 seconds better than Rossi’s time on the Duke. Dovi bears a passing resemblance to pre-war legend Tazio Nuvolari, himself a former bike champion before going on to cars. After winning the 125 title and then four 250 races, all on a Honda, he eventually became a spare part on the factory MotoGP team after just one win. All the while, Rossi was taking all the attention and all the plaudits. Dovi was somewhat transformed last year on a satellite Yamaha, bent on justice and aiming to earn a factory ride. Might have had one too. Until Rossi came back to spoil it. Ducati was his last chance, and it didn’t look attractive. His move was regarded as a “take- the-money” job. His intent on the red bike has proved other wise. Now it’s up to Audi to match that intent, and they surely will. The current softly-softly approach doubtless conceals major redesign work in progress back at base. Wouldn’t it be amusing if the next-generation Duke comes out faster than Valentino’s Yamaha? Seven years younger than Rossi, Dovi’s time could still be coming. DUCATI: HAS DOVI TIMED IT RIGHT? OPINION OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor