After a stunning WorldSBK battle, the likes of which we saw on several occasions between both men in 2019, Rea powered home for the first win of 2022. 

The Kawasaki rider, who wasted no time in getting to the front after passing both Bautista and pole sitter Toprak Razgatlioglu on lap one, had to fight extremely hard to hold off the home favourite. 

Bautista and Rea exchanged the lead throughout the beginning and middle part of the race, before a showdown on the final lap saw both riders use their strengths to their advantage. 

Rea managed to put over six tenths into the Ducati rider during lap 16 and 17 of the 18 lap race, however, Bautista came fighting back as he gained the lead on the entry to turn 16. 

But as was the case throughout, Rea used his ZX-10RR’s better cornering to slice his way back underneath his former rival, in what’s likely to be a sign of things to come. 

Speaking after the race, an extremely happy Rea said: "It was a nice race and an exciting one. I really enjoyed the battle. I think we really showed the strength of our bike. 

"It was very agile, stable on the brakes, and I could change direction. Behind the handlebars I was smiling like a kid. 

"Every lap; every time he came past I was excited. The work we did in the off-season, focusing on the softer tyres in the SCX family, is really bearing fruit now. We were really borderline with the tyre choice and honestly I wasn’t really sure. 

"In the past we’ve never made the SCX work in this kind of conditions. I was able to be very fast until the end with a soft tyre, in a very cool temperature. So big credit to my team, Kawasaki and Showa because it was a really big win for us to do that. 

"Not just to win the first round of the championship but the way we did it. We have two more opportunities tomorrow that we have to maximise. But today I am really happy." 

Top speed a problem for Rea?

One area where Bautista had a sizable advantage was top speed, something that’s not an unknown problem for Rea as he’s had to battle against superior top-end power from the Italian manufacturer for the last three seasons in particular. 

While the six-time WorldSBK champion was able to defend from Razgatlioglu during the early stages as the latter’s Yamaha R1 has a similar top speed, Bautista did a lot of his damage on the back-straight, regularly closing over two tenths of a second. 

"Not much we can do on the straights," added Rea. "The Ducati is a rocket, but it doesn’t mean it’s the best package. You could see I could put the bike where I wanted. Power isn’t everything but it’s free passes you know."

Is Bautista back and ready to launch a serious WorldSBK title challenge?

For Bautista, race one was a welcome return to the front of WorldSBK, following two tough and disappointing seasons with Honda. 

The Spaniard was aware that a switchback was coming from Rea after taking the lead, but even so, the former MotoGP rider was unable to stop Rea after losing the front. 

Bautista’s second place finish is his first top two result since Qatar 2019. 

"Fighting again for the top positions was very important for me after the last two seasons," claimed a smiling Bautista. "Today was important for me to finish the race. We have been doing a really good weekend up until now and for the race we just wanted to finish and get some confidence. 

"For a long time without fighting for the top positions, to be there you have to be calm and build up some confidence. It was a very spectacular race for the victory. 

"Even if I didn’t want to fight too much, there was fighting. With Jonathan we passed each other many times, but sincerely I didn't want to risk much more. 

"I tried until the last corner because I can pass him on the long straight but he has a lot of acceleration in every corner. On the last lap I tried to close the corner as much as I could but I lost the front and I did half the corner with the front sliding."

Bautista will need to keep this level of form going if he’s continuously going to battle with Rea and Razgatlioglu, however, pre-season and this weekend have so far suggested he has the key needed to unlock a first world title for Ducati since 2011.