Now fifty-one years old, Davide Tardozzi began his Superbike racing career in 1988, the inaugural year of the Championship. Since then he has become both a familiar and a highly respected face in the World Superbike paddock, although it’s been as the Ducati factory team manager rather than rider.
Irrespective of whether the rumors of his mercurial temperament are true, and how much of a part that played in the results, it’s undeniable that under his management Ducati’s factory World Superbike team achieved a remarkable eight World Championships.
Paddock gossip has cast Tardozzi as somewhat irascible and outspoken, but his undeniable competitive streak makes him an uncompromisingly tough boss when it comes to his riders-unless they happen to be winning. In Michel Fabrizio’s inaugural season one only had to look into the Ducati pits and see Michel alone on one side, wiping the bugs from his own helmet visor-and then glance across at Troy Bayliss surrounded by mechanics and assistants-to wonder if there was any favoritism. Tardozzi didn’t hide his feelings. "Michel hasn’t won any races yet" he said matter-of-factly and with a shrug of his shoulders.
Tardozzi’s dramatic departure from Ducati at the end of last season left the quietly spoken (but determined) Chief Engineer and Technical Director, Ernesto Marinelli, in the hot seat-while Tardozzi ended up a few garages down the pit lane at BMW. It was, in some ways, a logical move for the man who had arguably accomplished everything he possibly could with Ducati. Troy Bayliss, clearly one of the most extraordinary talents ever to throw a leg over a racebike had retired, and that must have left Tardozzi feeling as though it would all be downhill from that point on. Both BMW factory riders-Troy Corser and Ruben Xaus-had worked with him before, giving him a chance to craft a new team to his specifications-and that must have represented an irresistible challenge to such a competitor.
So far, the 2010 World Superbike season has been a bit of an eye-opener to say the least. Team BMW, having floundered in 2009 their first season, have started to come good. Monza’s recent results saw a sixth place finish from Xaus and then in Race two a podium from Troy Corser-BMW’s first in Superbike competition. It’s perhaps an overstatement to attribute the BMW team’s improvement entirely to Davide Tardozzi as they’d clearly been on that path anyway, but nevertheless, his arrival at the team has clearly not hurt and surely some credit should go to him.
On the other hand, the Xerox Ducati factory squad has uncharacteristically floundered. The season started out well enough with three podiums at Phillip Island and a win from Haga at Valencia, but other than that the results have been very poor otherwise. No one seems quite sure why things haven’t gelled but Marelli did say recently "we’re going through a very difficult phase, perhaps the most difficult that I remember. But the important thing is to react and never give up, and in this respect the whole team is very strong."
Both riders have clearly not been comfortable on the Xerox Ducati 1198. Haga has lacked grip at the rear, while Fabrizio has not only lacked feel at the front but also suffered brake issues that even had him retire from one race.
Noriyuki Haga-the nearly-man from last season-was heard to remark at Assen recently "it’s very disappointing of course because this year, more than ever, it’s important to be consistent, there are so many of us fighting for the positions that count and it’s becoming more and more of a battle."
Having said all that, it’s still early days in the season and the mighty Xerox Ducati factory team will certainly turn things around, hopefully sooner rather than later. But I and many others can’t help but wonder what changed, and of course the obvious one is Davide Tardozzi. The chemistry within a race team is obviously fairly fragile and Tardozzi as head chef clearly had the recipe just right.