The simmering fight for the second vacant factory Aruba.it Ducati seat boiled over during the opening Catalunya WorldSBK race after leading protagonists Michael Ruben Rinaldi and Axel Bassani came to blows, with the former labelling the incident that dumped him out of the race as ‘a dirty move’.
With championship leader Alvaro Bautista’s deal with the Aruba.it Ducati squad signed and sealed for 2024, attention now turns to whether Rinaldi can hold onto his ride following a string of inconsistent results.
While there are several riders in the running to potentially replace him, arguably Bassani - currently the leading independent and ahead of Rinaldi in the standings - is currently the favourite choice.
Indeed, it is a rivalry that has gathered momentum in these early rounds, but their feud reached a new peak in Spain as Bassani - buoyed by having a loftier starting position following a red flag - went into battle with Rinaldi for second on the road.
After Rinaldi sat Bassani up at Turn 11 to reclaim the position, Bassani struck back next time round at Turn 10, the ensuing contact sending the Italian down. Bassani received a long lap penalty for the indiscretion, but Rinaldi was incensed at his countryman for a move that he says was deliberate.
“What happened that the first flying lap Axel tried to overtake me, and I was a little bit surprised because during all the practice, he was pretty slow compared to the top group. But anyway, maybe he want to do some part of the race in front, because if you see his time at the end of the race was pretty bad compared to the top. So, maybe he said, okay, I have a good feeling. I want to stay in front a few moments. Also because he’s an independent rider, I’m factory, for sure he has more fire to overtake me.
“I say ‘OK’. Then I re-overtake him, and when I re-overtake him there was room. We touched; was a hard overtake for me, but clean. That means that the rider doesn’t lose time. The rider doesn’t crash. The rider doesn’t go to the green. So, I don't know what happened to his brain because after I overtake him, I ride well and I arrive turn ten pretty good advantage.
“He ran into me, on purpose, because you can do this if you think I want to make him crash. So, he made me crash. There was no space. It’s not a place where you can overtake and you don’t think that there is someone on the outside, so he knows what he did.
“I fell on the ground, and actually my right hand hurts. I went to the medical centre and we’re lucky because the bones are okay, but I have more muscle that is fucked. So, I already made some treatment in the Clinica Mobile. I have to do many this evening. I don’t accept.”
Rinaldi - who now sits 33 points adrift of Bassani in the standings - was also critical of Bassani for not apologising to him after the race.
“He didn’t have the face to come and say sorry, which makes him even worse. The big difference between a great rider and top riders, which we see many, many times Toprak, Johnny, Alvaro touch each other, but they never do this.
“So, it’s a dirty move, but I think he lost more than me today. He lost more than me. So, I hope on Sunday I can race and our pace will be able to make me finish second, if nothing strange like today happens.”
Additional reporting by Ollie Barstow