Rea responds to Bautista clash backlash; Ducati mulling escalating penalty?

Jonathan Rea responds to criticism from Alvaro Bautista following their WorldSBK clash at Magny-Cours amid talk Ducati could escalate matter

Jonathan Rea, Alvaro Bautista

Jonathan Rea has bitten back in his war of words with WorldSBK title rival Alvaro Bautista amid talk Ducati have sought a clarification of the penalty the six-time World Champion received in the wake of their collision at Magny-Cours.

In what has been a largely cleanly-fought three-way tussle between Bautista, Rea and Toprak Razgatlioglu for this year’s title, matters came to a head in France when the Kawasaki rider clipped the championship leader and sent him off and out during race two at Chateau d’Eau.

While Rea was quickly punished with a long lap penalty for his part in the collision, Ducati has intimated it is dissatisfied that Rea was allowed to keep racing to an eventual fifth place whereas Bautista was forced into only his second non-score of the year.

Prompting stinging criticism from Bautista, who described Rea as ‘not a champion’ and appeared to suggest he was deliberate in his actions, the Ulsterman has taken to Instagram to accept fault but also to defend himself, pointing out the Spaniard didn’t race cleanly himself over the weekend.

“About the collision with Alvaro, there are two sides to any story and now I have had time to process all the information let me express my feelings clearly.

"Number one – and most important – I did not plan or want to come into contact and even when we did touch, the last thing I expected or wanted was for him to fall and not be able to continue the race. That is something I want to say firmly before speaking of how it happened from my side.

“In terms of incident, I was on the limit to make the manoeuvre, I went for the pass, his line was closing towards me on his inside and at one point I had to adjust my trajectory as to not close the front myself. I made my apex and unfortunately, he went down. 

“I am really sorry for that because it was really not my intention. After the race I went to see Alvaro and offered my apologies. As riders, we compete at the limit and we sometimes touch each other. This weekend Alvaro also came into contact with a rider in the SP Race, right in front of me, losing a wing off his bike and throwing it into my path.

"Also, other riders touched me this weekend; its racing and it happens. Unfortunately, Alvaro crashed this time, and I got the long lap as per Race Direction decision which I fully accepted. 

“I wish Alvaro all the best in the remaining races of the season and as far as I am concerned it is an unfortunate incident that it is already behind us. Now we look forward to racing in Catalunya.”

Rea’s words come amid talk Ducati is considering taking an appeal to the FIM to get Rea thrown out of the results altogether. According to GPOne, Ducati believes it has an argument to get Rea excluded for his part in the clash.

Does Ducati have a case in WorldSBK clash?

Accidents happen in motorcycle racing, there is no getting away from that. Even Rea in his Instagram post points this out, writing ‘it’s racing, it happens’.

To his credit, Rea hasn’t attempted to absolve himself from blame in the collision with Bautista and he has remained contrite - if steadfast - in taking responsibility for an unfortunate outcome.

Whether Rea received the correct penalty is open to conjecture. Because the incident came so early on in the race, Rea always stood to make a recovery from his long lap penalty, though it is worth noting his pace afterwards wasn’t as sparkling as we have seen from the Ulsterman elsewhere and suggests the incident went a long way to spooking him.

Because of the laps remaining, perhaps a double long lap penalty would have been more fitting, but it’s hard for Ducati really to argue he deserved a full black flag exclusion.

Rea’s difficulties are symptomatic of him being caught in the middle fighting two very different opponents. Whereas Razgatlioglu is an aggressive late-braker, Bautista is a smoother, rhythmic racer… or put another way, Razgatlioglu makes his passes in corners, Bautista in the slipstream.

While Rea has gotten used to leaning on Razgatlioglu and vice versa, such a style against Bautista risks contact, as demonstrated on Sunday.

For Ducati to say it was deliberate, however, is wide of the mark. While Rea’s pass lacked finesse and didn’t give enough room, it’s more indicative of a rider trying to battle all fronts in different ways.

Plus, as Rea points out, Ducati might want to consider how he was very firmly - perhaps unfairly - duffed up by Bautista’s team-mate Michael Ruben Rinaldi in the laps afterwards in response.

Either way, the incident piles more pressure onto Rea, who has now gone four events without topping the podium, his longest dry spell since joining Kawasaki, while it was his lowest accumulated points haul on a race weekend since his Honda days.