It is always theoretically possible for a factory Ducati rider like Michael Rinaldi to get on a podium in WorldSBK. The man himself, the 2017 Stock 1000 Champion for Ducati, has already scored four race wins in WorldSBK, and a total of ten podiums.
He’s also a particular potential threat at Motorland, where he scored his first WorldSBK race win as a Ducati privateer with the Go Eleven team in 2020.
But after his team-mate Alvaro Bautista swept in and dominated the Ducati garage in his return from Honda, and after a tough two day official Dorna test for Rinaldi, he left his final pre-season preparation quite dissatisfied - despite some optimistic words. Race weekend got a lot better.
Two days of working with his team, to turn his set-up around before the first round of the season, saw Rinaldi fourth in each of the three Motorland races. And often riding in close company with the obvious 2022 ‘Big Three’ of Bautista, Jonathan Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu.
Despite no podium, Michael’s three fourth places right behind the podium riders equalled a massive improvement on some people’s expectations, maybe even his own.
He actually supplied his own stat to back up the fact that his race weekend turned out pretty well.
“I go home with my best start in WorldSBK, which is the positive side of the weekend,” said Rinaldi. “We didn’t mess up like last year. For that reason I can go home quite satisfied. On the other side, if you look at the beginning of the race on Saturday, and even more today, I was overtaking Jonathan, one second behind Alvaro, and I was able to catch him because the feeling with the bike was great. I said, ‘I have arrived behind Alvaro, we are here, I do not want to fight with him until the last lap'.
'We made a gap but when the tyres dropped - all the bikes dropped the tyres - the problem was not on the exit but on the entry. When I enter the corner and the bike starts sliding it is impossible to turn - for me. If I try, the front closes and I almost crashed twice. So it was a little bit frustrating because you are there and when the bike is good you know you can fight - maybe for the win but at least for the podium.
"But with eight laps to the end you understand that something is changing a lot and the last laps are impossible to ride. I just need the same feeling with the bike from the first lap until the last lap. I am sure we would be able to fight always with the top three guys. But at the first round, I can be happy. I don’t complain.”
Rea said he was the best of the rest behind Bautista in both races on Sunday, but the best of the riders other than those perceived full season championship contenders that filled all the podium places saw Rinaldi another kind of best of the rest.
His consistency was remarkable, but as he said, “Consistency in the results but in the races, not. I think I was the fourth fastest overall, but if you look at the first part of the race I would say we were the same as Alvaro. A big, big congratulations to him and the team because they deserve to be at the top of the championship right now.”
Rinaldi had a period in the Superpole race when he was waving at Rea, with whom he had a some close contests. In response to this seeming rebuke Rinaldi joked, “I said, Hi”, to ribald laughter from the media.
He expanded on the theme of battling with Rea, saying, “When I fight with this guy I really, really enjoy. But for sure Johnny doesn’t allow me to go away. When he tried the move and he was on the limit, it’s OK, But when he tried one time he, for sure, didn’t make the corner. I almost can say, ‘OK, I don’t want to crash.’ But it is OK. Also with Toprak in the last corner, he touched my elbow and I lost the grip from the handlebar. But we are racing, I am not complaining.
"I also fight with three World Championship winning riders. I think out of those I am the only one who is not a World Champion; I am a European champion. So, it is OK. I like racing, and when it is in the limit, and it is clever, it is OK. It was just full adrenaline in this moment.”