“It's not bad to have a race like this to start the season”. Alvaro Bautista laughs in the rain at Phillip Island, and he has every reason to. After testing, practice and sunny qualifying, the weather seemed set to spoil the party for the Australian weekend favourite. Instead, the Spaniard from Ducati made the best of the situation, winning the first clash with Rea and putting the first 25 points of the year in the bag.
“When I arrived in the garage in the morning, I said to my team: today the track is perfect, we will do great times! - Alvaro joked thinking about his predictions - Then, when the rain came, Serafino Foti was very agitated, I had to calm him down because I was the calmest person in the world (laughs). In the end, in those conditions you just have to stay calm."
It's not easy, though.
“Nobody had any benchmarks, so I tried to keep calm and understand what the track was like. During the alignment lap, I noticed that the bikes were throwing up a lot of water, I couldn't see anything. When I arrived on the grid, I only thought about getting a good start so as not to have anyone in front".
No sooner said than done.
“I succeeded, but Jonathan was faster than me in the first laps. I was calm, making no mistakes. After a few laps, I saw that our pace was similar, but behind him I couldn't see anything, just the red light of his bike. So, I got in front at a point where I was faster than him, without risking. I didn't think about breaking away, I just wanted to see the track and take fewer risks! From mid-race onwards, the asphalt became even more slippery and a couple of times I risked a high side, but I was lucky. I'm happy because I was able to give my best and get the most out of such difficult conditions."
Did you always have to push hard to keep Rea behind you?
“I just focused on my riding, because if you start to relax you can make a mistake and, in those conditions, you can't afford to. Only in the last 4 or 5 laps was I able to fully open the throttle after putting 5th gear on the straight; in the other parts of the track, it was impossible, the wheel started to slide, just to tell you how difficult it was. The track was drying, the tyres were wearing out and you had to follow the movements of the bike".
At Donington, in 2019, you were in your first year with the Ducati and in the wet you crashed after a couple of laps. What has changed?
“I didn't remember that (laughs). In the wet it's always a sort of lottery, you also must be lucky. It's not the same every time, you can't compare the different races, you must have good sensations at that exact moment. The new engine is smoother in delivery, and did it help me? In those conditions you don't feel the difference”.
The rider counts…
“I remember that in 2003, in 125, I finished 4th here in the wet, half a second off the podium, in my debut season. Maybe the rain at Phillip Island is a combination I like (laughs). In the end, in the wet, you must adapt and learn, at the race I trained with a flat track bike to increase my sensitivity, which can help in these conditions".