Andrea Dovizioso shocked everyone by qualifying fourth-fastest for the opening race of the 2013 MotoGP season in Qatar—just .009s off the front row.
It was then equally surprising to see him rapidly fall down the order after just one lap of the race on his way to a seventh-place finish.
The element of Italy's two-wheeled pride and joy that has frustrated Casey Stoner, nearly ruined Valentino Rossi and now torments Dovizioso is understeer.
Understeer manifests itself in the Desmosedici by pushing it off its line in the corners.
This problem is compounded by the Desmo's other major flaw—a lack of grip from the rear tire once it begins to wear.
Dovizioso, wisely, is less concerned with the latter as long the the former persists (per MotorcycleNews.com):
We have to improve everywhere to stay in front but until we resolve the problem of turning then everything will be not so important because when the bike doesn’t turn you are slow and when the grip goes down the problem becomes bigger.
I pushed really hard to try and improve that point and we have tried a lot of set-ups but with just the set-up we can’t fix.
In summation: They still have absolutely no idea how to fix the problem, though it's painfully evident that some fundamental change is needed.
It can't, however, be said that Ducati isn't trying.
In 2012—what would turn out to be Rossi's last year with his compatriot manufacturer—Ducati illustrated its willingness to change anything about the bike to make it competitive, even the carbon-fiber frame in which they had professed an impassioned belief for years.
The GP12 used a twin-spar aluminum frame that, it was widely believed, would fix the Desmo's understeer issue.
Even Rossi was optimistic at first (per Blog.Motorcycle.com):
I’m happy because first impressions are important, and already in the first few laps, I could tell that I like the bike. Ducati did a good job in a just a short time. The bike is beautiful, but more importantly, it’s nice to ride. The riding position has improved a lot, and it’s better on braking and corner entry.
I can brake like I want to and take the lines that I like, and I feel comfortable in general. I was able to ride well and not make mistakes, and there’s a reason for that. It means that the bike can be ridden. It’s more agile in change of direction, and it wheelies much less.
We’re 7 tenths back today, and of course there’s still a lot of work to do before we can win. We have to improve in some areas: acceleration, electronics, power delivery and setup. I’d say we’ll be able to make a more accurate assessment at the end of the test, because let’s remember, the bike is only 40 laps old.
To leave here a second back from the top would be okay because anyway, we know that there’s still much more to be done. But one of the best things from today is that the bike reacts well to changes. That enabled us to drop one or two tenths every outing, which means further progress should be possible
Sadly for MotoGP fans, the changes would not be enough to make the Desmosedici competitive, and The Doctor would spend another soul-crushing year trying in vain to fix his broken steed.
What fooled Rossi is likely the same thing that allowed Dovizioso to post his impressive qualifying lap in Qatar (per MotorcycleNews.com):
We were so good in practice because we have more grip than Honda and Yamaha when the tyre is new. We can use that positive point to make the lap time but when that grip goes down all the problems come out and I can’t keep the same speed in the middle of the corner.
The reason why we have more grip is the set-up and we use the grip in a better way at the start. But we use the tyre more and our problems come out and become bigger and bigger lap-by-lap.
That's a shame, especially considering that Ducati has four really good motorcycle riders in its garages, including two Americans: Nicky Hayden of the factory team, and Ben Spies of the Pramac satellite team—all of whom are on full-factory machinery for 2013.
Whether or not having four separate sets of data in order to develop the Desmo was the right move, it is clear that Ducati are throwing everything they have at the problem. If they can get the Desmo fixed, what already promises to be a very exciting MotoGP season could turn into a barnburner.