OPINION: Steve English on silly season’s hottest topic – Alvaro Bautista’s future

Wednesday, 10 July 2024 15:35 GMT

The #1 is the highest-profile rider yet to be signed up for 2025, with the double Champion’s future a constant talking point

As the 2024 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship gets set for the Prosecco DOC UK Round, one topic keeps coming up: the future of reigning Champion Alvaro Bautista ( Racing - Ducati). The Spaniard is yet to confirm his plans beyond the end of this year and, ahead of the visit to Donington Park, WorldSBK commentator Steve English dissects the situation.

THE BAUTISTA CONUNDRUM: a contrast in form compared to last year…

Twelve months ago you’d have been rounded up and accused of rabble-rousing for even suggesting but... do Ducati need Alvaro Bautista? The Spaniard is a double World Champion for the Bologna manufacturer and the winner of 61 races. No rider has more wins for Ducati and by the end of the season no rider will have had more podiums for the Italian concern. However, there’s a growing sense around the WorldSBK paddock that change is in the air. Bautista arrived at Donington Park last year having won 14 of the opening 15 races. He would go on to win two races that weekend and finished the campaign with eight wins on the bounce. The perfect marriage of man and machine had dominated WorldSBK for a second season. Things couldn’t have been rosier.

The tide has turned in 2024 though. Bautista has won just two of 12 races and sits third in the standings. Having been the only rider able to consistently perform on the Panigale V4 R, he now sits behind his rookie teammate, Nicolo Bulega, in the Championship standings. Does Bautista still have the upper hand in negotiations with Ducati? It would be debatable to say that he does. Ducati have already shown how cut-throat they can be with the Spaniard. Back in 2019 they let him walk after his fortunes started to falter mid-season. Having seen how life was at Team HRC in 2020 and 2021, it must be clear to Bautista that his success is tied to the red machine.

WHAT’S CAUSED THE DOWNTURN IN FORM? Multiple forces impact Bautista

Serious injuries suffered in a post-season test have clearly affected Bautista. The same can be said for the changes to the regulation but the extent of his turnaround is stark. And worrying. A heavier motorcycle was always going to affect the diminutive Bautista more than any other rider, but the extent of that weight penalty is much debated. Has he added 5kg or a lot less due to the Ducati being close to the weight limit? Has the extra RPM helped other Ducati riders but not Bautista? The Championship table and results show the impact that these forces have had on Alvaro. If all things are equal, he can still be a WorldSBK superstar but as things stand his power at the negotiating table is being lessened each weekend.

WAITING IN THE WINGS: a decision to be made for Ducati?

Until last year Donington could have been seen as a bogey track for Bautista. A 1-2-1 weekend put that to bed but now he needs something similar if he’s to keep in the good graces of the Ducati hierarchy. Andrea Iannone (Team GoEleven) has had an up and down campaign as he returns from his four-year doping ban, but the Italian has always said that he has a “special relationship” with Ducati and Gigi Dall’Igna. Is it enough to pluck him from the Independent GoEleven squad or is it too soon to do that?

Time will tell but if Bautista has another tough weekend, it will get harder and harder to justify meeting his demands. The simplest solution is a one-year deal and to keep things stable within the Racing - Ducati squad but until Alvaro gets back to his best there’ll be a nagging question as to whether he has fallen off the cliff and now can’t climb back to the top.

WILL TOPRAK’S FORM DICTATE THINGS? Two crucial rounds coming up…

Toprak Razgatlioglu (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) and BMW are only going to get stronger. Bulega will only continue to grow. Is a MotoGP™ exile a possibility? Ducati need to think about the future too and is a 40-year-old Bautista the rider they’d choose to back? His success and track record certainly warrants viewing this season as a blip. The next two weekends - back-to-back rounds at Donington and Most - will likely determine Ducati’s decision. Bautista needs to be at his best at two tracks where Toprak has traditionally excelled. We won’t see a more motivated Bautista than during this time.  

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