While one Ducati is flying, three others are forced to play catch-up. This is the image we have after the Phillip Island test and the first day of free practice. A sort of two-faced Panigale V4, in perfect Jekyll and Hyde style. Yes, because while Alvaro Bautista sets the pace with the red bike, Chaz Davies, Michael Rinaldi and Eugene Laverty are still seeking the right confidence.
At this point, we find ourselves asking: is Bautista really that rider who was unable to express his full potential in MotoGP, perhaps because he found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, or is there still work to be done with the red bike? First, we need to explain a few details. The Phillip Island races have not taken place yet and so we cannot draw any premature conclusions, having to go on free practice instead. Then, there is the fact that the Australian track is a one of a kind, very different to upcoming European tracks for example.
THE TYRE UNKNOWN - Having said that, let's look at the numbers. On Monday and Tuesday Bautista appeared confident on the red bike, setting the fastest time on both days, and on Friday too. The fact that the Panigale V4 is a bike born with MotoGP DNA is clearly something that works in the Spaniard's favour. If we add Alvaro's smooth riding to the equation, something that is key at this track, it's as good as done. In addition to the flying lap, #19 has proved competitive in terms of race pace, ducking under 1'31 and setting some low 1’30s, something that Johnny Rea has been unable to do. At this point, the only question mark for Bautista has to do with tyre management in the final stages of the race, crucial here at Phillip Island. Giorgio Barbier has in fact explained that this is the only track on the calendar where tyre wear can have a bearing of up to three seconds.
A DUCATI WITH TWO FACES- While Alvaro represents one side of the coin, Chaz Davies on the other side of the garage is the reverse side. A tough winter for the Welshman, with backache only adding to the issues. The number 7 rider has never closed ahead of his team-mate at this track, but never say never. In fact, to do so would be a serious mistake.
History has shown us that Chaz is one of those riders who doesn't particularly chase the lap times over winter, preferring to wait for the race weekend. At this point, it's clear that the Welshman still needs to make the new V4 his own though. How long will it take him to adapt? It's difficult to say, also because Davies has often had us eating our words. The task is undoubtedly harder for a young rider like Michael Ruben Rinaldi, who finds himself in action at Phillip island for the first time with the latest evolution Ducati, or Eugene Laverty who, aside from the engine and frame, has very different components to the factory riders.
SBK vs MOTOGP - For now, the Ducati situation in Superbike is the exact opposite of MotoGP, where the Desmosedici appears to be an 'easy' bike for everyone to ride. From what we have seen until now, there is no denying that Alvaro Bautista is the favourite ahead of race 1, kicking off at 5am CET. This is what the times tell us, but we prefer to wait and see, also because not everything is always as it seems at Phillip Island.