Alvaro Bautista in trouble on Honda? Jonathan Rea thinks he's bluffing

Alvaro Bautista hasn't lit up the timesheets on the competitive new Honda CBR1000RR-R so far this winter... but Jonathan Rea speculates it's all a ruse

Alvaro Bautista - HRC Honda CBR1000RR-R

Twelve months ago, ex-MotoGP rider Alvaro Bautista announced himself on the WorldSBK stage with a trio of dominant victories on his debut aboard the Ducati Panigale V4 R.

Moreover, he continued to make it look ever so easy as he reeled off a record-breaking 11 wins to set himself on the trail for what many presumed would be the 2019 title win. Of course, we know that wouldn’t happen as Bautista’s confidence on the Panigale V4 R disappeared along with his focus as he prepared to jump ship to Honda.

To say there is pressure on Bautista is an understatement, not least after Ducati called him out for only making the move because he was offered a significant pay packet.

None of this would matter though if the brand-new Honda CBR1000RR-R wasn’t competitive but ahead of the 2020 WorldSBK opener at Phillip Island, the machine has shown good form in the hands of Leon Haslam. Bautista, however, is struggling to crack the top ten in a slim 19-strong field.

Though the close times mean Bautista needs only a second or so that put himself right at the sharp end, is he keeping it in the bag until it matters or will this weekend be a long one for him…?

Why is Alvaro Bautista struggling on the Honda?

While Ducati Panigale V4 R is probably the easiest Superbike on which to transition from MotoGP with its pseudo-prototype philosophy, the more mainstream inline-four Honda CBR1000RR-R represents a fairly significant departure for Bautista and what he’s used to.

A rider of his quality should be able to ride through any issues, but as demonstrated in 2019 when things started to go south on the Ducati, if the machine strays from quite a specific operating window, Bautista appears to be in some trouble.

Indeed, Bautista is very reliant on front-end feel and is one of the more active riders on a Superbike. We’d often see Bautista get right over the V4 R into corners and back it in, but it’s a trait that doesn’t appear to be conducive to a quick lap time on the Honda, describing the engine as ‘aggressive’ and the chassis ‘nervous’.

"I can't say whether the in-line four-cylinder is better or worse than the V4. I can only say that he is different. The inline engine feels more aggressive. There is a lot of power, but it unfolds very differently than with the V4. The V4 feels like a four-stroke engine, the in-line engine more like a two-stroke engine.”

Indeed, Bautista is clearly not performing at his maximum however you look at it. Coupled this to the relatively limited track time he’s had developing a brand-new model, then his inconsistency on the timesheets can perhaps be expected.

Trouble is, his team-mate Haslam is right up at the sharp end demonstrating what others – including Jonathan Rea – believe to be a bit of sandbagging going on in the Spaniard’s corner.

Has Alvaro Bautista been holding back?

It’s always hard to tell when a rider is sandbagging – and they certainly won’t admit it – but Rea is unconvinced a rider of Bautista’s quality is struggling on an apparently competitive bike and says he wouldn’t be surprised to see him right back up front once the season kicks off properly.

“We don't know exactly how much he really struggles," he told Speedweek. “It is obvious that his motorcycle is at a high level, including support from the factory. The test result therefore seems strange when you recall what he did in the first eleven races last year.

"It's sad to see someone stumble with their potential, but it is also clear that it is not the motorcycle. You just have to see what Haslam does - there is a way to drive it fast. Alvaro is also very clever. Also, during last year's winter tests, he never showed what he pulled off at Phillip Island during the race weekend.”

Bautista himself alludes to the fact he hasn’t been chasing fast lap times, though he unlikely to be the only rider to adopt this method with a number of teams identifying the need to improve race pace if they want to beat Rea.

"I never tried to get a good lap time during the two test days. Test and race are not the same. During the test, you have plenty of time to do a quick lap. And there is less pressure - many are faster during the test than in the race.”

Fortunately, we don’t have long to wait to find out…

2020 Australian WorldSBK Schedule - Phillip Island

2020 WorldSBK - Round 1 - Phillip Island, Australia
Weekend Schedule
FRIDAYSessionAUS timeUK time 
WorldSBKFP110:30 - 11:2023:30 - 00:20* Thurs PM UK
WorldSSPFP111:30 - 12:1500:30 - 01:15 
WorldSBKFP215:00 - 15:5004:00 - 04:50 
WorldSSPFP216:00 - 16:4505:00 - 05:45 
WorldSBKFP310:00 - 10:2023:00 - 23:20* Fri PM UK
WorldSSPFP310:35 - 10:5523:35 - 23:55* Fri PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole12:15 - 12:4001:15 - 01:40 
WorldSSPSuperpole12:55 - 13:2001:55 - 02:20 
WorldSBKRACE 115:0004:00 
WorldSBKWarm-up09:30 - 09:4522:30 - 23:45* Sat PM UK
WorldSSPWarm-up09:55 - 10:1022:55 - 23:10* Sat PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole RACE12:0001:00 
WorldSBKRACE 215:0004:00