‘He’s too good for World Superbikes’
It’s a comment that has been readily offered up in our forums regarding Alvaro Bautista ever since it was announced he would be switching to the series from MotoGP. Certainly on paper his 14 wins from the 19 starts he has thus far made offers credence to that assertion.
It’s also a veiled yet somewhat pejorative indictment of WorldSBK as a whole, one that errs on the side that – Bautista’s evident talent notwithstanding – any MotoGP rider can succeed at World Superbike level.
Yet it would be glib to assume Bautista’s runaway success is solely down to him being a MotoGP-honed rider - this is a rider that has found his sweet spot in a happy place… and that’s worth more than a few tenths.
You needn’t spend long with Alvaro to recognise this. Smiling broadly, animated when he talks, Alvaro is engaging and enthusiastic about the new lease of life his career is enjoying as a factory Aruba.it Ducati rider in WorldSBK.
“Now I feel like a star,” he tells Crash.net in an exclusive interview when describing a visit to the factory in Borgo Panigale. “I do the same, but I feel like a star.”
It wasn't always like this but Bautista’s well-earned star quality has gone a long way to reversing any misgivings he may have had about trading MotoGP for WorldSBK.
Indeed, negative connotations towards racing in WorldSBK were more down to the inelegant manner in which he emerged as the rider left standing once the tunes stopped during the annual game of MotoGP ‘musical chairs’ - at least compared with some of the riders that remained in place - despite it being one of his strongest seasons to date.
Nevertheless, once any bitterness about bidding ‘adios’ to the premier class subsided, it became clear Bautista found himself in a very profitable position in WorldSBK, where he was elevated to factory Ducati status aboard its new, much-vaunted V4 R Panigale.
A few months and 14 trips to the top of the podium later and Bautista doesn’t even hesitate when he is asked whether he is missing MotoGP at all.
“No,” he declares immediately and emphatically. “I work exactly the same as [I did] in MotoGP, I do exactly the same things at home, in the box, I prepare the race weekend like in MotoGP.
“[But] Here I am winning so I don’t miss MotoGP. Maybe I miss the fact we race more often (over the year), but here to make three races in one weekend I prefer, because I like to race.”
With the Ducati V4 R Panigale borne from the silhouette of its Desmosedicis, not only was it logical for Ducati to pluck Bautista from the MotoGP programme to give it an eye-catching talisman at the forefront of its most ambitious WorldSBK programme in years, but it also meant he arguably required less ‘adapting’ than previous converts.
Indeed, Bautista accepts this MotoGP-inspired ethos has played a factor in his seamless transition to Superbikes, revealing he isn’t sure if he’d have been similarly competitive had he debuted with a Panigale R twin instead.
“I think this bike is totally different from the last bike [Panigale R], this bike is coming from a MotoGP base - the V4 is not a copy but it is coming from that technology. For me I find here is a very similar bike to MotoGP.
“It has not been difficult for me to adapt, even with the different tyres and suspension because the base is similar to MotoGP.
“With last year’s bike, I don’t know if I could be competitive or not because that bike was very different, but fortunately I am here this season and the bike is this one. I fit very well.
“I felt very comfortable because I start to enjoy the bike. Australia was the first time I started to enjoy my training with the bike and yeah for sure I didn’t expect anything but I didn’t expect to win three races of the season but it was a consequence of my feeling with the bike.”
A perfect storm for Bautista, he maintains he is doing nothing different in terms of preparations, approach and training than in MotoGP, but while he feels as though the Ducati Panigale V4 R is an extension of himself, he says he is often alarmed with how energetic he appears when watching himself on playback.
“It is difficult to explain,” he continues. “It is like the bike and me are only one. The feeling, you want to go in and the bike follows you, you want to brake hard and the bike helps you. I don’t know how to describe it.
“When I am riding I feel the bike is moving, for braking I cross the bike and I slide a lot but when I watch me on TV I say ‘bad’, how can I ride like that?
“There’s all this all this movement but I don’t feel that bike on the move, not a lot… the feeling with the Ducati is smooth, very fluid but when you are looking from the outside it looks like a disaster.
“Many times, my team ask me if I am uncomfortable with the bike (pauses before making a ‘waaaaaah’ noise, crosses his arms over and laughs) because it’s moving a lot but I didn’t feel it!”
Whilst Bautista’s dominance has been tempered by costly errors in Jerez and Misano whilst leading, he is open about how much he is enjoying the renewed attention he is receiving in World Superbikes, regardless of the success or the mistakes.
Now a firm fan and factory favourite – a boon for a rider who has spent much of his career on satellite machines – the mental boost of winning on track is a powerful validation of abilities that were respected at best, but all too often overlooked in the competitive cauldron of MotoGP.
“I am doing exactly the same as in MotoGP, my preparation, my work I do inside the box; everything is the same. For sure, I am enjoying doing the work, doing the races, the competition, but here I can win so I can enjoy it even more.
“When I came here everybody asked me about expectations, but I said ‘expect to not expect anything’ – I came here with nothing in the mind, I discovered everything…”
Is Bautista too good for WorldSBK?
Maybe, maybe not but WorldSBK has certainly been verygood for Bautista…