2019 Phillip Island WorldSBK Round Up: Wizard of Oz? Definitely. Wizard of WorldSBK? Not Yet

MotoGP riders have changed the game in WorldSBK before but is Alvaro Bautista the next coming of Max Biaggi, or is he like Garry McCoy, a winner who put together a decent SBK campaign? Is the answer somewhere in the middle?

When Biaggi came to WorldSBK, he changed a lot about how riders approached the series. No longer was good, good enough. He demanded more from his team and any small issue was a big issue for Biaggi. He was trained from his 250GP days to understand that any small problem can become a big problem very quickly. He motivated himself and his team to make everything perfect for the race.

He wasn’t more professional than his rivals - he was up against Troy Bayliss, Troy Corser and a host of others - but he worked in a different way. MotoGP was the pinnacle then and it’s still the best class in the world. It’s the deepest championship with the deepest pockets. There’s always riders biting at your heels and you have to get the most from your package at all times. That’s only exacerbated at the moment with the Golden Era we’re witnessing.

You can’t race in MotoGP now and be anything less than 100% committed on every lap. You ride everything like it’s your last lap, because with such competition that’s the only way to stay sharp. Bed yourself in with an easy session? There’s no chance of that any longer. For Bautista, he arrived in Australia with that mentality and it showed.

Instantly on Friday he was a totally different rider to the one we saw in testing. The team had changed his bike and given him a new front end, and instantly, he was riding lines and times that the others couldn’t match. He carried that form through the whole weekend and easily won all three races.

No magic

Alvaro Bautista isn’t a magician. He hasn’t produced a great illusion of being a good MotoGP rider and then turning into a fantastic Superbike rider. He’s just been trained in a different way to his new rivals. In WorldSBK in recent years we’ve seen Jonathan Rea dominate proceedings with his only real rival being Chaz Davies. Before that, it was Tom Sykes versus Aprilia riders. The level of competition was such that for a lot of riders, they knew going to races that it would be almost impossible to win. That’s hard for any rider to deal with. It’s also in stark contrast to MotoGP where in recent years the grid has become more and more competitive. There’s a reason so many riders have won races or finished on the podium. The gap front to back is smaller and if you do the perfect job you can spring a surprise. That motivates everyone to be at the absolute limit at all times.

Bautista, like Biaggi or Carlos Checa, came from that crucible. In Australia he became the first debutant to win in WorldSBK since Biaggi. Can he keep that form going forward?

Maybe. But equally maybe not. There are no guarantees in racing but Bautista, and Leon Haslam, were both expected to be strong in Australia. They both need to take the momentum from Round 1 to Thailand in three weeks.

You say you want a revolution

MotoGP was revolutionized by a change of electronics and tires. WorldSBK has been revolutionized by the introduction of new regulations. The most public and popular of these has been the rev limits. This rule has overshadowed a much more important rule change; that manufacturers are forced to make the same materials available to factory and customer squads. If, for example, Kawasaki introduce a new engine upgrade for Jonathan Rea and Haslam in light of Phillip Island, that must then be available to all other Kawasaki teams. This rule makes the teams in the midfield more competitive and closer to the front. Yamaha showed that this week, with GRT finishing on the podium with Marco Melandri. All four bikes are the same and all four riders had moments to remember this week. At the end of Round 1 Melandri, Alex Lowes, and Michael van der Mark are separated by just one point.

BMW were competitive on their debut. The Honda was running inside the top ten. The future is bright for WorldSBK. Bautista might have grabbed the headlines, but the entire grid is getting more competitive. Every lap is becoming more important for riders and teams to maximize their package. It’s not at the level of MotoGP but once a rider feels they have a chance it changes their approach. They become closed off to the rest of the world. They have a shorter fuse. Everything starts to count towards their performance. There are a lot of elements of MotoGP that have started to permeate the WorldSBK paddock in recent years. Closer grids and more competitive bikes are the most positive of those.

Bautista didn’t suddenly become a world beater. The WorldSBK riders didn’t suddenly lose their mojo. A combination of factors were at work in Australia and Bautista might have been the Wizard of Oz, but when we get to the next round in Thailand it could be very different. The curtain could be pulled back in Buriram and it will reveal a lot more than what we saw at first glance in Australia.

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Did win race 2 @ PI in '09 after getting pushed wide at the Southern Loop in race 1, but they're talking about winning the actual 1st race.

For me I think Bautista will be in the mix more often than not. Last year he finished 8th at Chang, only 6.8secs behind Marquez so I'm expecting him to be near the front.


He did and he probably would have the first too race if he had not been pushed off the track. Ben won exactly 50% of the races that year. He would have one one more if he had not run out of gas on the last lap at one race.

I think I’ll hold off for a few weekends before assuming Bautista is going to dominate. Apart from PI apparently favouring the Duc, I’ve seen a few wunderkind become more ordinary over time - just look at Zarco and to some extent Viñales in MotoGP.

Though, it would be nice if it turned out that he could really challenge for every win; so long as it’s not by this weekends margin, that would rapidly become even more boring than the last two or three years.

PI is a bogey track for Alvarro, I'm waiting until Aragon to rate his true performance... vs his team mate at least. ;)

I totally disagree that Bautista might struggle at other venues to come. He obliterated the field. In race 2 his maximum lead was 18 seconds on lap 21. That put him almost a full second per lap over 2nd place!! That was more than race 1! His largest lead race 1 was 16 seconds over 2nd also on lap 21, before backing down to cruise the last lap 2 or 3 seconds off his race pace. He has already demonstrated himself to be highly adaptible. It might be closer at many of the upcoming venues, but I think he will be the man to beat everywhere. Its great that the rest of the field is a lot closer to Rea now, but Bautista's superiority is significant. Moreso than Biaggi or anybody else in recent years. 

I think Beautista could take the title this yr. And I am looking fwd.

(He has been on a remarkable trajectory for a while now, review 2018 with an eye on him and be very impressed. Now consider that he and this V4 Duc may be a very good fit. He is riding around some of it's handling shortcomings. And these are going to improve, as it is a brand new bike).

I believe

Chapeau to Alvaro. However given the nature of the rules for rev limiting i'm surprised  they were allowed as they were framed. My take is that it's dependant on a standard bikes maximum revs plus 1100.

There's no common hard limit governing all the bikes so if you can produce an extreme bore/stroke and high revving special then you have a huge advantage. Maximum power is related to how high you can rev your engine. In the case of ducati they have a huge advantage at this moment with nearly an extra 2,000 rpm over the Kawasaki.

Its hard to believe that someone in wsbk technical committee didnt understand this.

This is encouraging an arms race to build limited edition racers with no relevance to road bikes.

Far better to have a common rev limit applicable to all machines of the same capacity irrespective of the number of cylinders. Shouldn't wsbk be encouraging lower revving more efficient engines with real life relevance?

As it stands if Ducati win the 2019 championship one can't but help think that it would be a hollow victory.

World superbikes is beginning to resemble  horse racing with all these moving goalposts.