The tension in the air around Ducati's staff at the Abu Dhabi launch of the Panigale 1199 is a little unexpected. This is, after all, the most talked about two-wheeler of the year. It has the most oversquare engine ever seen in a production motorcycle, with huge 112mm pistons (the biggest of any current production car or motorcycle) matched to a stubby 60.8mm stroke. The electronics package is the most advanced we've ever seen, it's a full 37.5lb lighter than BMW's S1000RR, it makes a massive 192bhp, it looks stunning... what doubts could there be?
No real doubts, as it turns out, just the natural trepidation at finally revealing to the world how the Panigale performs. This is not just financial, although Ducati has never before spent as much money developing a single model, it's also philosophical, in theory risking the core values of one of the world's most powerful brands.
To many people Ducati means a steel trellis frame, a certain engine character and quite incredibly, a development line directly traceable to the 1980 Pantah 500 SL, one of the last creations of legendary engineer Fabio Taglioni. The 1199 is different. The frame, if you can call it that, comprises a diminutive aluminium monocoque attached to the front of the engine, and that's about it. A lightweight subframe supports the seat while a magnesium casting keeps the fairing and dash in place.
The engine is still a 90-degree V-twin, but the cams are chain driven, the crankcase operates in a near vacuum to reduce air pumping losses and the crank bearings are plain. The company's signature desmodromic valve operation is not only retained, it's this which facilitates the use of the huge valves with their massive potential gas flow at the high revs an engine with a stroke as short as this can achieve.
And then there's the electronics. There are three basic modes to choose from: Wet, Sport and Race, each of which triggers a raft of adjustments across the bike. The ABS system not only changes its level of intervention with each mode, it also distributes braking force front and rear differently. The traction control settings vary with the modes, as do the suspension's rebound and compression damping at both ends. There's also an engine braking function which applies some throttle to control how much the rear wheel slides or rotates when you're braking hard, to enhance stability into a turn.