MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?
When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.
He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.
You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.
Instantly on Friday he was a totally different rider to the one we saw in testing. The team had changed his bike and given him a new front end, and instantly, he was riding lines and times that the others couldn’t match. He carried that form through the whole weekend and easily won all three races.
Alvaro Bautista isn’t a magician. He hasn’t produced a great illusion of being a good MotoGP rider and then turning into a fantastic Superbike rider. He’s just been trained in a different way to his new rivals. In WorldSBK in recent years we’ve seen Jonathan Rea dominate proceedings with his only real rival being Chaz Davies. Before that, it was Tom Sykes versus Aprilia riders. The level of competition was such that for a lot of riders, they knew going to races that it would be almost impossible to win. That’s hard for any rider to deal with. It’s also in stark contrast to MotoGP where in recent years the grid has become more and more competitive. There’s a reason so many riders have won races or finished on the podium. The gap front to back is smaller and if you do the perfect job you can spring a surprise. That motivates everyone to be at the absolute limit at all times.
Bautista, like Biaggi or Carlos Checa, came from that crucible. In Australia he became the first debutant to win in WorldSBK since Biaggi. Can he keep that form going forward?
Maybe. But equally maybe not. There are no guarantees in racing but Bautista, and Leon Haslam, were both expected to be strong in Australia. They both need to take the momentum from Round 1 to Thailand in three weeks.
You say you want a revolution
MotoGP was revolutionized by a change of electronics and tires. WorldSBK has been revolutionized by the introduction of new regulations. The most public and popular of these has been the rev limits. This rule has overshadowed a much more important rule change; that manufacturers are forced to make the same materials available to factory and customer squads. If, for example, Kawasaki introduce a new engine upgrade for Jonathan Rea and Haslam in light of Phillip Island, that must then be available to all other Kawasaki teams. This rule makes the teams in the midfield more competitive and closer to the front. Yamaha showed that this week, with GRT finishing on the podium with Marco Melandri. All four bikes are the same and all four riders had moments to remember this week. At the end of Round 1 Melandri, Alex Lowes, and Michael van der Mark are separated by just one point.
BMW were competitive on their debut. The Honda was running inside the top ten. The future is bright for WorldSBK. Bautista might have grabbed the headlines, but the entire grid is getting more competitive. Every lap is becoming more important for riders and teams to maximize their package. It’s not at the level of MotoGP but once a rider feels they have a chance it changes their approach. They become closed off to the rest of the world. They have a shorter fuse. Everything starts to count towards their performance. There are a lot of elements of MotoGP that have started to permeate the WorldSBK paddock in recent years. Closer grids and more competitive bikes are the most positive of those.
Bautista didn’t suddenly become a world beater. The WorldSBK riders didn’t suddenly lose their mojo. A combination of factors were at work in Australia and Bautista might have been the Wizard of Oz, but when we get to the next round in Thailand it could be very different. The curtain could be pulled back in Buriram and it will reveal a lot more than what we saw at first glance in Australia.
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