Alvaro Bautista thought ‘disaster’ WorldSBK Honda move would end his career

Alvaro Bautista admits he questioned his career after discovering the 2020 WorldSBK Honda CBR1000RR-R was 'impossible to ride' on first impressions...

Alvaro Bautista - Honda CBR1000RR-R

Alvaro Bautista has revealed he thought he’d be forced to end his career after branding his first impressions of the ‘impossible to ride’ Honda CBR1000RR-R as a ‘disaster’.

The Spaniard, a three-time MotoGP podium winner, switched to WorldSBK in 2019 and enjoyed immediate success, racking up a remarkable 11 consecutive wins from his debut aboard the Ducati Panigale V4 R

However, his form deserted him during the second half of the season - amid a sequence of costly confidence-sapping accidents - leading to a strain in relations with Ducati and prompting Honda’s fresh full factory effort to lure him for the 2020 WorldSBK season.

With the Spaniard under pressure to prove his worth, the 2020 WorldSBK season showed flashes of pace from the 35-year old, albeit with nowhere near the success of 2019 as the young HRC project found its feet amid calendar upheaval and a lack of testing.

However, Bautista has now revealed exactly how far he has had to come in order to get himself in a position to challenge for what would be just a single podium finish all year.

Adapting to the inline-four Honda CBR1000RR-R proved more of a challenge for Bautista than he was anticipating, to the extent he called the bike ‘s**t’ initially, with the struggles so bad it led him to question his career.

“Well, sincerely, speaking clear, I thought the first time I tried this bike, ‘s**t! Impossible to ride!’,” he told the official WorldSBK website. “I mean, I didn’t like anything of the bike,” 

“In the winter tests, nothing! I thought, ‘why am I here?’ but then, we started to work but even in the winter tests in January and February, I was struggling a lot.”

“I had no feeling with the bike, I couldn’t find the limit and I was three seconds slower than the rest; for me, it was like a disaster. I thought that for me, it’s the end of my career; believe me, I was very, very worried about this season.

“After the Jerez race, we made another step forward and felt better on the bike. In Aragon, I saw that I could fight for podiums but then, I started to go over the limit. Every time I tried to stay near the front, I suffered a crash because I went over the limit. Now, I am convinced this project can arrive in a good place but at the beginning, I was worried!”

Bautista's backhanded compliment is still uncomfortable reading for Honda

Though Bautista is making this confession as a means to demonstrate how far he has come with the project, these are comments that still make uncomfortable reading for Honda.

The Spaniard is likely to be paid as much as - or potentially more than - five-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea and though Bautista has been firm in insisting he didn’t move for a big pay day, it speaks volumes when Ducati not only called him out on this as lies’, but it came directly from CEO Claudio Domenicali himself. On Twitter… ouch.

Either way, Honda would have hoped Bautista was the talisman to hit the ground running and be right with the best from round one and while the CBR1000RR-R hasn’t been uncompetitive per se in 2020, it’s not exactly budged from its mid-pack slot all season.

Worse still, Bautista and Leon Haslam have been fairly identically matched all year, which is a credit to the Englishman for getting his head and getting a good job done for a fraction of the wage, no doubt.

In Bautista’s defence, this was a harder move than he perhaps anticipated. Not only is he being tasked with leading both Honda’s promotion but also its development. Yet in reality a switch to the inline-four meant - as it so proved - he would spend a fair while just getting himself up to speed, much less take it to the next level.

That’s not to say it won’t come and we saw flashes of Bautista’s performance in 2020, while he was often a much better racer than qualifier. However, we also saw plenty of those front-end washouts that nixed his 2019 title challenge with Ducati.

In short, the jury is still out on Bautista… and Honda. The rider is talented but not necessarily good value at the moment, while Honda itself will have likely hoped to have finished 2020 better than it started, yet didn’t.

We can chalk 2020 as an odd year in terms of scheduling, hiatus and compactness but neither Bautista nor Honda really have anywhere to hide in 2021...