From #19 to #1 and looking like it will stay for another season, Alvaro Bautista has made it back-to-back titles
Who would have thought that when Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) and Ducati parted ways at the end of 2019, they’d find each other again for 2022 and 2023, with two titles to their name? The 38-year-old from Telavera de la Reina has joined many an exclusive club in what has been a trail-blazing title defence; now, a two-time WorldSBK Champion, back-to-back at that and likewise for Ducati, his season has been nothing short of remarkable and perhaps worryingly for his rivals, it still isn’t over.
THE RECORDS AND WINS: starting on a high
When the calendar was released and Phillip Island shown as the first round, the biggest smile probably went to the now #1. After an extravagant team launch in Madonna di Campiglio in the Italian Dolomites which revealed the #1 on the front of WorldSBK Ducati for the first time in 18 years, the opening round awaited and that’s exactly where #TheDefence started. An emphatic hat-trick got his season off to a storming start; we’d seen the movie before though, if you think back to that debut in 2019. With that kind of form and both main rivals Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) struggling, the tone was set.
For the next 12 races, Bautista rocketed to 11 race wins, the only race he failed to win was when he crashed in the Superpole Race at Mandalika. Besides that, he was dominant, with a memorable triple in Barcelona preceding a home triple for Ducati at Misano. The run was ended by Razgatlioglu at Donington Park in the Superpole Race but even then, the Turk’s rear-view mirror was filled with red as Bautista chased a record-breaking 12th straight win, never done before in World Superbike. By the time WorldSBK’s return to Imola was underway, the reigning World Champion was on a mission and he took the first win of the weekend, seeing his lead extend up to 98 points, the most it had ever been and the most he’d ever had in a World Championship.
FIGHTING OFF THE OPPOSITION AND BOUNCING BACK: playing the game well
There were countless battles in the second half of the year as his main rivals found some strong form to keep him honest. Imola’s Superpole Race proved a particular turning point, when Razgatlioglu beat Bautista in the final two laps – somehow without any electronics – before Bautista crashed on the opening lap of Race 2, which saw the Turk take 25 points out of his Championship lead. Toprak was then second as Bautista struggled with a front tyre change issue in the flag-to-flag Race 1 at Most, before he took more points from him in the Superpole Race. It looked like he had Bautista beaten in Race 2 as well but a rear tyre failure saw him crash out as the Championship leader won.
At Magny-Cours, Bautista suffered a temporary tech issue in Race 1 as Razgatlioglu once more stormed to victory. However, the Spaniard recovered again, making the most of a bad situation with a tenth place finish, before a second and a win on Sunday. It showed Bautista’s mentality; bouncing back from knocks and misfortune, choosing to fight hard instead of settle down. The race-by-race mentality coincided with thinking of the Championship too, as despite wanting to win each race, he always answered back to Toprak’s threats. This was never truer than at Aragon, when after a Race 1 crash from the lead – and then a second one on the final lap from a points-scoring position – he took a sublime Sunday double. The Superpole Race saw him get his elbows out whilst he eased to Race 2 victory. He was willing to battle and do what it took to assert himself as #1 whenever possible.
THE CROWNING MOMENT: back-to-back Bautista
Somewhat of a fitting circularity to Bautista in many ways has been the location of his second title; in 2019, it was the scene of where his rookie year title race started to derail, although two years later and he took his second and final podium with Honda. At the end of 2021, it was the setting for #TheReturn with his first test back with Ducati, whilst in 2023, he’s clinched a second title in fine style as despite pressure from Razgatlioglu delaying celebrations from Portimao, the Championship goes back to the red corner as a special chapter of WorldSBK comes to a close in 2023’s final round. Leading the race from lights out until the chequered flag, resisting Toprak’s onslaught, pulling clear and playing to the crowd on the final lap, it was vintage Alvaro at home, as he clinched the title on home soil for the first time.
MEMBERS ONLY: the exclusive records the #1 has matched, equalled and joined
Whilst a full list of stats about Bautista’s season will come at a later date, here are some of the headlining ones of a memorable season. He matched his and Rea’s record for wins in a row at 11, whilst he also matched and surpassed Carl Fogarty for number of wins in Ducati, taking the 55th and 56th in Portugal. He matched and surpassed the number of wins in a season too, with the previous record being 17, whilst Bautista entered his Championship-winning round with 24 and securing the title with a 25th, thus the first rider ever to take 25 wins in a single season. The three-race format doesn’t come into it either; of those wins, just six came in the Superpole Race, meaning his feature-length wins take him above the 19 count anyway.
Then, there’s the pride of becoming a back-to-back World Champion. Jonathan Rea is the obvious record-holder with six in a row, but there aren’t many more back-to-back title-holders either. Carl Fogarty managed it on two separate occasions – 1994 and 1995 and again in 1998 and 1999. Besides that, Fred Merkel in 1988 and 1989 and Doug Polen in 1991 and 1992 are the only other riders to do it. Troy Bayliss, Colin Edwards, Troy Corser, James Toseland and Max Biaggi are all multiple World Champions but none of them did it in consecutive years. With the #1, he’s the first WorldSBK Champion to do it for Ducati since ‘Foggy’ in 1999, thus the first time since then that Ducati have held on to defend a crown in a World Championship with the same rider – Casey Stoner couldn’t manage it in MotoGP™ in 2008.