Rea won all six of his WorldSBK championship on the trot, and although he lost out to both Toprak Razgatlioglu and Bautista over the last two seasons, the Kawasaki rider remains the last rider to successfully defend his crown. 

In fact, Rea is the last world champion to do so since Troy Corser in 2004/05, which shows just how difficult it is to remain champion in Superbike racing. 

After Razgatlioglu failed to retain his title in 2022, the next rider attempting to do so is Bautista after the Ducati rider took a commanding championship win with one round left to spare. 

But while Rea gave the Spaniard credit for his superb run of results in 2022, the Northern Irishman was keen to point out the challenge he will face.

Speaking on the Paddock Pass Podcast, Rea said: “That #1 plate is heavy. I know that from experience. Arguably, 2016, the year after winning was my most challenging year at Kawasaki. 

“The first one went very smooth, but in 16 it was challenging. Also last year, with Toprak, I saw a different Toprak and at the back-end of the season he was back to normal or made a big improvement, but it changes thing. 

“There’s expectation and there’s no hiding anymore. You’re the guy and you have to be the guy. That’s in every condition - wet, dry, cold - but he had it pretty much covered. 

“It’s unfair to say one weekend changed anything for him. He had such a championship gap at the end of the season.”

Rea also detailed what improvements Kawasaki needs to make in order to challenge the likes of Yamaha and Ducati more consistently, after 2022 saw them struggle for grip late on in the main races. 

Over one lap Rea was stronger than anyone as he claimed the most pole positions last season, while the Superpole Races largely saw him remain competitive. 

However, when it came to the feature-length races Rea was unable to keep pace on many occasions during the final few laps, as grip in hotter conditions was a key problem.

Asked whether the prospect of battling it out with Razgatlioglu and Bautista again in 2023 excites him, Rea added: "Yeah it really does. Towards the back-end of last year we were really getting there. We made some changes in the middle of the year that were making things better for us. 

"I was just suffering in the last laps of races. Then, you’d think we would really struggle at Phillip Island with tyre consumption but Race 2, although it was cut short, I felt like I had so much traction. 

"We’ve really addressed some of the issues with the bike but there’s still more to iron out, especially fighting in those last laps in hot conditions which is an area I think we can improve our bike. 

"It’s really hard to work on that in the winter because we’re not going to find temperatures in the 40/45 degrees on-track. 

"But we know the areas we need to target and try to be there. I know for one-lap pace or hanging it out in the Superpole Race I can be there but the common denominator has been the last few laps of the main races."