WorldSBK Aragon | Bautista boom, Redding bust and singing unsung praises

We look back at the talking points emerging from the 2022 WorldSBK opener, including Alvaro Bautista's comeback and Scott Redding's backward slump

Scott Redding - BMW Motorrad WorldSBK

The 2022 WorldSBK Championship is underway with Motorland Aragon offering up an intriguing starter for ten (well, twelve…) as Alvaro Bautista drew first blood on home soil on his return to Ducati.

Is it a sign of things to come? We look back at the weekend that was and delve into some of the more pressing talking points…

Bautista is back… but hold off on that bet

Did we go back in time and wake up in 2019?

While that would have been great (we could have been vaccinated before COVID…), alas no it is still 2022 and Alvaro Bautista really is standing atop the WorldSBK podium in Ducati colours once again as though the last two years at Honda never happened.

If there were doubts over whether Bautista’s lacklustre couple of years muscling the stiff Fireblade around had blunted the attributes that at times made him unbeatable on the Panigale in 2019, his inspired performance at Aragon proved he is as sharp as ever.

A surprise in the context of two years that yielded just three podiums, in truth most anticipated he’d take just a single weekend to match that tally following eye-catching lap times in testing.

It’s a performance that legitimately verifies his status as a potential title threat this year, but - excuse the cynicism - there is the argument that Aragon skews the formbook somewhat.

Based on previous years, Aragon is both Bautista’s favourite playground, while layout that greatly suits the Ducati, not least when its already slick turn of speed is galloped along by a rider with jockey-like proportions.

Indeed, Bautista completed nearly all of his big moves in the final quarter of that long straight and while that isn’t to say he is compromised in the corners, his aggressive front-end heavy style of riding will receive more of a test next time at Assen.

Then again, for a rider whose form slumped with his confidence in 2019, Bautista couldn’t have looked more excited about his return to form at Aragon, while his breezily dominant two wins were won by margins not seen for a while in WorldSBK.

Which brings us to Toprak Razgatlioglu, a rider that stole the headlines wherever he went in 2021 en route to the title, who was resigned to a rather anonymous brace of third place finishes to kick off his defence.

Confusing though it is, Aragon has long been something of a hoodoo for both Yamaha and Razgatlioglu, the Turk having only achieved one podium there prior to the weekend. 

However, while it’s a bogey track he was very pleased to see the back of, it’s interesting that Razgatlioglu is reverting to his 2021-spec Yamaha R1 at Assen already…

Scott Redding, BMW and one giant mental hurdle

Frankly, it is difficult to imagine a worst possible start to life at BMW for Scott Redding… and not just because he only scraped a single point from the three races.

Indeed, the Briton reflected every ounce from the immense weight of pressure and expectation he carried into the weekend following a pre-season testing programme that could be described as ‘worrying’ at best.

Nevertheless, he was still expected to be circulating inside the top eight this weekend as the best of the BMW contingent, but found himself grappling with an M 1000 RR that didn’t want to stop, turn or stay cool, spending more laps outside the top fifteen than inside it.

BMW blamed the rise in temperatures for the weekend, but that might have been more excusable had Redding’s stablemates Loris Baz, Eugene Laverty and even substitute team-mate Ilya Mikahalchik - making his WorldSBK debut - not been way up the road.

Perhaps BMW was referring to the rising temperatures in Redding’s helmet as the M 1000 RR refused to play ball in Race 2. A technical issue ultimately led to his DNF, but more than one off-track moment - which was spent remonstrating with the bike before rejoining - and a handful of almost comically slow laps before pulling in didn’t exactly suggest catastrophic failure.

Then again, Aragon appeared to show BMW has - once again - made little or no progress over 2021… or 2020… or even 2019.

Even so, evidently the transition from V4 to inline-four is proving trickier than anticipated, a realisation that will have smacked home as he watched Bautista put his middling days on the straight-pot Honda behind him to take victory on the Ducati that Redding had just vacated.

Indeed, bad results are one thing, but being trounced by a stand-in making his WorldSBK debut on the same bike and seeing his former steed trot to victory with ease will be felt like the knockout blows they are.

As a rider that has been open about the mental toil he faced battling uncompetitive machinery in MotoGP, after three seasons rediscovering his form with Ducati, it was a shame to see Redding’s shoulders slumped again.

Still, if Redding can perform a hard reset, then surely Assen presents a better opportunity for him to wring the best from the bike…

Shouting out to WorldSBK’s unsung stars of Aragon

In case you couldn’t take your eyes off the fight at the front, then allow me to highlight some of the other notable performances down the field you may have missed.

First off, where has BMW been hiding Ilya Mikhalchik? A welcome addition to the grid - not least because he was flying the Ukrainian flag high at what is a very poignant time - Mikhalchik was a revelation as the stand-in for the injured Michael van der Mark.

His first outing in WorldSBK, while Mikhalchik came into the event having benefited from two days of testing earlier in the week and certainly knows his way around a BMW from his triple title-winning exploits in the German IDM Superbike series, he still had no business out-qualifying and - in race one at least - out-racing his very talented BMW counterparts.

With limited EWC outings leaving plenty of room in his schedule, perhaps it won’t be the last we see of Mikhalchik this season.

Elsewhere, while it is no longer a surprise to see Axel Bassani battling well inside the top ten, it’s notable he did so in Aragon with significantly fewer pre-season miles than Motocorsa’s fellow Ducati runners. Given Garrett Gerloff failed to turn top five testing pace into anything notable, Bassani may have just leapfrogged him as favourite for the independents’ title.

While top rookie honours were perhaps unsurprisingly shared between Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge - who certainly did a fine job on their WorldSBK debuts with Honda - credit to Luca Bernardi, who clawed his way up to 12th in Race 1, not only his first WorldSBK outing but his first race since breaking his leg in Barcelona seven months ago.

However, perhaps the biggest unsung hero of the weekend was Roberto Tamburini, who showed remarkable top ten pace at times, little more than a week after being confirmed with Motoxracing Yamaha, itself a new addition to the grid in 2022.

A rider you may not know too much about but one definitely to watch, while Tamburini hasn’t raced on the European stage since Superstock 1000 was wound down in 2018, he is a former front runner in WorldSSP and SSTK 1000, where he was more than a match for the likes of Toprak Razgatlioglu, Michael Ruben Rinaldi and Michael van der Mark back in the day…

Keep an eye out for this dark horse… you heard it here first.