Alvaro Bautista. Washed up MotoGP refugee? I don’t think so. This was a calculated decision from Ducati to sign someone from the MotoGP paddock to develop and run their brand new V4 Panigale – a machine derived from their MotoGP monster.
Ducati is renowned for running twins as road motorcycles and the Panigale V4 is their first deviation therefrom in the production market. Of course, a new machine will take time to develop and win with, but how to overcome that? Enter Mr Bautista.
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Manufacturers have different tiers in the MotoGP class – it isn’t like it was in the 70s or 80s. The factory machine is the top tier, there is a customer team chosen to have factory support (and slightly older machines) and then there are the ‘minnow’ customer teams. Honda has been renowned for running their program in this manner for decades.
Ducati runs in a similar manner and, as a result, Bautista has not had the cutting edge machinery at his fingertips to vie for titles, wins or podiums. Remember, the Spaniard is a former 125 cm³ world champion (where he broke records on the way to winning the title), so he has some pedigree on the world stage. He showed his potential at the MotoGP event at Phillip Island last year when he substituted for the injured Jorge Lorenzo, finishing fourth after a poor start.
Come testing at Phillip Island, Bautista launched to the top of the timesheets while other Ducati runners, including teammate Chaz Davies, languished outside the top 10. After two rounds in the 2019 SBK World Championship, consisting of six races, Bautista remains unbeaten (making SBK history in the process), while his Ducati colleagues have remained outside the top six throughout.
Four-time world champion Jonathan Rea may be complaining that the Ducati is too fast, but it is only Bautista that is in his league…where are the other Kawasaki riders? Only Leon Haslam, reigning British Superbike champion and Rea’s teammate, has shown any hint of speed on the green machine – but nothing of note to make Rea break into a sweat.
So, armchair critics can talk about a has-been…but Alvaro Bautista is the real deal.