Aruba.it Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista signed off his WorldSBK championship-winning season with a double win on Sunday at Phillip Island.
The small man in the red Ducati leather suit became the biggest presence in the WorldSBK paddock this year by winning the championship one round before the end of the season. At the final round, with Christmas cards and trinkets on sale in the local shops at Phillip Island, Bautista pushed on, as a true champion should, to give himself two big presents to end the year with.
His Superpole and race two wins at Phillips Island were both very Alvaro - clever and unconventional in a wet but drying Superpole race and very fast with just a touch of the fortune any new champion needs to be in the right place out front at the right time to win the final red flagged race of 2022.
He has won 16 races this year, two more than the next best challenger Toprak Razgatlioglu and ten more than the rider who finished closest to him in race two, Jonathan Rea. Sunday was better than day one for Bautista, who was only fifth in the wet and dry opener.
“Better than yesterday because yesterday I had not good feeling,” Bautista said on Sunday afternoon. “When it’s wet conditions, I have to change a lot the bike because for my weight, my riding style, I have to change a lot the bike. So, all the springs on the suspension and everything.
When we put the dry tyres with that suspension, the bike is incredible. Yesterday was not a good day. I’m so proud about me and my choice in Superpole race.”
It was Bautista’s choice alone to go out on slicks on a still wet circuit for a potentially slow and sketchy ten laps.
“Yes, my choice,” he affirmed. “Nobody had to use the slicks.”
Nobody told Alvaro not to use slicks, but the looks on his team members’ faces told him all he needed to know. “Well, they didn’t tell me, but they thought for sure! But fortunately, I have a lot of experience here in this kind of weather in this track with the MotoGP, so I knew that after a lot of rain, it could be dry in a few laps. In fact, it happened. I’m so proud.
“You have to have bigger ‘cojones’ to start like I started.
“Sincerely, when I exit from the box, I thought there was less water, but on my exit I was behind [Michael] Rinaldi and I saw all the spray, water. I said, ‘Shit!’ Before exit from the box, I talked to Giulio [Nava, his crew chief]. The bike was already with the wet setup. I just arrived to the grid, and said give me the dry setup. ‘Are you sure? You see that it rained a lot and now it’s completely super wet.’ I said, ‘Believe me. Put me the dry setup.’ He said, ‘Okay.’
“When I arrived to the grid, I had some doubt because too much wet. He said, ‘So, which tyre? I have intermediate, wet, dry… Which one?’ Shit, I don’t know because I expect maybe less water on the track. Giulio told me, ‘For me, the best option is rain front, intermediate rear, because it’s more safe for the conditions. At least you have to finish the race, so you don’t need to take some risks, especially now.’ I said, ‘Yeah, okay, but with intermediate I don’t go fast because I don’t use in the wet, but I don’t use on the dry.’ I saw the track is coming a bit dry in the mid of the straight, and I said, ‘Okay, I take a gamble. Slick.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Slick.’ ‘Okay.’ Everybody I think thought, ‘He’s crazy!’”
When it is your year, it is your year, and Bautista agreed that good fortune when others find misfortune, is needed for any world champion.
“When the thing is coming well to you, you have to be strong but also you have to have good luck,” he said. “This season, I had. So, I tried to use it. But also, the confidence, the trust I have in my bike and my riding. It’s because the choice [of tyres for Superpole] was not easy, but I have confidence in my bike. I’m sure that if still the championship was not finished for me, I would take the safe option but today I didn’t have anything to lose. So, let’s try. Maybe it’s more experience for next year or more experience for the next situation like this.”
Was Bautista surprised that Rea could stay with him in a dry final race, cut short suddenly to 17-laps when Eugene Laverty fell and injured his pelvis, bringing out the red flags.
“Well, Johnny was very fast during the weekend,” agreed Bautista. “He was leading FP1, FP2. Also on the wet he was very strong. In this track, I told you on Friday I think, when you have the reference you can stay there. When he was leading and I was battling with Alex [Lowes] and Scott [Redding], he took some advantage. Then when I got second, I just catch him too very fast.
“He was much slower than me, but behind me, he can stay and he can follow me. This track is very flowing, so when you feel good with the bike, it’s easy to follow the rider. I think the feeling he had with the bike in this weekend has been very good, very high performance. So for him, it was easy to go behind me, to follow my pace. Also today I struggled a lot with the wind in some areas of the track. I don’t say that he didn’t struggle, but I feel a lot. I don’t know if he has the same problems or not. But for sure, when I saw the lap time was quite fast and he was behind, I thought, ‘okay, the last two laps will be ridden with a knife between the teeth, and we would just try to beat one another.’
“Unfortunately, there was red flag. I hope the riders involved in the crash are okay but we missed the last battle of the season! I’m so sorry for that, because also I wanted to battle. It was a good way to end the season, especially because I had a really good feeling on the bike and I felt strong to battle against Jonathan. Next time, in 2023, for sure we will start here, and I hope to have the same feeling and I expect to have a good battle with him.”