Alvaro Bautista Interview: "For This Year, We Have No Pressure To Get Results"

Alvaro Bautista is a much happier man than he has been for a few years. Now a factory rider once again, he has found new motivation, despite knowing that there is along road ahead to make the Aprilia RS-GP a competitive machine. At the official launch of Aprilia's MotoGP, World Superbike and FIM Superstock projects in Milan, I spoke to Bautista about the progress Aprilia have made during testing, his experience of the bike so far, and his expectations for 2015.

Q: How has the progress been between the two tests?

Alvaro Bautista: Progress is quite good. Not a big step, but we did a step forward. Especially on the electronics, because the first test, the electronics were a bit inconsistent. So we spent one day just to adjust the electronics. Still it's not perfect, but we did a small improvement. Then once we decided the frame we will race for the start of the season, we already decided this in the first test. On the second day of the last test we tried different settings of the bike, we changed basically all of the bike to see if something is good or not, or what can help us or not. So it was not really a good day, because we didn't find anything, but we had to try. In the last day, it was good because we started with our base setting, then we make a long run. I was quite happy because I did it in the worst conditions, it was 3pm, so it was hot conditions, but I felt so good. The rhythm was quite good. My feeling on the bike on the long run was comfortable. So I think the only real step we did was with the electronics.

Q: What are the strengths and weakness of the bike?

AB: I think the strongest point is the manageability. It's so easy to ride. And the point we have to improve is basically everything, electronics, frame. We have to improve on the engine, because also we need more power, especially in fourth, fifth and sixth gear. Especially top power. There is not a big problem anywhere, just lots of small ones.

Q: Which frame exactly did you use? There was a 2015 frame at Sepang 1, and a frame you tested at Valencia?

AB: We chose the same frame I used at the Valencia and Jerez tests last year, because the first test, they brought a new spec, but it didn't work.

Q: What was wrong with it?

AB: No turning, no feeling, no grip. So everything... What was the problem? The frame was the problem! [laughs]

Q: Is it a good feeling to be a factory rider again?

AB: For sure! Because all my requests, they work to give me them. For me, it has been a strong point to decide to come here, because I can develop the bike myself, with my requests.

Q: But you know that you won't be able to win this year...

AB: I know!

Q: It means you will have to be patient for a whole year while the bike is developed. Are you willing to invest the time needed?

AB: Yes, I'm ready for that. I'm prepared for this year, I know that we will have good moments, but also more bad moments. But anyway, my target is to go back to winning, and I know that in 2015, it will not be possible. But maybe in 2016, if we make a good job this year and we can make a competitive bike for next year. With the rule change for next year, I think it's an opportunity for us to be in front again.

Q: How does that affect your attitude and your mentality? Because you have to change your mentality from fighting for the best position possible to working on the bike...

AB: Just patience, and knowing exactly what is your position. I know that now, for this year we have no pressure to get the results. This is only good, also because you can stay focused on the development of the bike, you don't have to develop the bike and try to do your best result at the same time. It's only the bike performance that counts.

Q: Do you have any personal objectives for this year? A race or two where you want to do well?

AB: At the moment, I don't think about that. First of all, we have to find a base to start the championship with, because still, our base is not clear. It is still not decided about things like the tank and the seat on the bike, so we have to decide after the Qatar test on the bike to race. Then we will start to think about the results or something. But at the moment, I don't think I would like to finish here or here.

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The move to enter MotoGP a year ahead of schedule, with a modified road bike/superbike engine as a starting point to work from, is an unusual one, but I think it may be a clever one. Of course you won't look good in the results, so for a casual viewer it looks like bad publicity. From a development point of view it's pretty smart, because you get to do a lot of real-world testing of the bike at top level, plus you are training the whole racing department and team infrastructure for an actual GP season with all its complications. That may be a big plus side of this whole plan.

As a rider it will need a different mindset, but the good thing for Bautista is that now for the first time he can steer development from scratch to his wishes, like he says. That makes this season exciting for him even though there won't likely be any top results. So it's not just a lost season to him. (Melandri in this late stage of his career seems to feel differently...)

I'm curious how the whole tyre switch to Michelin will be incorporated in this. I can imagine that development focus for this year's races will be more on engine and electronics, while chassis-wise they won't go all-out to optimize the bike to the Bridgestones. I guess priority will be to have the frame and geometry working optimally for the Michelins (how much Michelin testing days will there be by the teams the rest of the year, by the way..?), and then adapt settings to make it work as well as it can on the Bridgestones during the 2015 season.

Still too bad Gigi defected to Ducati. There's undoubtedly a lot of Aprilia know-how in that Desmosedici GP15...

And the alternative Aprilia had was to have their CRT based bike circulating in the back with a team under able to develop it that would complain that the factory was not helpful enough. The timing of being able to merge with Gresini is fortuitous. Aprilia gained a LOT on the racing end that would be very difficult to establish otherwise if at all.

I don't have any insight re the consideration of being able to get and keep a grid spot, or the dealings Aprilia had w Dorna, but those interest me as well.

Re Beautista he had a "good" preparation easing him into this bike via his experience on the Showa suspension and drifting away from the pointy end in recent years. I wish them luck. Melandri? I wish him WSBK.

One has to feel sorry for Marco Melandri. His MotoGP career went haywire before he left the paddock for WSBK. His Ducati year was terrible with Casey Stoner with the same bike in front of the field with Melandri bringing up the rear. Kawasaki ditched right royally after signing him on and then gave him a bike that they refused to develop. But he did not do too badly on that machine (Hayate) but one can understand that a rider of his calibre would feel totally insulted at the developments. Now Aprilia want him to get onto a bike which is a glorified production bike and do the development. I am sure Melandri sees this also as unwanted.

I don't know if he will start the season with Aprilia but it seems fairly certain that he will be off the Aprilia before the season ends. Could well be the last year for Alvaro Bautista as well. He has been around long enough but for various reasons his MotoGP career has shown nothing remarkable about him.

Not sure where you get the idea from that this might be the last year for Bautista in MotoGP. He has a two-year contract with Aprilia and so far they have repeatedly expressed that they are more than happy with everything he does for the development of the bike and even the results are decent considering the status of the bike, especially compared to Melandri. At this moment he is clearly the leading rider for them and his place in MotoGP is a lot more secure than that of a fair few other riders. [And if you are already stepping up in defense of Melandri's later MotoGP career by analyzing the subpar bikes he's ridden, you might as well do the same for Bautista who first rode a Suzuki and then became Honda's test mule for Showa and Nissin, still finishing many times just behind the Top 4 factory riders. There are always reasons for everything and there is a reason Bautista still had plenty of offers to consider last season.)

Melandri on the other hand I don't see sticking around in MotoGP for longer than the absolute minimum of time that he contractually has to if his feeling with the bike doesn't get better immensely and quickly. This is a test year, everyone has said this repeatedly, and he is coming from fighting for wins and titles, so the change of mentality for him of course has to be massive.

Though, not to forget, he did have a choice. Granted, his options were rather limited with Aprilia's short-notice approach at the end of last year regarding WSBK, but he did not have to stay with Aprilia at all costs. His hand was forced for sure, but how he deals with the situation now is more important than how he got there, because a change before the end of the season is highly unlikely.

No reason to spend big money this year anyhow, not with big rule changes to go into effect for next season. Get back in the ring, learn the ropes again, then start trying to fight at the front in 2016 on a more level playground.