Aruba.it Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista celebrated a clean sweep of the WorldSBK top step at Phillip Island’s season opener last weekend.
With three races wins and a 28 point championship lead over second placed rider, Andrea Locatelli - who is not seen as his number one rival in 2023 - Bautista could be excused for being emphatic in his answer to the question of whether PI had been a perfect race weekend.
“Yeah, we can say has been a perfect weekend because three races, but three very different races. I’m happy because I felt good on each one and I can be competitive in each one.”
When asked what made him strong in this particular track, where he won all three races in his first rides with Ducati way back in 2019, the Spaniard said: “I don’t know. Maybe I like fast corners. This track only has two slow corners, the rest are fast. So, I don’t know if maybe for that.
“But this season, if you see the winter test, I was quite fast in all the tracks so I don’t think that it’s only in this track.
“I think I made a step forward also because I know much better the bike,” he continued of his updated Panigale V4R. “I know much better the tyres with this bike, the reference. The new bike gave me a little bit more of an easy ride on the exit from the corners, so it’s the combination of everything. I think we did a step forward from last year. We’ll see in other tracks, but in the moment, in the tracks I rode, Jerez, Portimao and here, I was quite fast, quite competitive, so let’s see.
“I look forward for Indonesia because last season… not that I struggled… but I didn’t feel that I can fight real fight for the victories. So I look forward to go there and see how is my feeling there.”
The relative mid-corner weakness, that seems to be part and parcel of Bautista and the V4R, is still there, but the smoother engine allows Bautista to overcome that one small negative in the Ducati’s make up. At least with such a small and light rider as Bautista on board.
“The good thing is that with this new engine character, it allows me to be a bit more slower in mid-corner so I don’t need to make more corner speed because when open the gas, it’s like more easy exit from the corner,” he explained. “We didn’t improve the weak point, but in the other side, we improved a little bit the exits so that allows me to don’t make too much corner speed. I don’t need to make the bike turn more through the braking areas.”
It is only the first round of the year but Bautista is already 31 points in front of Rea and 39 in front of Toprak. A big PI success for the man in red but a real blow for his main championship rivals.
“Well, this weekend I was lucky because I was quite competitive and for me it was important,” said Bautista. “It’s like last season. It’s important to just try to get the maximum every race, every weekend. Here I think we were a bit better than them so we get the maximum. Then they did some - not mistake because Toprak crashed because of another rider, I think [Bautista was speaking in the immediate post race media scrum]. I didn’t see the image, but I think this. And also Jonathan this morning [Aegerter ran Rea wide at T4 in the Superpole Race] had trouble with another rider, then in Race Two I didn’t know what happened with him. But we maximised the weekend.
“I don’t think that this season will be between we three, because there are more riders like Locatelli, like Rinaldi, that they will be in the fight for the podium, for the victory. So, this season, if you don’t have a good day, you will have more riders in-between. It’s not like last season 1, 2, 3/1, 2, 3/3, 2, 1/2, 1, 3 and all the races like that. I think this season is different. So you have to even be more precise, more focused and try to make less mistakes.”
Three wins from three is already perfect in terms of results, but is there anything Bautista can change to improve his set-up again?
“For sure I would like to improve the stability exiting from the corner, because the bike moves a lot,” he admitted. “I think it’s also the combination bike and me with the way it’s not easy to put some load on the bike. And also on the change direction because I have to move too much on the bike. Then the bike is like up many times in the change direction but because I’m small, I have to move maybe more with my body. But difficult to resolve that problem because I think it’s the combination. We try in the winter test and also here to try to make the bike more calm. Sometimes I felt, but maybe you lose a bit of turning or a bit of grip. So at the end, you have to find the best combination possible.”
Many people had Bautista down for three wins before we all left for Australia, and many more after the official tests on Monday and Tuesday ahead of the race weekend. But rain on Saturday was a point of doubt for Bautista himself. He said he wasn’t sure he could take three wins.
“Especially yesterday with the rain that nobody had the reference, so I didn’t expect nothing. At the end, I won. Today… maybe. In Race Two I knew that I was quite consistent on my pace, especially in the last lap I can manage the tyre consumption so I had more chance to fight for the win in the long race. In the Superpole race, I expect maybe more battle than I had this morning because at the end, everybody was on soft tyres and I saw that many riders can go fast for a few laps with the soft tyre.
“Then races are races. It’s what I say always. When you make a test it’s one thing, but in the races it’s another thing. But, I didn’t expect. Not that I didn’t expect to win three races, I just didn’t have expectations. I just go there and take the maximum.”
It seems almost nailed on that WorldSBK will go back to Imola in 2023, a track that Bautista was not keen on when he raced there. He has some reservations about such an old school track even now.
“I raced in 2019, but for me it’s a bit in the limit about the dangerous, because we have the wall very close, so you don’t have too much run-off area in so many places,” said Bautista. “So for me, it’s very dangerous track. The layout at the end, you have to adapt, and working with the bike you can go fast or less fast, but for me, if they can improve the safety it will be much better. But to have the wall so close to the track, sincerely for me, for that reason I prefer to don’t race there. But at the end, if we race there, we have to go do. Just cross fingers and don’t happen nothing.”