Jonathan Rea vs Alvaro Bautista: Where It All Turned Around

2019 saw Jonathan Rea face and overcome a new rival, but how did the dramatic season unfold?

The 2019 WorldSBK season is in the books and with testing around the corner, a new campaign is drawing near. After one of the most talked about WorldSBK title campaigns in memory, sat down with the protagonists Jonathan Rea and Alvaro Bautista, to get their thoughts on the season.

Having seen Bautista reel off eleven wins in a row, his coronation seemed a foregone conclusion. But a sudden series of crashes left Bautista reeling. With Rea in relentless form, the world champion overturned a 61-point lead to be crowned champion with two rounds remaining.

Facing the impossible

"I’ve never really seen a turnaround like this one," admitted Rea. "My target was always to win the championship but after four rounds it was…a big dream. We couldn’t see any weakness in the package of Alvaro Bautista and Ducati. It’s the strongest package I’ve ever faced. Winning at Imola was so important, because up until then we were drowning. That was a gasp of air that was enough to compose ourselves.

"Coming into the season I didn’t know much about Alvaro. I knew that I needed to keep the pressure on him because the season is long. To keep the lead all year is hard. At the beginning of the year I couldn’t see much hope, but the mistakes in Misano and Jerez were completely uncalled for. I was just trying to keep doing my own thing. It’s really hard to manage the championship from the front, I’ve been in that position, and when you’re chasing you have nothing to lose at times."

A grand entrance

Bautista came to WorldSBK with nothing to lose after finding himself exiled from MotoGP. With a factory Ducati he dominated the opening four rounds, before Rea started to apply some pressure.

"It was ten years since my last win when I won in Phillip Island," the Spaniard said. "It was very special to win again. Assen was another good moment because it was very difficult conditions and we managed to win the races. We have had many good times in the season and bad times. To start by winning the first eleven races was really impressive. I said before the start of the season that I didn't want to expect anything, but even in my wildest dreams I didn’t expect to win the first eleven races.

"At the same time, in my nightmares, I didn’t expect to lose the championship in just a few rounds. So you have positive and negative things from this season. In this sport you have to be prepared for everything. During the season I never thought about the championship. We had a big gap, but still we continued working to improve. In this sport it’s always when you try improving that you find something.

"During the season we started to try to develop the bike, to improve the setting but maybe we made some wrong steps. When you have a rival like Jonathan, who gives everything in all situations, you cannot lose these things. In the end, it was strange. We had a bit of bad luck with crashes that were not my fault, but that’s racing. I think it’s the good side of racing, that you never know what happens until the checkered flag, it’s why I love this sport."

Pressure point

The unknown always makes racing special, but the reason fans love the sport is because of the rivalries that develop. Whilst Rea didn’t know what to expect from Bautista on track, he quickly learned that his level of talent was high but also that there was a vulnerability for him to press.

"Throughout the year we saw different sides to Alvaro," Rea reflected. "At the beginning of the year he was a really smiley guy on TV. Every time the cameras went in the garage he was full of smiles and double hand waves. He was like an angelic kid. After the first crash it was still the same; he was still his happy-go-lucky self. After making a few more mistakes though, he was a shadow of the beginning of the season. You could see the stress on his shoulders. That’s when we just had to keep relentlessly delivering results every weekend. I didn’t need him to see me on the top step of the podium. I just needed him to look at me standing next to him. I wanted him to know that I was right there and that he couldn’t have a bad weekend."

Rea was trying to keep the pressure on Bautista; and the Spaniard learned that the biggest challenge facing anyone with Rea is his ability to consistently get the most from himself, even if on any given weekend he didn’t have the bike to beat them.

"I think that the strong point for Jonathan is that maybe he isn’t always the fastest rider, but he can control the championship," Bautista believes. "I beat him, Van de Mark beat him, Chaz beat him, Toprak beat him, but he always found a way to keep on top of his championship charge. He’s not strong in every race, but he always manages to stay near the top. If not first, then second or third, but always on the podium. At the end of the championship, it’s important to get points and not to make mistakes. I think a big part of this is that he has a lot of experience with the bike. He has a lot of experience with the team, with the championship, the tyres. He knows how everything works very well. I think we missed that experience this season."

Consistency is king

For Rea the praise has been effusive. His consistency was the hallmark of his fifth crown, but not one that he feels needs to be praised. For Rea it was just the smart way of approaching the season.

"Finishing second so often was the logical thing to do," Rea explained. "If I was a team, I’d struggle to work with a rider that would throw a strong result away, when he could just finish second when it was clear the other guy was so far ahead. You can’t just get on the bike and magically find three tenths a lap. You have to think that today you’re racing for second, and then go and try to do it. It’s about building a championship.

"I tried to keep working hard all year and I didn’t expect the Laguna Seca weekend to turn around the way it did. For Alvaro not to score in all three races, that really helped my cause. To go eleven races unbeaten and then to face the challenges he has, I just can’t understand it. I really can’t. I can’t understand how you can go to Phillip Island in your first race, on a new bike and new championship and mentally be that strong to win races by fifteen seconds. To then go to Thailand and do pretty much the same. Then we went to Aragon and he was still winning by a distance. It looked like there was no chance for the season to turn around like it has."

Rock bottom

For Bautista the weekend in the United States quickly turned into a Californian nightmare. That was the pivotal weekend and one that he admits left his hopes in tatters.

"Laguna was the worst moment of the year for me," admitted the Spaniard. "To get three zeros in Laguna was really important for the championship. I was injured after the Superpole crash, and in my career I’ve raced many times with injuries but it left me injured after the summer break. When you’re injured you cannot give 100%. Laguna was the worst moment of my season."

While Laguna was the end of Bautista’s title challenge, it was only the start of Rea’s quest for records. With a fifth title secured at Magny-Cours he went on to break the single season wins record with 17 victories. The Northern Irishman ended the campaign with one more than Bautista, but the crucial difference was 34 podiums to 24 in Rea’s favour. That was what swung the campaign his way. With a fifth world title and Bautista joining Honda, the dynamics of their rivalry will change again for 2020.

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Didn't Ducati also lose some rpm? WSBK making the field more level? What was the timing for that?

Good read again. I did not subsccribe to WSBK this past season, retirement has meant choices need be made. Your content is how I get news of it.

Thank you.

Yeah Ducati lost 250rpm in April (I want to say it was after Aragon) but speaking to engineers inside the paddock this figure makes very little difference. This is especially the case when Ducati had the highest revving bike of the year by a considerable margin. Even with 250rpm taken away they still had over 1000rpm more than anyone else. The biggest strength of the Ducati engine isn't top end though its that it's a very linear power curve so from low revs across the gears it can deliver power. This has meant that they have a significant advantage compared to the other bikes on corner exit where the riders can wind on the gas and have a strong engine. Losing 250rpm didnt affect this and Laverty told me that this characteristic was the biggest advantage that the V4R had over other bikes 

Great stuff, mate, and we really appreciate your views right from the coalface!

6K g

As in peak valve acceleration. With the desomodromic system Ducati has the ability to match the best peak valve acceleration values from the last generation of NA F1 Engines (with pneumatic springs), which according to what Honda has published was 6K g (6 × 103 g) . And that is where the powerband advantages for Ducati are probably originating, and where they will probably stay. The ability to open and close valves quicker than the next fellow does not necessarily mean more top end, but it will always mean more mid-range with an equivalent top end. It is hard to see anything with valve springs ever approaching that 6K g mark. Ducati may not be using all of the Desomdromic's 6K g peak valve acceleration capability in WSBK, but they using enough of it to be ahead of everyone else.

Is it time to pass out the Trophies?

Of course, if valve actuation were all that mattered, we could just measure everyone's peak accelerations and hand out the trophies on that basis. But thankfully it is not. What impresses me so much about Rea is that he and his Team work so well to deliver a great bike to race with, which can be very different than one that will cut fast laps without any other riders about to muck up the effort. Rea's bike seems to be fast off the trailer every weekend, and it appears that he and his Team work to optimize it for the race, as opposed to chasing a theoretical quickest lap on an empty track (not that Jonathan exactly hangs about in practice and qualifying, but you don't collect points for "winning" practice). Rea reminds me a lot of Marc Marquez in this regard. Full credit to Rea for knowing what he needs to compete with in the race, and kudos to his Team for being able to deliver it for him.

Who keeps squishing my front tire?

Alvaro still doesn't seem to have mastered the difference between a front MotoGP Michelin and a WSBK Pirelli, and I thought that played a large part in his downfall as the season progressed. Bautista looks like wants to brake well into the turn-in phase...when his front tire is still mashed down against the track surface. MotoGP Michelins will tolerate this (as opposed to the previous MotoGP Bridgestones that actually thrived on it) but the WSBK Pirellis just don't seem to like turning in while being properly squished. They still need that "pop-up" phase where the rider releases enough brake pressure to allow the Pirelli to pop back up a bit and assume a profile shape that will then allow the pilot to turn in. Of course, get it wrong the other way by allowing it to pop-up too quickly and it will then happily unload the front contact patch for your amusement. Alvaro still appears to struggle to find the right balance between these extremes. Rea, on the other hand, seems to find that front Pirelli sweet-spot better than anyone else currently on the grid (and his Team has mastered setting up the front end to allow him to do so). Bautista looked like did well in situations where the rear tire was more important than the front (which may have been more the case in the early part of the schedule), but had issues when that order of importance was reversed. He should get better with time. Just my two cents, and thanks again for the insights. Cheers.

Rea applied the pressure and Bautista folded like a card table, simple as that. It will be a cake walk for Rea next season as well. Alvaro made a huge mistake, as far as contending for the championship goes, by moving to Honda. Honda will never put the effort into SBK that they do into MotoGp. They never have. He will be lucky to earn a podium. He should have stayed with Ducati just like Lorenzo should have stayed with Yamaha. Rea is a very savvy guy. He is focused on winning championships. Unless Chaz has a breakout season, I think it's going to take another MotoGp refugee to dethrone Rea, probably on another Kawasaki. I, for one, would like to see Rossi do a year in SBK on a Yamaha before he retires. That would certainly put some excitement back into SBK.


It'd be better still if it was a sprinkling of those on the cusp of retirement - Rossi, Lorenzo, Dovi, Crutchlow etc. Though it could start to look like a veterans series.

Biaggi, checa, melandri, McCoy, Barros, Elias, bayliss...

Honda were into superbikes BIG TIME during the 90's -2000's.  They didn't build the RC30, RC45, RC51 for nothing and put a Ford vs Ferrari type effort into beating Ducati.  With the NSR500 laying waste to the Grand prix circus, WSB was their main focus during a time when WSB threatened to over take GP's.  Kocinski, Slight, Fogarty and co didn't come cheap.

When Bayliss looked uncatchable the first half of the season and then Honda did something to the motor (remember the "special oil" bit. :)) and Edwards was able to reel him in. Culminating at Imola, which may still the greatest pair of races in recorded history. 

Indeed, I don't think Bautista had a choice of leaving Ducati. Ducati seem to have a remarkable ability to shoot themselves in the foot. Just consider their impatience with Lorenzo when he may have really brought the fight to Marquez in his 3rd year, instead they dumped him. The same with Stoner, whose imput they ignored for years even though he was the only one winning: the comparison with Honda and Marquez is apt. Had Bautista gotten a 2nd year and been a bit more consistent he might have finally overturned the reign of Rea. Instead he'll be on a Honda and... nowhere, unless they really do deliver a completely revamped package.

There is a saying in the investment world: "the past is not a reliable predictor of future performance"

Bautista had every choice:

"Domenicali says Ducati offered Bautista a new deal “with six zeros in two years” which the former MotoGP rider rejected. The Italian chief also made it clear Bautista made his intentions to move to Honda clear before Ducati opted to promote Scott Redding to its factory World Superbike squad from 2020."

This schmozzle is on Bautista, not Ducati.

Honda have released the new CBR1000RR-R SP now.  It's an all new bike, but it's an evolution still.  It still has an I4 engine, but with significantly more power, new frame, new suspension, new fairings, aero appendages, etc.

It's not the V4 that people have been rumouring Honda to release for the last couple of decades.  It will be interesting to see how improved the new bike is though.  It's certainly more of a change than their last 'refresh' of the CBR1000RR.

Compare Bautista's results to his teammate's throughout the season, and for the most part he utterly smoked Davies which was not something I expected before the season began. Many including Bautista himself will probably just remember this season as a lost opportunity, but to my mind Bautista extracted 110 percent from the Ducati for a lot of the championship. It was obvious just watching him ride the thing. Yes it had power,  but I held my breath watching him slide the thing into every corner and catch it on the apex to get it slowed down. Rea on the other hand was on rails, his Kawasaki allowing him to maintain ultra consistent lines. I always felt it was a matter of time before Alvaro turned up at some tracks he had no experience on and made some mistakes. Kudos to him for managing to take it to Rea, in a new series, on a new bike, at some tracks he had never ridden.