Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rossi/Ducati plight reminds me of Yamaha's problems post-Rainey

Like everyone else, I've been watching Rossi struggle with his Ducati, and reading the tea leaves (or should I say, the espresso grinds?) vis-a-vis Rossi's lack of competitiveness on the Duc compared to Casey Stoner a season-and-a-bit-ago.

It puts me in the mind of Yamaha, after Wayne Rainey's career-ending crash in 1993.

Rainey won three consecutive World Championships for Kenny Roberts' Marlboro-sponsored factory Yamaha team, but as soon as Rainey was taken out of the equation, it became apparent that the 1993 OWF2 GP bike had not been nearly as competitive as it seemed.

While it's true that Rainey's teammate, the ex-250 champion Luca Cadalora, won two races in '93, it was the hospitalized Rainey who finished second to Kevin Schwantz. (One of Cadalora's wins came after Rainey was paralyzed.)

Cadalora finished second to Doohan in 1994, scoring 6 podium finishes. He scored two wins again, but both came late in the season after Doohan had locked up the title. For 1994, Team Roberts' 'B' rider was the Aussie Darryl Beattie, and he really struggled with the Yamaha and crashed on it quite a few times. He finished 13th overall and -- maybe he thought that was an unlucky number -- switched to Suzuki for '95.

In the 1995 season, Cadalora again scored 6 podiums, including two wins, on the way to an identical 176-point total. But in '95, that was only good for third place. Ironically, when Beattie left Yamaha for Suzuki, he jumped from a season total of 44 points in '94 to 215 points in '95.

Things spiralled downhill for a while longer at Yamaha, but I won't dredge up the stats. Suffice to say that in 1996, Norick Abe was the top rider on a YZR500, in fifth overall with a single win. By then, the Yamaha's dismal performance had prompted Roberts to have a public falling-out with Yamaha and in 1997 Roberts fielded his own team on a bike of his own creation. That was just about the only bike on the grid worse than the Yamaha.

In short, it turned out that in spite of Rainey's great results, the Yamaha he'd been riding sucked when almost anyone else tried it.

So, does the analogy of Rainey/Yamaha OWF2 apply to Stoner/Ducati GP10?

Looking back on it, I don't think that it was a case of the Yamaha somehow actually being good for Rainey and bad for everyone else; I don't think Rainey's riding style was that unique (although, if any Backmarker reader has one degree of separation from Rainey and wants to ask him, I'd love to hear his thoughts on it.)

I think the truth is that Rainey's bike was pretty crappy even for him, but that his crew chief Warren Willing was able to set the bike up in way that it was, at least, consistently crappy; it was crappy the same predictable way from track to track. The performance envelope of Rainey's Yamaha was slightly but measurably more constrained than Doohan's Honda for example. But Willing found ways for the bike to give Rainey lots of feedback about where the edge of that envelope was, and that allowed Wayne to feel comfortable enough on it to over-ride it for several years before it caught up to him at Imola in 1993.

Cadalora, Beattie, Abe,.. even Jean-Michel Bayle had goes on it afterwards and either none of them could feel what Wayne felt, or none of them dared to push that deep into the danger zone. (The one time Abe won on it in '96 was at his home GP, where he was inspired to take more risks. After the race, I remember him saying something like, "I crashed at least eight times, but each time I somehow stayed on my wheels!")

That might gibe with Stoner's situation at Ducati in 2010. The Aussie might just be a fucking whiner, but he could also have been telling the truth when, over the course of that season, he complained that Ducati weren't getting him the parts he and his crew chief, Cristian Gabbarini, needed to improve the bike.

I think that like Willing in the early '90s, Gabbarini's skill was giving his rider a Ducati that might have been a turd, but at least was a consistent turd that allowed Stoner to push it very, very hard. (One of the most interesting ways to examine Stoner's 2010 results on the Ducati is not to merely look at his three wins -- which overshadow Rossi's failure to come to terms with the GP11. Over the 18 race season, he was on the podium or DNF 14 times. Talk about "rostrum-or-hospital".

If I'm right, and if this analogy holds, the future doesn't look too bright for Rossi.


  1. i'm curious as to your thoughts on how much having the Bridgestones of 2010 gave stoner a better feeling than the control tires that have come since?

    1. If my guess/analogy (as outlined above) is correct, it's unlikely the 2010 tires made it much easier for Stoner, vis-a-vis the current tires and Rossi. If anything, the 'progressive deterioration' characteristics of the current tires should make it a little easier on Rossi. (Note that the 500cc bikes in the early '90s - pre 'big-bang' - were real tire shredders.) I think that if the 2010 championship had been run on the 2012 tires, Stoner would have done a little better; I think that Rossi was forced to ride the 2012 Ducati on 2010-spec tires, he'd do worse. My supporting point is that Rossi himself said that once everyone's tires had gone 'off' at the last race, he was able to keep pace with the fast guys, but by then he was just too far behind...

  2. Hi Mark. Well, that's an interesting point of view, when you compare both my favourite riders (Rainey and Stoner). Reminds me of the epic battles on Suzuka 1989 (where Rainey lost to Schwantz) and Laguna Seca 2008 (where Stoner lost to Rossi), both in my opinion, with lesser bikes. I remember one frase from "King Kenny" about Rainey at the time: "He gives it a lot of stick". And I believe that's exactly the same with Stoner. The hability to squeeze everything from the bike, even if it's crap.
    Comparing Rossi on the Ducati with Stoner on the Ducati is useless. We have to compare them with the team mates, and clearly the balance is on Stoner's side. It was frequent for Stoner to be quicker more than one second a lap compared to his team mate (any of them), when Rossi strugles to be in front of Hayden.
    The explanation? I believe that his fall at Mugello 2010 was the turning point of his career. Hope I'm wrong, for he's one of the greatest.
    Cheers from Portugal.
    Fernando Furtado Coelho

  3. Hi Mark,

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you've said but I still believe that we continue to ignore the elephant in the room, Rossi's age. He hasn't had the same winning form for 3 seasons now and the number of MGP champions to win a race after their prime is few and I believe there are zero who have won a title. MGP has made a travesty of MGP focusing only on Rossi and ignoring the rest of the talented field.