Ducati Corse: The Making of a Grand-Prix Motor Cycle
Essay title: Ducati Corse: The Making of a Grand-Prix Motor Cycle
Ducati CorseвЂ™s rise and fall in the MotoGP competition
1.1 2003: The Magical Mystery Tournament
In 2003, despite being a new entrant in the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix series (or MotoGP), the Ducati team experienced a great deal of success, including a victory and nine podium finishes. In this section we will explore what factors may have contributed towards this unexpected achievement. As we shall see later on in section 1.2, some of these success-factors were at the heart of DucatiвЂ™s rude awakening in the subsequent year.
Following a change in regulations In 2001, Ducati Corse first decided to enter MotoGP. While the company had previously been very successful in the only other major motorcycle racing series, the World Superbike, there was a strong realization that manufacturing a bike for the sole purpose of racing was a new and challenging avenue for the company to develop state of the art technologies and build more brand awareness. As a result, there was enormous enthusiasm among the engineers, which would prove an important factor in the subsequent success. In addition, Ducati was able to select among the top engineering graduates in Italy.
While the decision to participate in the tournament was announced as early as May 2001, Ducati Corse decided to wait until the 2003 season before actually entering the competition. Work on the design of the bike was started in November 2001, while the first race was in April 2003. This meant that the company had all the time it could ever need to develop a competitive bike, which was another important factor for success. In addition, decades of prior experience, both in the World Superbike tournament as well as in the commercial exploitation of bike manufacturing, had led to an extremely comprehensive and proven method of developing bikes (more on this in Chapter 2). Constituent factors of this method that would prove to be important for success include an emphasis on face-to-face contact, an open office lay-out, clear prioritization and ownership of problems, the establishing of cross-functional teams for specific issues, extensive ties with external parties such as universities and car racing teams, and an emphasis on data gathering and virtual simulation facilitated by prior heavy investment in both hardware and internally developed software. In addition to such simulations, the bikes were subjected to hundreds upon hundreds of hours of dyno bench testing, wind-tunnel testing, and track testing.
Ironically, a lack of ambitious goals may also have contributed towards the impressive results. Ducati CorseвЂ™s CEO, Claudio Domenicali, stated that the 2003 season would be mainly a preparation for the year thereafter; as DucatiвЂ™s prior experience in other areas was unlikely to be as useful as their competitorsвЂ™ MotoGP experience. However, they did recruit two of the top riders. As a result of the low expectations, these riders likely experienced less stress and pressure, which in turn enhanced their performance. As they started experiencing success against all odds, their confidence rose and, at least at this point, enhanced their performance even further. In addition, much weight was attached by the engineers to these ridersвЂ™ feedback, in contrast with practices at some of DucatiвЂ™s competitors. Finally, again in contrast with competitors, because the team was experiencing great success few design changes were implemented during the season, giving the riders a chance of getting to know the bike through and through and learning how to get the most out of it.
1.2 2004: A Hard DayвЂ™s Night
Surprisingly, Ducati CorseвЂ™s fortunes turned in 2004. The team scraped only two podium finishes during the entire season, and the final standings were equally disappointing. In this section we will delineate what factors may have caused this sudden reversal of success, and see how they might have been related to the prior achievements. It is important to note that many of the success factors that were mentioned in the previous section applied to the 2004 tournament as well, because they are inherent to the company. Specifically, Ducati still had top engineers at its disposal, attempted to leverage external sources of knowledge, and adopted similar design and engineering practices. However, inevitably there were differences as well, and these will be discussed here.
First off, the company had far less time to develop a bike for the new season. A decision was made to wait for track data from the 2003 bike before starting the development of its successor. As race after race went by an insurmountable heap of data began to pile up. While two additional engineers were recruited to work fulltime on data analysis, this problem was never sufficiently overcome.