Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: Are We Done Already?

Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie. The full blog will be available each month for MotoMatters.com subscribers. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

We have never seen anything quite like the arrival of Alvaro Bautista and his big red rocket of a Ducati Panigale V4R in WorldSBK history. Well, we kinda have, in the form of Doug Polen on that year’s ballistic desmo missile back in 1991. Just not quite as dominantly in only two rounds, as Polen won five from six, after a retirement in race two at Donington.

Whatever the comparison, ex-GP runner Bautista has entered WorldSBK at Star Trek levels of spacetime continuums by winning the first six races of the 2019 season, his first ever races in WorldSBK. The fact that there are three races per meeting now, not two, only slightly detracts from the glorious arrival of the new class act - stage left, right and centre.

Really, can you pick holes in the fabric of Ducati’s Alvaro effort so far?

We’ll have a go but it’s a crimson chemise of Kevlar cloth, stitched together with Kevlar thread.

So how did we get here, six out of six for a guy who never used Pirellis before, or used steel brakes since he was a kid?

Blame the rules. Or praise them, depending on your personal viewpoint.

For some years now Dorna (OK, the FIM, if you must keep up the fourth wall) has sought to level the machinery landscape in WorldSBK, both between all the manufacturers, and from privateer right up to the official teams.

They have been highly and repetitively successful. Not really their fault that some are not making the most of these new opportunities.

Praise your chosen deity that there won’t be too much tech detail here and now but as I have alluded to many times, you can buy all the main performance parts on Jonathan Rea’s Kawasaki, with the exception of the relatively few things that a factory team will always have buried down in their deeper pockets. And deep pockets are right. If privateer teams had more cavernous ones they could have most of that extra stuff too. And expensive top technicians to send the rider out from pitlane the best possible way, which is just as important.

And let’s not forget the rider, who has to be a top talent or podiums will elude your team even if you have the best possible material and backroom staff.

In Ducati this year there has been a big-time improvement on their base bike, more specialised staff with fresh perspectives, and not least a new bike with an engine which more-or-less calls the 2015 MotoGP bike daddy and its own highly focused chassis mummy.

Not a bad start in racing life?

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Looking at the standings, it would seem that Alvaro is doing the winning, not the bike. OK, he's got the factory right behind him, but the other Ducati riders are far enough down the field to suggest either he has the bike just how he wants it, or his riding is at another level.

Bautista is a a light year ahead of the others in bike racing terms. He’s farther ahead than Rea has ever been on the Kawasaki. The question in future is probably whether any other manufacturers want to homologate such an expensive one and / or Dorna are able to neuter the Ducati enough to create some parity. 


Hats off to Jonathan Rea, though. He’s riding the wheels off the Kawasaki to at least try to take the fight to Bautista. 

Mr Ritchie! Thank you for the contribution to understanding the new developments, in SBK.

I admire the Ducati method of pulling no punches and how they squared up a solid 1-2 hit, with Alvaro and the new bike technology. It appears that the combination is what has made them so potent. The results are looming, both for Rea and for the rest of the Ducati riders, showing what the potential is for the Panigale, should the other riders wrap their heads around how it likes to ride.

Jonathan Rea has been heard many times over the last four years claiming that Kawasaki spent more money than the other factories, and the competition would need to spend more if they wanted to win (or words to that effect).

It's starting to look like someone at Ducati took that seriously.

I only hope that Rea doesn't start crying "unfair" about something.

I don’t understand why there is so much credit being given to Ducati here. If Bautista weren’t riding that bike, then we would be talking about how that bike is difficult to ride and needs time to iron out all the problems. 

To me, WSBK writing to date should be about two things...the brilliance of Bautista...and the vast improvements that Yamaha have made. Not only does it appear their bike has the potential to beat Rea this year, but the battle between their 4 riders might be the most consistent and enticing entertainment we will see all year. 

Cant wait to see how all this unfolds. I love watching these guys ride and don’t mind the dominance so far. In fact, watching Bautista on corner entry gives me the same walking-on-eggshells sensation that watching Marquez does. I don’t know how he does not crash on every corner the way the rear and front or moving around! So cool!

Marc1s, brilliant mate

(However do they determine an overdog in need of neutering? Average of entrants? Performance of one outlier? Trap speed/lap time/performance stats?)

Duc revs are on a chopping block somewhere, eh? But then what of Kawi? Things get a wee bit wiggly right quick.

Lowes - let's get a race win out of Lowes and the Yamaha. Beautista is a phenom! Well said re his bike out of shape approaching apex. WSBK gets it's wake up call, and the espresso is in Red.

Best comment in a while ^

The scary thing about Bautista's Ducati is that it can only get better as they get it better sorted and set up. At the moment it is winning easily on acceleration and top end and doesn't look that great on corner entry and mid corner. As such the potential for improvement in the package is greater than for the non Ducatis.

The other Ducatis have even more potential for improvement as the other riders work out how to ride the bike.

Davies was showing signs before his technical failure.

It can't be claimed that ducati is cheating :-).  Agree it is impressive to see Rea lift his own game; im thinking he will succeed in the not too distant future.

It can't be claimed that ducati is cheating :-).  Agree it is impressive to see Rea lift his own game; im thinking he will succeed in the not too distant future.

Scott Redding's performance on the Ducati in the BSB tests appears similar - he has shown real pace from the off and is ahead of others on similar bikes. The MotoGP technique (whatever that is) may have something to do with this. For me it also shows Bautista for the class act he is, having been shielded by lesser bikes in MotoGP, perhaps. It also cheers me up for Redding - if he can do well this year on the UK tracks that make Laguna Seca look wide, fast, and flowing he might just find a place back on a world championship bike, or settle for the domestic challenge like Shakey Byrne.

Rea is having a hard time at present, but things may turn enough to make the competition tight, and he has had a good run after those Honda years. As GR said, it takes multiple elements to work well to get to the front and stay there. Bautista has a long way to go yet....

News from Portugal BSB test, Scott Redding goes quickest! 1m 43.727 Tommy Bridewell also on a Ducati V4R 1m 43.904.

Great result for S.R. & Tommy Bridewell.

I think Josh Brookes is also on a V4R this year, he was a second slower at 1m 44.9, but it is only testing.

I would like to see Ducati do well in BSB this year.

Correct me if I’m wrong but it doesn’t seem that long ago that some were saying Kawasaki’s rev limit should be lowered, and Kawasaki (or others) response was that it was Rea that was the difference and not just the bike. Now the conversation seems to be going down the same path with Ducati. Great riders make a difference, and we get the pleasure of enjoying. Arguably they should leave things as they are until a manufacturer consistantly starts geting all three podiums every race.

Correct me if I’m wrong but it doesn’t seem that long ago that some were saying Kawasaki’s rev limit should be lowered, and Kawasaki (or others) response was that it was Rea that was the difference and not just the bike. Now the conversation seems to be going down the same path with Ducati. Great riders make a difference, and we get the pleasure of enjoying. Arguably they should leave things as they are until a manufacturer consistantly starts geting all three podiums every race.

It annoys me when I hear the commentators harping on about the Ducati's top speed advantage, without giving enough credit to what Bautista is doing. The top speed advantage is there but it's not why he's winning. 

The cameras briefly focused in on Davies in the pits and caught what what he was saying and he's apparently struggling with the rear end sliding into turns, and you can see the difference in the way they trail brake. Bautista drifts the bike virtually to the apex and uses the engine braking to help slow the bike, where Davies finds the rear sliding is pushing the front wide. The difference is more apparent comparing Rea to Bautista because they've been battling more. Rea has a distinct advantage in braking because the Kawasaki is super tidy entering the turn.  Bautista looks like a Moto2 rider in comparison. Not sure why that is technically, probaby Ducati doesn't have engine braking electronics sorted yet. I think GP riders are just accustomed to heavier braking than the guys in WSBK, and that's allowing Bautista to ride around the Duc's weaknesses. The standard of GP riders is higher than in WSBK, and that gets borne out any time a rider from either series switches to the other one, but particularly when a rider who is capable of running at the sharp end in GP moves to WSBK,  such as Biaggi or Bautista. 

I think Ben Spies 2009 arrival in WSBK wasn't too far off. Had it not been for Biaggi pushing him wide in the first race, he would have likely started the season with back-to-back doubles in dominate fasion, too. Both he and Bautista entered GP in 2010 and Ben pretty much dominated him on a satellite M1. People forgot, or choose not to remember, just how darn good Ben was. Had he stayed healthy, I'd predict he'd have more GP wins than Crutchlow by this point and had he stayed in WSBK he'd be doing similar things to Alvaro. Sadly, we'll never know.

Agreed.  My wife purpously riles me up every now and then on purpose by saying, "Ben Spies.  That guy sucks."  Ben was a teriffic rider.  Gangly on a bike.  There's a young american racer in BSB Moto3 named Brandon Paasch. Fast kid with the same lanky limbs sticking out everywhere and going very, very fast.  

Oh boy. The Ben. (Sigh) I think about this a lot too. His WSBK run bringing the R1 to great heights on untouched tracks remains fantastic.

So strange what happened when he went to Factory Yamaha. Yes, the shoulder thing. And WIERD problematic circumstances.

He and his Superbike crewchief did do a few odd and perhaps unwise things. At Tech3 they went around the backs of their staff to Yamaha brass to force their hand into doing what Ben wanted for electronics. They insisted on bringing their own electronics/data guy from AMA Superbikes and inserted them in the team at Factory Yamaha. Then told him to give Ben whatever he asked for. Yamaha were not pleased. It created a wall around just the three of them, and an echo chamber effect. It disconnected them from Yamaha staff, and paradoxically resulted in Ben getting LESS of what he could have in support. It was politically shooting themselves in the foot. When things didn't go well, this insular power grab could be seen as the issue (whether it was or not) and the three of them could be "on the hook" with less involvement from above them. Perhaps his mother as manager left something to be desired as well and reinforced this problematic insular dynamic.

It wasn't all luck. And, this was just what had worked w Superbikes. But doesn't in GP. THEN shoulder. Such a loss.

Spies did also say when he retired that he didn't feel like he had the natural speed of Stoner or Marc, and doubted he had a MGP title in him. Which made me like Ben all the more. But a lot of guys from WSBK have made the same sorts of comments after finishing up in GP, sometimes in similiar circumstances. I can remember Hodgson and Toseland also saying MotoGP was bigger challenge than they thought it would be, and both those guys were also WSBK champs. 

Which is why it annoys me when Rea and his supporters claim he'd be front a runner in MGP. Easy to say but history show's it's not likely.

Bautista.  The right time and the right bike for the right man.  In GP, from time to time, #19 would hand in an incredible performance or show genuine flashes of riding genius.  But it always seemed he was limited by equipment and resources. Now he has the right package to show what he can do.  Bravo to him.  

The only disappointment with his performance is he's so far ahead, he becomes inconsequential to broadcast cameras.  They cover the battles far back in his wake, so we are denied the privledge of watching him ride that thing with his smooth-but-frequently-tempting-the-limit style.  

And thank you for the words and insight, Mr. Ritchie.