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.
The plan revolves around a thorough shakeup of Honda's approach to WorldSBK. The race team will be run directly by HRC out of Barcelona, alongside the Repsol Honda MotoGP operation. Alvaro Bautista is set to be announced as one rider, with Takumi Takahashi the second rider. The announcement is likely to come after the Aragon round of MotoGP, as any earlier announcement would get lost in the avalanche of news emerging from back-to-back MotoGP weekends.
Bautista and Takahashi will be riding a brand new Honda CBR1000RR. Unlike in previous years, upgrades to this bike will be very significant, the bike receiving a major horsepower boost, to make it the most powerful inline four cylinder on the grid, according to Speedweek. This lines up with rumors which have been circulating since the beginning of the year that Honda was planning a major upgrade to the Fireblade, with part of the racing department set aside for the development of the new bike. The new bike is set to be launched at the Tokyo Motor Show, to be held at the end of October.
The fact that HRC is to take over the running of the team more directly is a sign of how seriously Honda are taking it. Honda ended their 20-year collaboration with Dutch team Ten Kate at the end of 2018, handing the running of the team to Moriwaki and Althea. That move has not met with any success, results going backwards, a situation not helped by injury to Leon Camier. Moriwaki and Althea are now being cut loose again, though they may continue as private teams next year, either together or separately.
Bautista's decision to stay in WorldSBK with Honda is possibly motivated by money. According to Speedweek, HRC have offered him double the money he was being paid by Ducati, €800,000 instead of €400,000. In the Aruba.it Ducati team, Bautista was earning less than teammate Chaz Davies, and that may have rankled the Spaniard.
It also means that Bautista will not be going to MotoGP. Ever since Johann Zarco made the shock announcement in Austria that he would be leaving the factory Red Bull KTM MotoGP team at the end of 2019, halfway through his contract, the hunt has been on for a replacement. As a rider with extensive MotoGP experience on four different brands of bikes (Suzuki, Honda, Aprilia, Ducati), Bautista appeared to fit the bill for what KTM might be looking for.
So with the Spaniard set to stay in WorldSBK, KTM will be forced to look elsewhere for a replacement rider. KTM have so far played their cards close to their chest, going no further than telling German publication Motorsport Total that 'a number of top riders have approached us' following the announcement. Despite Tech3 boss Hervé Poncharal insisting he has a commitment from KTM not to poach his riders, the Austrian factory may decide to move the Portuguese rider up to the factory team a year early.
An alternative is that there are riders in top MotoGP teams looking to escape their current contracts in the belief that KTM offers them a better chance of success. Jack Miller has already turned down an offer to replace Zarco, and there are likely to be other riders who have also been made an offer.
With the MotoGP paddock about to reassemble in Misano, negotiations are likely to start ramping up this weekend. KTM will surely want to have their 2020 line up settled before the paddock heads off for the Asian flyaway races. That would mean agreeing terms either at Misano or Aragon, with an announcement before the race in Buriram, Thailand. But with their options limited, that might not be possible for KTM.
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