Alvaro Bautista will make a much-anticipated return to Ducati in 2022 after competing for Team HRC during the last two WorldSBK seasons.
Bautista, who joined WorldSBK from MotoGP in 2019, has already been back aboard a Panigale V4 R thanks to a private two-day test in Jerez a couple of weeks ago.
Since joining Honda in 2020, Bautista has been winless - so has Honda it must be added - while it’s fair to say the Spaniard has also made too many mistakes.
Bautista has often been one of the quickest riders towards the latter part of races, and while that’s been a benefit at tracks such as Catalunya, Jerez and Portimao where he accumulated two podiums and five top five finishes in large due to late overtakes, it’s also been his downfall at other venues.
The former Honda man has suffered most of his crashes whilst going beyond the limit as we saw in the season opener in Aragon - he crashed moments after taking P4 on the final lap, while Misano and Assen were other examples.
Although Honda made their return as a full factory outfit in 2020 and therefore needed time to compete with the likes of Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati, Bautista was still surprised at the difficulties he faced given his exceptional start to life as a WorldSBK rider with Ducati.
"It has been much harder than I expected. When I came here I expected to be more competitive, especially after my first year in WorldSBK, that I was quite fast," said Bautista after last month’s final round.
"I felt good with the bike. But here I found completely new bikes and starting from zero was not easy. It was not easy to fight for the front positions.
"This second year I expected maybe a big improvement but that did not happen. Again, we started the season more or less like last year, so no big changes and we worked a lot on the bike."
When analysing Bautista’s return to Ducati and what should be expected, the 2019 season is obviously the place to start.
Bautista, who won the first 11 straight races, looked on course for one of the most dominating championship wins the series has ever seen.
Bautista was in a complete league of his own for most of those race wins as now six-time world champion Jonathan Rea was forced to accept second place.
However, things began to change around Jerez - more specifically the final race of three. After winning races one and two, Bautista suffered a crash at turn one whilst leading.
It was without doubt one of the season defining moments as Bautista started to lose his way as more crashes in Misano, Donington Park and Laguna Seca handed Rea the advantage.
Although Bautista took a couple more wins at Portimao and San Juan late on in the year, the former MotoGP rider was not the same rider, although injury did play a part too.
Bautista replaces Scott Redding who was one of the stars of 2021 next year, meaning it’s big shoes to fill for Bautista who will lead the team alongside Michael Rinaldi.
There’s no doubt that Bautista can once again be a race winner for Ducati, but in order to challenge current world champion Toprak Razgatlioglu and Rea, consistency will need to be added to the Spaniard’s repertoire next year, something he hasn’t shown throughout his three years in WorldSBK.
Qualifying is also an area where Bautista will need to improve going forward as he failed to secure a top ten in seven of the 13 rounds this season.
But with all that said, Bautista and Ducati are likely to be a force when it comes to race wins at the very least, espeically as the Bologna-based manufacturer arguably has the best overall package in WorldSBK.