Looking Back At 2013 - Rating The Riders: 6th, Alvaro Bautista, 7/10

In part six of our series looking back at 2013, we reach Alvaro Bautista. Below is our view on Bautista's season in MotoGP. You can catch up with the rest of this series here: part 1, Marc Marquez; part 2, Jorge Lorenzo; part 3, Dani Pedrosa; part 4, Valentino Rossi; and part 5, Cal Crutchlow.

Alvaro Bautista Go&Fun Gresini Honda
Championship position: 6th
Score: 7/10

Alvaro Bautista is arguably MotoGP's most underappreciated rider. A former 250cc champion, the Spaniard has been on a downward trajectory since moving to MotoGP, through no real fault of his own. First, he signed with Suzuki, making him a factory rider with MotoGP's weakest factory. After Suzuki left, Bautista moved to Gresini, where he rides for a pittance, and is forced to earn his keep as a test rider for Showa and Nissin. Left to fight against the industry standard Ohlins and Brembo on his own, Bautista does not get the recognition he deserves even when he is punching above his weight.

Bautista seemed all too aware of the challenge he faced in the early part of the season, off the pace of Cal Crutchlow, the man he should have been battling with given their relative positions in Yamaha and Honda. The first-lap incident with Valentino Rossi at Mugello, then another first lap crash two weeks later at Barcelona left him floundering. But a strong test at Aragon after Barcelona helped him find an improved set up, and Bautista made strong progress in the second half of the year. He spent the latter part of the season locked in battle with Valentino Rossi, a fight he was always destined to lose. He came close to the podium on several occasions, though he never could quite make it, being trumped by wily veteran Rossi at the end of the race.

In 2013, Alvaro Bautista showed he still has plenty of potential. But he also showed the importance of a good set up and a strong mind, and the interaction between the two. Bautista allowed his head to hang a little too often last season, but the improvements at the end of the year, and the added development input from the Honda production racers in 2014 should see him improve his chances. With so many strong Spanish riders in MotoGP at the moment, he will need an outstanding season if he is to remain in MotoGP beyond 2014.

High point:

Bautista's season had started to turn around after Barcelona, where Showa brought new forks and his team found a setting that solved some of the problems he'd been having. At both Laguna Seca and Indianapolis, Bautista was close to the front, just missing out on a podium at Laguna, and being beaten back to sixth at Indy. Both times, it was Valentino Rossi who got the better of him, and both times, Bautista was so close he could smell it.

Low point:

If the crash at Mugello was bad - colliding with Valentino Rossi at the Italian's home circuit temporarily made Bautista the most hated man in Italy - the crash two weeks later was worse. The incident at Mugello was debatable, two riders on different trajectories meeting at the same point on the circuit. But at Barcelona, the fault was all Bautista's, going down after outbraking himself in an attempt not to take Rossi out in two consecutive races. Crashing in your home race is a bad idea. Just ask Cal Crutchlow. 

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Bautista still fills me with hope one week and then despair the next. He is one of the reasons I look back on Suzuki's GSVR and wonder "Just how bad was it really?" Bautista....Hopkins....Vermeulen.....and Capirossi in decline......was it bike or rider that had it racing in a permanent twilight zone of good potential that never quite translated into good performance? How many times did Suzuki seem to turn a corner at testing only to execute a U-turn come race weekend?

I dunno, he is just one of if not the most frustrating rider on track. He takes out Rossi/Hayden first corner at Valencia in his last ride for Suzuki in 2011, does the most suicidal dive-bomb on Lorenzo first corner at Assen in 2012, twice crashes tangling with or avoiding Rossi in first lap crashes this year....his situational awareness just sucks for such an experienced racer. But then some of his results have actually been pretty good, well and truly competing in the the 5. I imagine his team and manager wouldn't vist the hair dresser too often, they'd pull their hair out long before it ever needed cutting.

That AB is spanish. Were it not for that, he would'nt be where he is given Spain's development programs. The flip side, he's just not as good as the 3 Amigo's currently ruling the roost. The Showa and Nissin gig hasn't made his life any easier but truth be told, had the terrible events of Malaysia 2011 not happen, he'd be lucky if he was on a CRT.

IMHO the Espagoro siblings will be the undoing of the not so good or not so extra ordinary Spanish riders that find themselves in the premier class, AB and Hector Barbera.Yes, based on speed/talent they're fast enough to battle mid tier, (occasionally messing it with the top 4 pre lap 5) but that would mean 7 Spanish riders in the top 10.

Dorna doesn't need this.

Alvaro needs to be in a series where he can shine, MotoGP is not the place for him being a test-mule all season for HRC. Where would Alvaro be in the standings if he was using the same equipment as the other Honda Riders? He could very well be the 4th Spaniard in the front! HRC should either give him better machinery (Factory RCV and support) or let Alvaro decide if he wants a P-Racer in MotoGP or a RVF1000rr in WSB for 2015!!! Alvaro has more raw potential than Bradl.

This is where he is going to (& should) sign IMO. WSBK ? Come on, maybe inconsistent but at the end of the year, Alvaro's one the 6-7 fastest guy on Earth, his place is in motogp.

Bautista was never 250cc world champion, he was 125cc world champion in 2006.

By the way, I don't think Suzuki was MotoGP's weakest factory team when he signed there. I guess they were probably above the level of Ducati, they just didn't have Stoner. Also looking at his second Suzuki year, especially in the second half of the season, he was mixing it with the top 4 several times. And I remember that at Motegi, Stoner on the Honda was not passing him that easily on the long straights. I think it had more to do with the upcoming rule changes (back to 1000 cc and lots more to come) that Suzuki pulled out than that the bike was uncompetitive.

His results did not exactly improve on the Gresini Honda either. It took him a long time to get back into top 5 again.

In any case, any rider who finishes in the top 5 on a regular basis has every right to be in MotoGP, it seems to me. Not everybody has to be a potential winner. It would be a very small grid if that was required.

The only way(s) Alvaro got a shot at a Suzuki-ride is: 1) Suzuki fields more than just 2 bikes in motogp and 2) Randy and J.Hopper don't get the ride! Yamaha and Ducati already have their current and future riders lined-up! Where is Alvaro to go if/when Honda lets his contract expire? open-class bikes for Aprilia? satellite ducatis? With the growing talent coming from Moto2, decent rides at hard to get even if your are in the Top-5 to 10 group! I like Alvaro too... but the 2nd-tier of spanish riders may be forced out when Dorna diversifies the field even more for new market territories! Dorna needs/wants more asians, germans, americans, russians etc etc on the field.

After the Aliens he will be the fastest, most experienced guy available by a fair margin. Hopper has not been riding a motogp for years & he's having insane trouble to stay healthy. Randy would be a good fit on the #2 bike, but let's face it, he's even more inconsistent than Alvaro.
Also, Tom O'Kane, Alvaro's crew chief back in the Suzuki days, is already working on the prototype...

Alvaro was kind of reckless & crashed a lot with the GSV-R but he was also an important piece, with O'Kane, in the development of the bike, obviously that went in the right way.
At the end of his second season, the GSV-R was extremely close to the factory M1... & I don't think it's a coincidence today if Alvaro brought the Showa suspensions back to life.

Nobody cares whether you're Spanish or Congolese when there's only a handful of people in the world that may be faster than you.

Having looked out for Alvaro a lot for a few years, his main problem has been that he starts badly. He's never been a fast qualifier (just a few odd good ones under unusual quali conditions), so coupled with a very modest start, he often finds himself in 9th place after lap 1. After lap 1, Alvaro is super quick. Taking into account the slightly inferior equipment, his riding ability is absolutely up there with Crutchlow, Rossi, Pedrosa - only Lorenzo and Marquez are now in a league of their own.

Maybe the poor quali and starts have been due to lack of good data for setting up, as he is the lone Showa/Nissin rider. But with good learnings and data from last season, I have a feeling Alvaro could surprise a few people in 2014, and make a few podiums - Dani look out.