As one wag said to Alvaro Bautista as soon as he sat down in the WorldSBK media debrief room at Catalunya, ‘Welcome back to 2019’.
He was, of course, alluding to the fact that in the early stages of 2019, in his rookie WorldSBK season, and on the Ducati V4R, Bautista did not just beat his rivals, he beat them by huge margins - as he did in Race One at Barcelona. He slowed up over the line but his real advantage was half a second a lap for 20 laps. A little more, actually. But Bautista does not agree it is just like 2019 again.
“No, no because in 2019 we didn’t race in Catalunya,” he said, for starters. “Today, this kind of race depends, I think you can see more the ‘hands’ of the riders, especially with tyre consumption. It’s not a question of go fast. It’s a question of working for the race pace.
"Working not only with the bike, but also with the riding style. I’m happy because I can adapt to this kind of conditions. Yesterday in FP2, I had a really good feeling because I was very smooth with the gas, with the tyres. I was even fast with this kind of riding. So, I’m happy because I can adapt to this track with these conditions.
"In the other side, in Superpole, because we worked with the electronics of the bike for the race pace, we missed something in the two fast single laps. I was not able to go faster. So, now next thing we have to do is just try to change a little bit the bike, especially on the electronics side, and also in my style for tomorrow’s Superpole race because it’s a different history. Tomorrow is more to go fast than take more care of tyres. Today I'm happy because I feel good with the bike. I enjoyed every single lap, especially at the beginning when I took the lead.”
That was his period of maximum risk, because he could not predict the actions of others. “It was a difficult moment because I didn’t want to push hard to not stress the tyres. But, at the same time, I have to keep the other riders behind. I tried to close the doors. It was not easy. A few laps when I saw some tenths difference between me and the riders behind, I start to be more relaxed and I can do better lines. I start to go faster and faster. So, I’m happy with today.”
Bautista knew that Razgatlioglu was right behind him for a time, but he slowly slipped back, before all that stress on the tyres of his pursuer told on him badly, and his lap times went off a cliff. He finished fifth, in the end. “The problem of this track is the last ten laps, or the last five laps are the key of the race,” said Bautista.
If you use the tyres too much at the beginning, then you are very lost, like Toprak. He was second behind me and then, boom. He dropped a lot. This is important. For that, I say this kind of track, this kind of conditions, you have to go slow to go fast. I’m lucky that we found a really good setup in the bike and I can adapt myself to these conditions.”
The setup was the key? “It’s the combination,” said Alvaro. “At the end, yesterday for example, in FP1, we tried different setup in the electronics, but at the end, I didn’t change my riding style in the morning. Then the engineers saw that the consumption of the tyre didn’t change. It was too high. Then in the afternoon, I said, ‘OK Now, let me do what I think I have to do.’ I did, and I went faster, more consistent, more laps, and the consumption was almost half the tyre consumption. So at the end, it’s a combination between the bike setup but also your style - your hand.”
Surprisingly for a rider who ran away so clearly, Bautista was only fifth in Superpole. He explained why. “Because I missed some power exiting from the corner, and it was too much control on the TC. So, even if I wanted to open more gas, the bike just stopped and don’t make way. It’s a pity, but at least we know. In tomorrow’s Superpole race we have to readjust a little bit the bike to allow me to go faster, because in ten laps, it doesn’t matter about tyres.”
After all the rancour and accusations of deliberate cheating made against Rea at Magny-Cours just two weeks ago, things between Alvaro and Rea were not exactly jovial, but respectful. “Yeah, but also yesterday in the Safety Commission we spoke with each other like nothing happened in the past. It’s what I said. Before that incident, we were not best friends. We respect, because all the riders respect the other riders, but I told after the race in Magny Cours the relationship doesn’t change outside of the track because at the end, we respect. We just respect each other and today we just made congratulations like we did in the past and like we will do in the future.”
When asked if he was the only person who could lose the World Championship now, rather than have one of his rivals step up to beat him, Bautista said his clear advantage at Catalunya is experience. “Today was… different, because the conditions, the track,” he said, “I know very well. I raced many times in the past here, so I have really good reference in this track. I know too much how to manage the conditions because in MotoGP I remember many, many races that I start slow and then I was passing many riders. So, I have this experience in this track.
"It’s a different situation. I don't think this will be the same in the next races. Sincerely, at this moment, I’m just thinking about tomorrow’s warm up to find an improvement from the bike to go fast in Superpole race. So, more than the warm up, it’s stupid to think about. So, it’s just better to be focused on what we have right now and try to get the maximum every time I go out to the track.”
And on an extra-WorldSBK matter he was asked about Marc Marquez taking pole at Motegi, and if he ws surprised about it. “Surprised, not exactly,” he said. “In the wet, anything can happen. He felt on the wet conditions more similar physically like the other. He has not to do a lot of strength. So at the end, he risk - like always - and he got the pole position. I’m so happy for him because for sure, this will give him good power for the next ones.”