Down the ages of world championship motor racing, be it on 2 wheels or 4, there has tended to be a period in which one marque, team or competitor comes to dominate (think HRC & Marquez in MotoGP, Rea & KRT in World Superbike or Senna & McLaren for those with slightly longer memories). When 2 or more of those combinations come together, you tend to face that most paradoxical of terms; boring racing. In truth of course, it’s usually a little more nuanced than that.

The headline from World Superbike in 2022 was the unstoppable dominance of Ducati, with their Panigale V4. In a season featuring 12 rounds and 36 races, Alvaro Bautista won 16 times, the perception being that he and the Ducati were unbeatable. As always, matters are rarely that straightforward. Look closely and you will note that Toprak Razgatlıoğlu triumphed 14 times on the Yamaha, with Jonny Rea the only other race winner in 2022 mounting the top step on just 6 occasions. What the results table shows is the stunning consistency of Bautista and his Ducati, only missing a visit to the podium on 5 occasions during the entire 2022 campaign (2 retirements and a worst finish all year of 5th). That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win a title.

Bautista was dogged all year by claims that he had an unfair advantage, given the straight line speed of the Ducati, and its true that Bautista was in the enviable position of being able to make the majority of his passes on the straights, without the need to constantly resort to risky outbraking or creative overtaking manoeuvres. This might also go some way to explaining his metronomic consistency in visiting the podium.

Much was made by Bautista’s competitors about the speed of the Panigale and the advantage a small and lightweight rider such as Bautista has in these circumstance, with calls to the technical leadership in WSBK to implement a minimum rider/bike weight limit or some other form of ‘levelling’ mechanism. There is of course a problem in promoting such an argument based solely on Bautista’s performances; there were other Ducati’s in the 2022 WSBK championship with diminutive riders onboard, Bautista’s teammate, the Italian Michael Ruben Rinaldi included.

Rinaldi finished a very distant 4th in the world championship standings, only failing to score points on 3 occasions. What does this tell us? For me it clearly illustrates one immutable fact; that Alvaro Bautista was, by a massive distance, the best Ducati rider in the field. Let us not forget that Bautista lifted the 125cc World Championship trophy in 2006 and went on to enjoy sporadic but fast appearances throughout his time in the MotoGP prototype championship. In short, Bautista is an elite level rider, matched in the current WSBK series by 1, maybe 2 other riders, both of whom are untried outside of the production class.

So then, should Bautista and Ducati be hobbled to give the rest a chance? Much depends on the early form in 2023 and, writing this as the sun sets on round 2 in Mandalika, the signs are ominous for the non-Ducati contingent. Bautiusta has won 5 out of 6 races and, crucially, Rinaldi and Bassani look much stronger this season (Petrucci and Öttl also look strong). Calls for ‘the red bikes’ as Aaron Slight famously called them to be slowed down will grow.

Should the powers that be act on such calls? Well, that’s a tough one because whilst the Ducati’s as a whole look even stronger in 2023, its still Bautista doing the winning. Invariably performance varies based on machinery, tracks, weather, budgets etc but racing is a meritocracy, with the cream inexorably rising to the top. Just as when Jonny Rea was untouchable on the Kawasaki, stringing together 6 consecutive titles between 2015 and 2020, its up to the other riders, manufacturers and teams to up their game. It's not Ducati’s fault that they currently have the best rider and bike combination. What we do know from history is that it won’t last for ever.



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