The key Ducati MotoGP figure stepping aside when it may need him most

Ducati recently announced a major shake-up of its sporting leadership. With immediate effect, Paolo Ciabatti is stepping down as sporting director of Reparto Corse, the racing arm of the brand, to lead the new off-road structure from the position of general manager. His vacancy will be filled by Mauro Grassilli, who until now was in charge of marketing and sponsorship.

The element that best explains the nature of this move appears in the statement sent to the media but is somewhat camouflaged. In his new position, Ciabatti will no longer report to Dall’Igna, global general manager of the Borgo Panigale company, but directly to Claudio Domenicali, its CEO.

In other words, this change only further strengthens Dall’Igna’s position, whose area of influence goes far beyond the purely technical facet. Apart from the first three years since his arrival in 2014, in which Domenicali wanted to closely follow his signing, the engineer has been gaining more and more weight in sporting decisions. Now everything goes through him.

Ciabatti’s departure is particularly noteworthy because of the timing. Marc Marquez’s arrival at Gresini places him as one of the pieces on the board that is managed by the Bologna-based team, which, until now, had controlled its troops in an outstanding way. One of the fundamental pillars of this management success has always been Ciabatti, distinguished by his empathy and his ability to persuade people through dialogue.

Until now, one of his main contributions was to negotiate the Ducati riders’ contracts, usually a thankless task, but one that he always solved with hardly any conflict. If we take a look at Grassilli’s curriculum and his scarce experience in races – he only attended four or five grands prix a year – it is difficult to imagine him negotiating with Francesco Bagnaia or Jorge Martin, to name two of the riders he’ll have to negotiate with in the coming months.

“Paolo has always been very easy to work with. He is very solvent and polite, empathetic and also affectionate. He never lost his temper,” says Jorge Lorenzo, with whom Ciabatti struck up a close relationship following the Spaniard’s arrival at Ducati in 2017. “Starting this off-road project, I understand that Ducati needs someone who knows the brand and the level to lead it. With the departure of Paolo, the MotoGP division loses a lot, but the motocross division gains a key player.

“Paolo has always played the most human role, apart from the good relationship he has always maintained with the sponsors. That’s why all the riders love him because he acts as a link between them and Ducati. He has always built bridges of understanding,” explains Albert Valera, Lorenzo’s agent at the time, and now Martin’s agent. “Mauro is very good, but we will have to give him time to see if he is capable of developing that human side. As for sponsors, he has learned a lot from Paolo.”

Ciabatti has been a key figure in harmonising Ducati's rider line-up

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Ciabatti has been a key figure in harmonising Ducati’s rider line-up

Parallel to these future issues, one of the main issues to be dealt with by the new executive will be how Marquez will fit in, a real challenge if we take into account the reticence with which he has been received by the other riders at the manufacturer, especially the Italian ones. This job seemed tailor-made for someone of Ciabatti’s profile, who with his character and praxis managed to earn the trust of all of them.

However, Ducati seems to like to complicate its life and has preferred to leave the matter in the hands of Dall’Igna. understands that the engineer was one of the main supporters of the signing of Marquez by Gresini, while others, such as Ciabatti or Domenicali himself, were more reluctant to his incorporation, aware of the possibility of altering the harmony that was so hard to achieve within its rider ranks.

Recently Ciabatti acknowledged in a conversation with that Ducati was indeed considering Marquez as a valid option as Bagnaia or Martin for one of the two factory team bikes for 2025: “We are obviously thinking of Marc as a possible factory rider for then.”

“Paolo has always been very easy to work with. He is very solvent and polite, empathetic and also affectionate. He never lost his temper” Jorge Lorenzo

The competition for those two places is expected to be one of the fiercest in recent times. In addition to obvious candidates Bagnaia and Martin, a two-time world champion and the current runner-up respectively, we will also have to keep an eye on the recovery capacity of Enea Bastianini, after a year in which injuries did not allow him to show his best performance.

On paper, another of those who should compete for one of the two red Desmosedici is Marco Bezzecchi, while waiting to know the direction taken by VR46, and if it decides to renew its agreement with Ducati or change bike supplier. To this competition we must now add a figure as relevant as Marquez, who over the past few months has had run-ins with several of his new brand mates. It is not surprising that some of them may even feel betrayed by the arrival of the Spaniard.

Absolutely nobody believes that Gresini would have been able to close Marquez’s deal without Ducati’s approval. Or, at least, of those who want to find out what the six-time world champion is capable of doing with one of its bikes. In the face of the coming turmoil, many saw Ciabatti as the most suitable mediator, but any fires that might break out will no longer be his problem.

“This restructuring can be explained for two reasons,” someone familiar with the operation explained to this writer. “First of all, Ducati wanted to give importance to off-road, and Gigi is not interested in that [off-road]. Paolo is the best person to lead that new area. In addition, his departure from MotoGP will further strengthen Dall’Igna, because he removes a figure who could exercise a certain counterweight in his decisions.”

Ciabatti's departure strengthens Dall'Igna's hold within Ducati

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Ciabatti’s departure strengthens Dall’Igna’s hold within Ducati

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