Alvaro Bautista: “Honda WorldSBK project needs time my career doesn’t have”

Alvaro Bautista reveals the reasons behind his decision to exit the Honda Fireblade project in favour of a return to Ducati for the 2022 WorldSBK season

Alvaro Bautista - Honda WorldSBK

Alvaro Bautista has revealed he chose Ducati over Honda for the 2022 WorldSBK Championship because he couldn’t risk spending the autumn years of his motorcycle racing career developing the CBR1000RR-R Fireblade.

Bautista returns to the Ducati fold for 2022, three years after the ex-MotoGP rider made a spectacular debut with the Italian manufacturer to reel off a remarkable 11 straight WorldSBK wins out of the box.

However, after a series of errors and a turnaround in performance by Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki, Bautista ended up finishing a distant runner-up to the Ulsterman, a decline in form that prompted him to jump ship to Honda for 2020.

Heading up the firm’s new full-factory HRC programme with the latest generation Fireblade, it has been a trying couple of seasons for the Spaniard on a bike that has made only minor gains on its rivals since it scored a top five finish in Leon Haslam’s hands in Australia.

Often let down by lacklustre qualifying efforts, pre-empting a race day charge that sees him lead the Hyundai N-spired Award for the rider who gains the most positions from their grid slot, Bautista has achieved a meagre three podiums across two seasons.

Though Bautista has no doubt Honda will be more competitive going forward, the 36-year old says his advancing career means he felt he had to switch back to Ducati to ensure a competitive run at the title in 2022.

“Next season, I will change teams and I will return to Ducati, and sincerely, I don’t want to expect anything. I rode the bike two years ago and I don’t know how the bike is right now. I just want to test, ride and recover the good feeling I had during that time. I don’t expect anything; I don’t want to come back and say, ‘I’m going to win’ or ‘I’m going to fight for the Championship’.

“I just want to recover the good feeling on the bike, try to be fast and try to enjoy it. I want results with Ducati, and I learnt a lot in 2019 because I was very, very strong at the beginning of the season, then we did worse. I don’t have a result or a position as a target for next season, I just want to enjoy it, ride the bike and then let’s see.

“Sincerely, when I had the chance to choose between HRC and the Ducati, it wasn’t easy. HRC is a big company, the Ducati is a good, competitive bike already. My feeling is that HRC will arrive with a competitive bike, for sure. They have done it in MotoGP and they will do it here, but I think they need more time, especially in this Championship where the rules are you can’t change the bike in the same way you can in MotoGP.

“I think I’m not the youngest rider on the grid and I don’t have that time. My decision was a question of time: I want to try and be fast and competitive, and I want to have a bike that’s already competitive now. I think this was my motivation to make the switch again. HRC will have a competitive bike, but they need more time, whereas I don’t have that time.”

Is Alvaro Bautista a better WorldSBK bet than Scott Redding?

Alvaro Bautista’s arrival comes at the expense of Scott Redding, an eyebrow raising decision that many have questioned. 

Naturally, all questions will be answered as soon as the 2022 WorldSBK opener gets underway, but Ducati’s decision to approach Bautista after accusing him of taking the biggest pay cheque when choosing Honda is certainly interesting. 

Indeed, Bautista was a remarkable signing when he arrived in WorldSBK, the Spaniard doing his bit to perpetuate the notion that MotoGP riders are on a different level to those who have plied their trade in the production ranks. But then it fell apart… and kept falling apart. 

This alone raised questions as to whether Bautista had the patience and focus to lead a hefty development project as there was at Honda, though this is only partially correct.

To an extent Bautista’s two years at Honda reflected his one year at Ducati - some magical hard charging flashes of performance, but interspersed with sloppy crashes and a yearning that there was nothing more he could do because he’s pushing hard on an unpredictable bike.

Sharpening the spotlight ever more is Redding who, having lost his focus with a run of bad form during the opening half of the year, has been right back on it more recently, showing the kind of pace to match Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea.

Indeed, one would utter his name in the same breath as among the serious title contenders for 2022 were he on a Ducati, but it’s less clear whether you would say it with Bautista on a Ducati or now Redding on a BMW.

Ducati has a modest record when it comes to making bold rider choices - look at Marco Melandri in WorldSBK and a catalogue of big name riders in MotoGP that literally couldn’t make the Desmosedici turn.

It’s a touch ironic then that Ducati, in the year it achieved an excellent MotoGP season by (somewhat forcibly) committing to its hungry proteges, that it has dangled a carrot at the man who could and should have won the 2019 WorldSBK title, rather than put faith in Redding to show the form he is clearly capable of.