Hungarian journalist, photographer, and ex-racer Niki Kovács is conducting a series of interviews with people involved in motorcycle racing on how they are dealing with the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak. In the first of these (English-language) videos, Kovacs talks to Simone Battistella, manager of Andrea Dovizioso, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Alvaro Bautista, on how he is helping his riders through this period of enforced idleness.
If anybody tells you it is easy to make modern day Superbikes truly competitive with fixed tech rules that are identical for every bike, smile warmly and move on to a more stimulating, reality-based conversation. Possibly the single most difficult thing to do is make sure the final on-track performance of what started out as commercial products in the market place, all with their own unique marketing USPs and familial DNA helices, is to design the final tech rules. After all, some donor bikes are still relatively cheap and low-tech and some are sold right on the forty grand limit for eligible WorldSBK machines, complete with an electronics suite fit to control the International Space Station. Or even a design concept that is MotoGP-driven, rather than coming with an extended warranty requirement in the original engineering brief.
Enter a plethora of performance rules for WorldSBK, which extend to cost-capped parts and approved racing parts, which can include concession parts, as one profound balancing rule element if your bike qualifies. But all of these operate under the catch-all of the ultimate balancing rule - Maximum Rev Limits.
There, I capitalised the initial letters, to show how significant this one can be.
2019 saw Jonathan Rea face and overcome a new rival, but how did the dramatic season unfold?
The 2019 WorldSBK season is in the books and with testing around the corner, a new campaign is drawing near. After one of the most talked about WorldSBK title campaigns in memory, WorldSBK.com sat down with the protagonists Jonathan Rea and Alvaro Bautista, to get their thoughts on the season.
Having seen Bautista reel off eleven wins in a row, his coronation seemed a foregone conclusion. But a sudden series of crashes left Bautista reeling. With Rea in relentless form, the world champion overturned a 61-point lead to be crowned champion with two rounds remaining.
Facing the impossible
"I’ve never really seen a turnaround like this one," admitted Rea. "My target was always to win the championship but after four rounds it was…a big dream. We couldn’t see any weakness in the package of Alvaro Bautista and Ducati. It’s the strongest package I’ve ever faced. Winning at Imola was so important, because up until then we were drowning. That was a gasp of air that was enough to compose ourselves.
Marc Márquez and Jonathan Rea have rewritten the history books in recent years. Their successes in MotoGP and WorldSBK have made them legends of their disciplines and while it’s highly unlikely we’ll see them line up on the same grid in the future they share more than their status as world champions.
Alex Ferguson famously said “some players have world class moments, others have world class careers.” The legendary soccer manager was talking about the difference between being a transcendent player and one that only ever flashes their potential. If you want to be a legend you have to do it every time you lace up your boots.
If you want to be a legend of motorcycle racing you have to be all-in at every opportunity. Any time that you’re on the bike is an opportunity to assert your dominance. Racing is the ultimate test of nerve. Can you dig deep enough into your soul to constantly get the most from yourself? Can you take the will out of your rivals?
Márquez and Rea have both done this consistently but this year both faced their toughest tests. For Márquez it’s been the coming of a rookie sensation, Fabio Quartararo, and for Rea it’s been a MotoGP refugee, Alvaro Bautista. Both rookies came to the 2019 season with something to prove.
HRC have confirmed the signing of Alvaro Bautista for the 2020 WorldSBK season. The Spaniard will be leaving Ducati to join the new factory team run out of Barcelona for next year, to ride the brand new Honda CBR1000RR to be presented later this year.
The news had been widely anticipated. Contract negotiations with Ducati had stalled over money, and HRC was offering to double his current salary. Although the step might seem like a risk given the results of the Althea Moriwaki team this season, there were reasons to take the leap.
Alvaro Bautista will be staying in the World Superbike paddock and racing a Honda in 2020, it seems. The plans for a new HRC-run WorldSBK team to be based in Barcelona, racing a brand new Honda CBR1000RR, put an end to any speculation that Bautista might be heading back to MotoGP to take the place of Johann Zarco at KTM for next year.
Rumors and reports from Portimao are solidifying the story that Bautista will be staying in WorldSBK. A thorough piece on German-language publication Speedweek set out Honda's World Superbike plans for 2020, including the plans for a new bike.
It had been known unofficially for weeks, but today, the Aruba.it Ducati team announced that they have signed Scott Redding to ride for them in WorldSBK for the 2020 season. Redding has had a very strong season in BSB since losing his ride in MotoGP with Aprilia, and is currently second in the standings behind Be Wiser Ducati teammate Josh Brookes.
It comes as no surprise that Redding is off to WorldSBK. The Englishman had expressed an interest in returning to world championship racing, having first been linked with the Shaun Muir Racing BMW effort. That option faltered over contractual difficulties getting Redding out of the second year of his BSB deal, but a switch to a Ducati team was easier to negotiate.
The WorldSBK season has simply exploded with bizarre chapters since the last time this wee column was punched out.
The gleeful anoraks will remember it, at least, as a season of three roughly unequal parts. The early third when Alvaro Bautista came in from MotoGP like a tiny trophy typhoon and forced everybody else back onto the cold shelter of their tech basements to try and find something – anything – that could match the rev-ravishing Ducati. That whole red effort huffed, puffed and blew all their houses of hope down flat, right up until Imola.
Even at that serpentine circuit, which snakes uphill and down and has tricky entries ready to punish the reckless, Bautista took a deep breath, accepted he was not finding his way around it like 11-year Superbike man Rea (not on his first visit anyway) and took his medicine in the form of minor points losses. Second and third and then once cancelled wet race for everybody. Hardly the stuff of nightmares...
In racing you’re either under pressure or you’re applying pressure. The one thing proven over the years is that pressure will do strange things to a rider. The tension that comes from pressure and your reaction can lead to mistakes and Jerez showed that once again. We saw crashes and cool heads from riders under pressure.
Some riders are at their best when the pressure is at its most, others struggle in those moments and some make their mistakes when the pressure valve is relieved. On Saturday we saw Jonathan Rea make the mistake of a rider who has been seeing a world title slip away after round by round domination of Alvaro Bautista. On Sunday it was Bautista’s turn to make the mistake of a rider out in front. With two Jerez wins already in the bag he would have been feeling secure that another hat-trick was on the cards. Between these two riders stood Michael van der Mark. The Dutchman was peerless in race trim at the Spanish circuit and never put a foot wrong over the 50 racing laps. His reward were three podiums and his first win of the campaign.
Top level sport is 90% mental. The differences in outright talent levels aren’t that significant - they can’t be when you’re looking at the best in the world. The differences are subtle. It’s hard work, dedication and the mental game that separates the great from the very good. A slice of luck doesn’t hurt but you can’t rely on the rub of green on a consistent basis!
Seek and destroy