WorldSBK

Jonathan Rea ‘sorry’ for how Alvaro Bautista’s WorldSBK bid collapsed

"One thing is certain: the Alvaro [Bautista] who made his debut on Phillip Island was not the same I saw in Donington.” - Jonathan Rea

Jonathan Rea says he feels ‘sorry’ for the way 2019 WorldSBK title challenger Alvaro Bautista’s championship bid collapsed in dramatic circumstances, suggesting the eventual outcome belies just how impressive he was when he first entered the series.

After four years of dominance from Rea on the Kawasaki, both he and the WorldSBK field were caught by surprise when MotoGP rider Bautista emerged on the scene aboard the new Ducati Panigale V4 R and blew everyone out of the water on his debut in Australia.

A trio of wins at Phillip Island were following by several more, Bautista notching up a record 11 consecutive victories to seemingly put the title out his rivals’ reach at a very early stage in the year.

However, after Rea managed to keep his rival within sight with consistent second and third place finishes despite rarely being able to challenging him on track, Bautista’s season rapidly fell apart with a series of race day accidents that scuppered his momentum.

Admitting to being blindsided by the sheer dominance of Bautista when he first hit the track, Rea admis he had to change his mindset even if it took the Spaniard’s own errors to ultimately give him an opportunity to claw himself back into the title race. 

“Honestly, it was quite difficult. Imagine that you have won for four years in a row and the newcomer arrives, with a new bike, and begins to win everything,” he told Gazzetta dello Sport. “It was a new situation for us and for the first few races it was difficult to accept it. 

“It seemed to me that my team were looking at me and wondering "what's the problem? What can we do?", But they charged me saying "Come on, let's go to Imola, let's go to Jerez, to Donington, and try again ...". And I wasn't even fifth or sixth, at every race I finished second or in the worst case third. Meanwhile Alvaro was winning. 

“For me the good thing from a psychological point of view was that Alvaro fell because he didn't feel pressure. He was very fast in free practice, where there was no need to push so much. He then made mistakes in Jerez and in Misano. 

“This boy I thought invincible was suddenly no longer invincible. This gave me strength: we kept pushing and the closer we got, the more he made mistakes.”

From 61 points adrift of Bautista 15 races into the season, it took Rea just 10 races to not only catch the Spaniard but overhaul him to the tune of 81 points going into the summer break.

From here Rea cantered to the finish line, ending up a massive 165 points clear despite picking up just one more win than the Ducati rider.

Indeed, Rea says the sheer collapse shouldn’t overshadow just how well Bautista performed out of the box but admits the rider he saw at Phillip Island wasn’t the same as the one that arrived at Donington Park midway through the year.

“Actually, I'm sorry for how his season went. People forget how good it was to switch to SBK without experience of Superbike or Pirelli tyres and win at Phillip Island with more than 15 seconds of advantage, embarrassing us. 

“Maybe something has changed, one would think that he had some problems with Ducati, since he switched to Honda. 

“Whatever happened to him, one thing is certain: the Alvaro who made his debut on Phillip Island was not the same I saw in Donington.”
 

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