When people talk about the differences between BSB and WorldSBK the biggest talking point is the relative competitiveness of both. What are the biggest factors?
I’m a self confessed addict. There’s nothing better than sitting down on a Sunday to watch racing. It doesn’t matter what it is. Cars or bikes I’ll be sitting down to watch it. My earliest memories are of sitting down and watching Formula 1 and from when I started to watch World Superbikes and 500GP in the 90’s I was fully hooked.
Missing school on a Friday and watching practice sessions wasn’t a regular occurrence but it did happen on far too many occasions to be purely coincidental. I can still remember being a schoolboy and seeing British and American Superbike stars wild card, take pole positions and race wins. It was a magical time for Superbike racing when it was the biggest game in town in the UK and Ireland.
After one chilled and one deep-frozen WorldSBK outing since the last column we still have red-hot Bolognese as the only meal available in the WorldSBK race-winning restaurant.
It may have a liberal sprinkling of Manchego cheese on top, in the form of the super-fast and utterly faultless Alvaro Bautista, but so far the winning recipe in WorldSBK has been mostly about a game-changing machine and the people who make it sing at castrato engine frequencies all the way to 2019 perfection.
Proof that a well-set-up Ducati Panigale V4R is peerless right now came in two ways in Assen; an event so cold that even well-padded people known for their polo-shirts-with-everything-attire had to fiddle with zips on puffa jackets on their way out of the media centre.
Firstly, when the Aruba.it Ducati team decided to try to give Bautista more of a potential advantage for the future, their attempts to take his bike setting into a potentially more golden point on the compass met with disaster. In any direction of change, it seemed. Disaster was their rider’s word, not mine.
Alvaro Bautista continued his unbeaten run of success at Assen. The time might be nearing for Ducati to evaluate the costs of such success
On Sunday Alvaro Bautista won his 11th straight race in WorldSBK. He’s unbeaten in 2019 and he’s well on his way to adding a Superbike title to his 125GP crown. The Spaniard is riding with incredible confidence and consistency and he’s a joy to watch. That is unless you’re the financial directors of Ducati. The costs of his success are racking up and he’s put himself into a very rare position - he’s potentially winning too much!
In racing all success is measured in numbers. Number of wins, number of podiums and number of pole positions. The contracts for riders reflect this. The more you win the more you make. Incentives have always been heavily rewarded and no doubt Alvaro Bautista’s contract is structured in a similar way.
In conversation with riders and team representatives in Assen the general figure bandied about for race wins was €25,000. Of course with the Superpole race having been introduced for this season it’s possible that the ten lap shootout has a different value attached to it. Some riders said they aren’t paid bonus money for the Superpole races and others are on the same as any other race.
Alvaro Bautista came to the WorldSBK championship and has been unstoppable. Since figuring out how to get the right feeling from the front end of the brand new Ducati Panigale V4R, he has won all six races held so far – four full-length races, and the two new Superpole sprint races held on Sunday. His winning margins in the four full races were 14.983, 12.195, 8.217, and 10.053 seconds. He won both sprint Superpole races by over a second as well.
Naturally, that kind of domination attracts attention. The WorldSBK series is meant to be a close battle between bikes based on road-going motorcycles, and as modification of the standard bikes is limited, there are mechanisms in the rule book for keeping the disparity between the different bikes racing to a minimum, giving any manufacturer which sells a 1000cc sports bike a chance to be competitive.
To ensure this, the rules have a section on balancing performance between the different bikes competing. The method of balancing performance has varied over the years, but the current rules use only the maximum revs to try to keep the bikes close. The maximum rev limit is set when each new model is homologated, following a formula described in the rules, and explained by WorldSBK Technical Director Scott Smart in a video on the WorldSBK website. The short version is that the bikes are limited at 1100 RPM above the point at which they make their peak horsepower.
The Aruba.it Ducati WorldSBK riders are heading to Aragon. There, Chaz Davies and Alvaro Bautista are to test the Ducati Panigale V4R as part of Ducati's test team, in preparation for the Aragon round of WorldSBK, due to be held there from 5th to 7th April, in just over two weeks time.
The test is crucial for Chaz Davies, in particular. The Welshman has struggled to adapt to the new Ducati V4, which requires a radically different riding style to the V-twin Panigale 1199R it replaces. Davies missed part of the winter testing schedule due to a back injury, which severely restricted his time in the saddle.
His teammate, on the other hand, has won all six WorldSBK races (four full races and the two Superpole races) and leads the championship at the moment. Alvaro Bautista may arguably have had less of a step to make in terms of bike, coming as he did from the Desmosedici in MotoGP, but he did have to adapt to the steel brakes and much more pliant Pirelli tires used in WorldSBK.
We have never seen anything quite like the arrival of Alvaro Bautista and his big red rocket of a Ducati Panigale V4R in WorldSBK history. Well, we kinda have, in the form of Doug Polen on that year’s ballistic desmo missile back in 1991. Just not quite as dominantly in only two rounds, as Polen won five from six, after a retirement in race two at Donington.
Whatever the comparison, ex-GP runner Bautista has entered WorldSBK at Star Trek levels of spacetime continuums by winning the first six races of the 2019 season, his first ever races in WorldSBK. The fact that there are three races per meeting now, not two, only slightly detracts from the glorious arrival of the new class act - stage left, right and centre.
Really, can you pick holes in the fabric of Ducati’s Alvaro effort so far?
Jonathan Rea may have been beaten in Australia but he's ready to come out swinging in Thailand
The opening round of the 2019 WorldSBK season saw Alvaro Bautista dominate proceedings, and for many it seemed as though there was a changing of the guard in the championship. After four years of unparalleled dominance, Jonathan Rea was spectacularly put in his place by the Spanish MotoGP refugee. It was stunning and cathartic for a championship that has seen Rea rewrite the history books.
It was easy to read the tea leaves leaving Australia that Rea is going to face his toughest yet in 2019. Unfortunately for his rivals, we also left Australia 12 months ago with Rea scratching his head after a difficult weekend, even further adrift of the championship leader. That season ended with the most dominant campaign in WorldSBK history.
Australia was a weekend full of challenges. From the two day test prior to the race weekend, it was clear that Rea was struggling. He couldn't find a balance with the bike and he kept his powder dry on the second day. Not willing to use a new tire and try and set a fast time, he also didn't undertake his usual race simulations. It was clear Rea was on the ropes for Round One.
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.