Alvaro Bautista heads into this weekend’s penultimate round of the 2023 WorldSBK Championship serving up his first match point with a strong chance he will wrap up his second title in Portugal.
The Spaniard has been the rider to beat from the opening round, Bautista reeling off a record 21 WorldSBK wins so far to stay clear of a rival offensive that counts just one remaining rider in Toprak Razgatlioglu.
However, despite their gulf in race-winning silverware - Razgatlioglu having to make do with only seven wins by comparison - the points’ margin between them has fluctuated wildly over the course of the year.
Indeed, Bautista had previously commanded a huge 99-point lead over Razgatlioglu at the half-way stage in the season, but failures to score in Imola and Aragon, plus mistakes in Most and Magny-Cours has seen the pendulum swing back towards the Turkish rider.
Sliding to 37 points as recently as the previous round in Aragon at one stage, it’s worth noting that had Razgatlioglu not suffered a dramatic delamination of his rear tyre in Most, the margin between them would have been only seven points at the same stage.
However, two confidence-boosting wins over the remainder of the Aragon weekend has seen Bautista restore his advantage to 47 points heading to Portimao this weekend.
It means three wins will all but give him the title, albeit just two points shy should Razgatlioglu follow him home in second for all three races. However, just a single slip up from the Yamaha rider would be enough to ensure the WorldSBK crown remains in Spanish hands.
The formbook suggests they will be evenly matched with Razgatlioglu winning twice last season at Portimao, with Bautista claiming just the one. Should these results repeat this year, Bautista would take a 44 point margin to Jerez with a maximum of 62 points available from the final weekend.
Either way, the pressure is on for both riders not to make a mistake, while the Portuguese venue is disparately suited to the Yamaha and Ducati machines, with the flowing, deep braking sections favouring the former, while the latter has the long home straight to take advantage of.
As we saw in 2022, the title battle might well hinge on who is bravest on the brakes into the tricky downhill right-hand first turn… and we all know which rider is most devilish on the anchors.