(CNN)Back in June, on a sweltering Sunday at Italy’s majestic Mugello circuit, Danilo Petrucci fired his Ducati across the line for his maiden MotoGP victory.
The 28-year-old recalled the experience recently to CNN. “It was so incredible,” he smiled. “You have to go through all of the pit lane because Parc Fermé is at the end, and there was all the paddock waiting for me, just touching me. I felt really emotional.”
For any MotoGP rider, let alone an Italian, there is simply no greater prize than a win on a Ducati at Mugello. This is the two-wheeled equivalent of a Ferrari victory at Monaco. As Fratelli d’Italia belted out over the podium ceremony, Petrucci dissolved into tears of joy and disbelief.
But his triumph also has a fascinating backstory. At the post-race press conference, his voice choking with emotion, Petrucci dedicated the win to his teammate and fellow Italian, Andrea Dovizioso.
“He adopted me this winter, like a child,” Petrucci smiled as the post-race press conference roared with laughter. “Like a brother — a very, very big child; but this was unbelievable, a true teammate.”
Petrucci told CNN that he had reached a low point after the third race of the season, in Austin, and was beginning to think his future lay elsewhere. The self-deprecating Umbrian, in his first ever season for a factory team, knew things had to change.
“I’m in difficulties when I have to be an actor,” he explained. “When things go wrong, you can read it on my face, and also when things go in a good way. But I always put myself in a team in the last position.”
It was this tendency to put himself last that, he realized, was a key weakness. It was Dovizioso who helped him understand why.
“I was thinking, I have to be clear about the reality. I’m not 20 years old, I can’t say: ‘Okay, I haven’t won with Ducati, so maybe I’ll have another chance with Yamaha or Honda.’ My career from now, compared to many others here, is quite short,” he said.
“Andrea talked to me. He said: ‘You are very funny, you always say the truth; but sometimes saying the truth is not useful for you. You are not young anymore. If you continue thinking like this — that you are not capable of doing something, watching others like a target — you will not stay with Ducati next year.'”
Dovizioso told CNN that he recognized something in his teammate. “He doesn’t have the same experience as most of the riders in MotoGP, he came from a different championship, family, city — it’s a different way to arrive in MotoGP,” he explained.
“He was really fast, with a good speed, but he couldn’t keep the same speed for a whole season and in a lot of situations he didn’t approach things in the right way.”
The 33-year-old has been the closest challenger to Honda’s prodigious Marc Marquez for the past three seasons and puts his success down to a change in focus, partly from working with renowned psychologist Amedeo Maffei.
He said that the changes in his approach are “nothing special, small things,” but is effusive about their impact.
“You feel the effects, everywhere, everywhere. If you understand what is important for you, what is not important, you live in a better way, and you can transmit this to everybody.”
Dovizioso has had numerous teammates in his long career. “I’ve had a lot of experience with a lot of different riders, and you can see a lot of different ways to approach the same thing,” he said.
“And that affects a lot, for example, Marc (Marquez) is a big talent, a fast rider, blah blah blah, but one of his biggest advantages is his attitude — and that affects everything he is doing.”
Petrucci says his teammate’s guidance was all-encompassing.
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“Andrea gave a lot of advice to me but not simple advice, like ‘taking a corner like this,’ but just seeing how he lives; what is his feeling when he’s worried about a race, when he’s sad.
“I saw the human passion of Andrea and this helped me a lot. He helped me a lot to be a better person and a better rider, and the first thing is connected to the last.”
He was inspired to change. “From that point I said: ‘I don’t want to have regrets.’ Maybe next year I’ll work for my uncle and I’ll think: ‘F***, I haven’t given my all in the last year,’ and I didn’t want to have regrets. So I just put everything in and from that point the results changed.”
Since Mugello, Petrucci has managed a podium at the Catalan GP as well as a creditable 4th in Germany — both ahead of his teammate.
Dovizioso is not surprised by Petrucci’s subsequent success. “It’s just another confirmation,” he told CNN. “I don’t need it, but it’s clear what I did in the past three years, what I did differently and that it worked.
“Not many people believed in Danilo because he did two seasons in a similar way, but most of the people don’t know the details. I knew what he needed. So, I just tried to show him a few things and you see the result. Small things.”
Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse’s Sporting Director, is pleased with his riders’ harmonious relationship.
“I think Danilo is fast enough to be stimulating Andrea to go even faster. He’s not a comfortable teammate,” he told CNN. “Some people thought you might have somebody who is not pushing, but you can see lately sometimes he’s been even faster than Andrea, so it’s good.”
“The fact that they don’t hate each other, they don’t live separately from each other, that they can go out for dinner and discuss what they see, it’s definitely a different way from any other team, but it’s also helping us to develop the bike faster and to understand better where we can improve it.”
Dovizioso believes that the right mental approach is also vital to prolonging a career in MotoGP.
“At the beginning you push so hard to race in the world championship, but when you arrive here it’s not enough, you want to win, and to win is difficult.
So everything changes: your life, your approach, and the way you think, and that is very important — which way that change goes, because not a lot of riders are able to manage that in the right way.
“To become a champion, to stay with a foot on the ground and have a long career is very, very difficult, it’s not easy to manage that.”
Both Ducati riders will approach this weekend’s Czech MotoGP with optimism. This unusual double act will be hoping the second half of the season further confirms the value of small changes.
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