Weapon to adversary: Ducati bids ‘ciao’ to Bautista as Honda beckons

He may be on his way to Honda but Alvaro Bautista and Ducati still have a 2019 World Superbike Championship title to win...

Ducati WorldSBK - Alvaro Bautista

Ducati has given its best wishes to Alvaro Bautista on his new challenge after it was officially confirmed he will leave the World Superbike Championship title-challenging team after just one season. 

The ex-MotoGP rider made a spectacular WorldSBK debut with the factory Aruba.it Ducati team at the start of the season, clinching 11 wins from the first 11 races. 

However, his form has fluctuated since then with numerous errors strangling what started as a dominant run to the title. For now, Bautista is facing an 81-point margin to Jonathan Rea in the standings, a margin many believe he will struggle to break down with 4 rounds and 16 races remaining, 

Despite Bautista’s decision to turn down Ducati’s 2020 WorldSBK contract, the Italian firm is committed to throwing its resources behind the Spaniard to give it the best chance of winning its first riders’ title since Carlos Checa in 2011.

“I wish to fondly bid goodbye to Álvaro and thank him for the incredible emotions that he has given us this year, he will surely be a difficult adversary to beat,” said Aruba.it Ducati team principal Stefano Cecconi. 

“Now however we must focus on the current season: we no longer have an advantage, but the world title battle is still open and we will give our maximum commitment to conclude our collaboration in the best possible way.”

Ciao Ducati, Konnichiwa Honda

With the MotoGP grid almost complete, Bautista’s impending move to Honda now earns the mantle of ‘worst kept secret’ in motorsport right now, which is ironic given the manufacturer itself has said precisely nothing that either confirms Bautista or says a new Fireblade is on the way. 

But put bluntly, Bautista will not join Honda unless it was replacing the bike currently circulating well outside the top ten every weekend. That is unless he really, REALLY wants a guaranteed 2021 MotoGP return. It’s likely he’ll have both anyway.

With his Ducati tenure ending on October 26th, it is expected that Bautista will appear on track with Honda for the first time at Jerez in November, with the new Fireblade revealed at the Tokyo Motorshow starting on October 24. 

Why is Bautista joining Honda?

A new era appeared to have dawned when Bautista turned up with Ducati at the start of the 2019 WorldSBK season and instantly blew away the opposition, namely four-time running champion Rea out of the box with the Ducati Panigale V4R.

A top level rider – with 158 MotoGP starts to his name – coupled to a seemingly excellent new Superbike package made a potent combination, but while Bautista enjoyed being a ‘star’ in WorldSBK, he made repeated assertions that he felt he belonged in MotoGP, a feeling vindicated by his 11 wins from 11 races.

However, Bautista’s hopes of ever getting back to MotoGP via the Ducati route seem slim-to-none, in part because of his assertion it had to be current generation one. With Ducati representation on the MotoGP grid halving from eight to four between 2018 and 2019, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious way back, even a year down the line.

By contrast, Honda ‘needs’ a big name to head up its new HRC project after years of under-delivery with its WorldSBK efforts, albeit via works endorsed satellite teams. One can imagine the contract has MotoGP options in it… and besides, however disappointing Honda has been in the last few years at Superbike level, you can imagine HRC will be going hard at its 2020 bid.