It was down to earth with thankfully just a small Friday bump for Alvaro Bautista at Phillip Island, as the new WorldSBK Champion had a small crash on day one and tough first race on Saturday.
With limited tyre choices (harder ones than many wished for) and one wet rear option, he was not that comfortable in the wet, which first came along in FP3 on Saturday morning.
“Yeah, the feeling was a bit worse than this morning on the wet, but I was able to be there,” Bautista said about Saturday’s race. “When we switched to dry, the problem is that the setup is for wet. For me, with this bike, with the wet setup, it’s difficult to ride because front was like I lose the bike all the corners.”
It’s all to do with his weight, and the changes needed because of that between wet and dry conditions. “Yeah because for my weight, we need to go very, very soft on the wet - very, very soft. So for that, when we put dry, it’s like a big difference between the dry and the wet.
“So for me, it was very difficult to ride the bike. The bike start to move a lot. Also the rear grip at the beginning of the first lap was terrible, so I can’t put some weight on the tyre. I struggled a lot but at the end it’s what we have.”
Simply put, there was no opportunity mid race to change the springs and fork internals. “The springs and everything, you have to take out everything. So, they do a more pre-load, but at the end it’s like, you give me a lot of pre-load, the bike is like this [mimes bike sitting front high relative to the rear], but then when you arrive to the entry, it’s like this [mimes bike on its nose because the springs are so soft]. So, it’s not easy.”
In the wet FP3 session Bautista’s bike was doing a bit of weaving from the back end, as the tyre appears to move just a little bit to one side then the other and on and on, then go and back again - all happening when under power down that long straight.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Bautista confirmed. “Because I’m too light so the bike start to move. I’m light, so I don’t put a lot of weight. Also the bike is too soft, so I feel all the bumps. I think for me it’s worse because if you feel the movement and you want to use more strength [to damp it out], it’s worse… because then the bike [mimes the handlebars moving in his hands]. So, every time it happens, I just leave the bike. 300 kilometers per hour like this and not make strength is like something is going to be wrong, here.
How would Bautista have fared if the rains had continued, as he was inside the front group at the time of the wettest track?
“I think I was able to be there in the front group,” he affirmed. “I think lap by lap, for sure for me was just better because I start to feel better the tyres. So, it’s like I get some temperature on the tyres and my feeling was improving lap by lap. I prefer wet in that conditions than dry in this condition we finished. For me it was really difficult to ride like this. It’s the problem that we have with my weight, style, and an issue with the bike.
“The bike has to be perfect on the setup for me that allows me to force and to ride. If the setting is not perfect, with my weight and my riding style, I struggle a lot. But the problem is that for the wet, we need to go maybe too much softer than the rest. So normally we do one step. The rest maybe make some pre-load, but they keep the springs. But they are to change front and rear spring always, because if I keep the same spring but just take out some pre-load, the bike doesn’t make this. This is the only disadvantage for me, but I want to improve so I don’t complain about that, because I’m light. It’s a problem we have. We have to resolve as best as possible, because if we find more situations like this in the future, we need to be a bit more competitive to don’t lose too much.”