Alvaro Bautista recorded his strongest WorldSBK weekend aboard the HRC this season knocking at the door of the top-five consistently at Magny-Cours.
Honda made some small but definite steps in France, but full competitiveness against the increasingly impressive Yamahas, ageing but still race-winning Kawasaki and the occasionally strong Ducati is still a dream.
Maybe a dream that Ducati-bound Bautista will never see realised, but as it stands a sixth in race two was about the top level of the Honda, according to the Spaniard himself this weekend.
“I think right now was our maximum,” he stated on Sunday afternoon. “Today we were close to top-five, but no more. In fact, in the Superpole Race I gained seven positions, but it’s what I say to my mechanics on the team. Start from 14th, finish seventh, now start seventh, he can reach the podium. But no because it’s our maximum. So, I try just to keep consistency on the race.
“Today it’s true that we did some small change on the setup, about spring front load and position of the bike, and sincerely today I had better feeling than yesterday. In the morning with cold conditions I was able to be faster than other times, but also on the hot conditions in the race two I was more consistent and the difficulties we had during all the season, today I felt a bit less.
“With the electronics, we work quite well today because we make some small change from yesterday as well. For me it was easier to ride. Sincerely, today I felt more or less the best feeling in all the season so far. So, it’s very positive. But even with the best feeling, the best conditions, the maximum performance, we just keep sixth place, or maximum five. It’s not enough. We want more. But I’m happy because right now we are reaching our maximum, so this is nice. We need now make an improvement with the bike, to do next step.”
There were more Japanese Honda staff on site at Magny-Cours than at most races in 2021, but that is also to do with the Covid situation. They are also in constant video contact, in some ways.
“Yes. You see maybe because you had to see in the past races, but they came to Aragon and Estoril, but they had to go back (because of Covid regulations). So here come back again. Basically, we have all the races in contact with Japan. In fact, we have a camera in the box live with Japan to have meeting and everything. But for me, it’s important to have them inside the box because they can feel, they can help to the rider and not only the words, just expression and everything. So it’s easier and for sure for them it’s more data for the future.
“For these Covid conditions, we need some races without them, but at the end they don’t make in the weekend of the race nothing in the bike, but they get the information and then explain to the engineers in Japan and together the information is more real than only webcam.”
Bautista, like his teammate Leon Haslam, will test next week in Spain, at Jerez. Another important one.
“Next week we have a test in Jerez with some new items from HRC,” the Spaniard explained. “So, it will be very important for the future, for the development of the project. It will be two important days but I’m not sure if we can use, if we will have ready for use in the last races.
“For sure, next races, Barcelona, Jerez, and Portimao are tracks that I like a lot. I went very fast in the past. So, I trust that even with this bike, maybe I can be closer than the last races from the top. Look forward for those races, but before we have the test and it will be important to have information.
“About the relationship with Honda, it’s really well. I speak with Kuwata-san many times. He was also in Navarra as well. The relationship is really good. We are pushing together to reach a good result before I leave next season. They support me 100%, and I’m doing my best for them. So, the relationship is really, really nice. They know that they have to work, so they don’t say, ‘Our bike is perfect and you have to push.’ They know the problems they have. They are working really hard. I only have good words for them because I cannot say that they aren’t trying 100%. I’m happy and I’m very good with the Honda guys.”
The webcam mentioned earlier is in the team truck most of the time, but at tests, it is in the garage. “Not in the box,” clarified Bautista before the Big Brother conspirators get too excited. “It’s in the truck. They make a meeting every practice after the practice. They make the meeting with all the engineers and sometimes the riders. But it’s not the same. Even if the Japanese are here, they make the meeting as well with the Japanese. Here in the races , not in the pitbox, but in the private test we have. They see everything.”
As a one-time runaway championship leader for Ducati in 2019, Bautista can only look on enviously at the fight for the title between Razgatlioglu and Rea. He said, “It’s nice, but I would like to be there with them. I think Jonathan has more experience. He tries the maximum without making mistakes. I think he did some mistakes during this season, but I think because he didn’t expect to have Toprak so consistent and so strong. So I think now he is thinking more about that Toprak can win, so he is trying to get the maximum. Especially in this track, Toprak is very fast. In the past was very fast. So, let’s see, but it’s nice. Sincerely, I don’t know which one can win because I see both very strong and with a lot of possibility, both of them.”