Michael Rinaldi kicked of 2023 with a double podium for Ducati as part of two one-two results for Aruba.it on Sunday alongside reigning WorldSBK Champion Alvaro Bautista, who scored a cleap sweep of victories.
Axel Bassani and Philipp Oettl made it four Ducati riders in the top five at Phillip Island’s season opener, on a near disaster day for the likes of Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu. What does this mean for Rinaldi, and his prospects as a factory rider?
“I’m really happy about the work that Ducati is doing in MotoGP and Superbike,” he said, expanding the franchise. “It shows the game plan of Panigale is working,” he continued, ominously for some. “I have to watch the race but I think Lowes took out Toprak. They crashed. So, you take these two out and it’s not the true story but for sure, we see that concerning the times, Ducati is not that bad. The opposite side is when there is a lot of grip, we are struggling a little bit. So everybody has his card, and maybe this track helps us a little bit to work better with the tyre.”
When confronted with the question of why the Ducati is performing better than the Yamaha and Kawasaki, the recent traditional rivals, Rinaldi pointed out what he saw as some facts about the bikes he is racing against.
“I think that now there’s a lot of ‘clicks’ saying that Ducati is the best bike. I think that the difference is that the bike for sure is strong, but why you don’t say the pole position was made from a Yamaha? Why you don’t say that during the test, we may be first a few times? In the test, we were first in Portimao - in Jerez not.”
When asked about why Bautista was the fastest rider by some margin, Rinaldi said, “I know this because we are working in a different way. You cannot complain Ducati if we are working better than the others. So I think we don’t have a MotoGP against a 600. It’s a Superbike versus a Superbike. We are working just better in Borgo Panigale.
“What they have to do is working as strong as us.
‘It’s not that big difference that you see, because for sure, this is a special track and when we go in Indonesia it will be not as easy to be there. Johnny won the title six times with a Kawasaki, six years straight, and you never say, ‘This Kawasaki is unbeatable. What do you think about Ducati not fast and Yamaha is not fast?’ You only say this because now we are strong, but I think it’s not fair to say, ‘what do you do, what do you think of the strong point of Ducati?’ I think we are working good, like Kawasaki has done for six years, like Toprak has done when he was world champion. But I think it’s not fair to say that it’s only the bike, because yesterday there were three different bikes on the podium. We showed today that we were strong, but there are riders on the bikes. It’s not just the bikes. So I think for sure we are strong, like I said before, but it’s not David versus Goliath. We are fighting with the same weapons.”
Bautista was still out front in all three races at PI, and of a similar build to the diminutive Rinaldi, so machine wise, what are the main differences between the bikes, in the dry at least?
“I didn’t check his setup,” said Michael, “but the difference is not that big. The thing is that he’s riding fast, sometimes same time like me, but is saving more tyre. That gives him a little bit more margin than he needs here. Also in the race, when he was doing 1’30 high and I was doing ’30 high, the lap time was the same - but it wasn’t the same because I was at my personal 100 per cent and he was 95 per cent. I spoke with him [right after Race Two] and he said, ‘This pace for me is okay because nobody is at this pace. If you want to follow me, you will finish the tyre.’ It’s like this so I think I have to improve a little bit because he’s the world champion.
“He’s so fast on this bike, and I’m not at this level yet. So I think time will give me the confidence and the knowledge to stay there.”