Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Ducati) started the 2023 season very strongly and took two second places behind teammate Bautista in the season opener in the sprint and final run in Australia. After that, the Italian, who was born in Rimini three days before Christmas Eve 1995, began to make mistakes after mistakes and what he had hoped would be a strong season ultimately only resulted in 5th place in the World Championship, behind compatriot Andre Locatelli (Yamaha). For this reason, the Italian lost his place in the Ducati factory team to WSSP world champion Niccolo Bulega and now has to try his luck on a private Ducati for 2024 in place of Axel Bassani, who was appointed to the Kawasaki factory team.

Dark shadows over WorldSBK’s most boring season

After 2022, the commentators of the Superbike World Championship had a very difficult time creating anything like excitement in the following year. Right from the start, at the season opener in Phillip Island (Australia), the Ducati riders were so far superior to the competition that even the factory riders had to fight with a knife between their teeth against the private Panigale V4R. For the second time in a row and never seen before in the WSBK, Alvaro Bautista, a Ducati factory rider, was able to win race after race without having to take too many risks. In the absence of a long-overdue introduction of a minimum weight for the machine and rider and equipment, as has long existed in WorldSSP, the little man from Talavera de la Reina was mostly almost unbeatable. With his MotoGP replica, which was designed purely for the racetrack, he was often able to easily overtake several riders on the straights without even needing a slipstream. Due to his serious advantages in terms of power-to-weight ratio, he usually gained half a second per lap on his opponents on longer straights due to better acceleration and higher top speed. For this reason, he won his second with almost playful ease and in the end the losers were primarily the sport and the majority of the fans, as well as all the opposing teams.

Our statistics for the most one-sided WorldSBK season in its 36th season since its inception. Of only four different winners, two were on a Ducati and the lackluster world champion won almost at will thanks to the superiority of his material. Because practically all media simply count the victories in sprint races (despite only half the number of points) as full, in contrast to MotoGP, the number of 27 race victories and 6 out of 12 rounds in all races seems gigantic. Unfortunately, against this background, one cannot speak of excitement or sporting value.
“Magic” Michael van der Mark (BMW M1000-RR) was undisputedly the unlucky person of the 2023 WorldSBK season. The year began for him with a crash in the first race and at the end of the year he would not see the checkered flag in 17 of 36 races, also because he didn’t even start ten times due to serious injuries. For next year, the BMW factory team is changing its teammate and replacing Scott Redding with Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Questionable FIM decisions caused people to shake their heads

In the WorldSBK, a one-sided interpretation of the regulations by the FIM commissioners made it possible for Bautista to win two titles in a row. The competition actually had no chance in most races before the start. Anyone who doubts these words should confidently watch the second race again on Sunday at the Autodromo do Algarve near Portimão in 2023. Although Yamaha ace Toprak Raztaglioglu repeatedly humiliated his opponent Bautista in the winding part of the track and overtook him again and again, the Spanish tiny won completely easily in the finish thanks to better acceleration and superior top speed of his Ducati. In addition, Bautista, like MotoGP Ducati factory pilot Bagnaia, was not punished by the FIM commissioners on several occasions for violating the regulations, unlike their opponents. The absolute most blatant case happened in the WSBK was in Magny-Cours with Alvaro Bautista.

Toprak Razgatlioglu in the Pata Yamaha box – a picture that will probably never exist again after November 2023. It is almost certain that the Turk and his mentor Kenan Sofuoglu parted ways with the Yamaha factory team, just as they did with Kasasaki Pucetti. For this reason, he was banned from testing with BMW in the penultimate month of the year. Due to the weather conditions in December, Toprak will miss important testing time before the start of the season in February 2024.

Scandalous wrong decision by the FIM in the 26th run of the season

The Spaniard had caused his teammate Rinaldi to crash in turn 5 in the sprint race and then simply continued his race without being penalized by the FIM commissioners for his action. As was often observed in MotoGP in the case of Marc Marquez or Ducati factory pilots, the FIM commissioners simply turned a blind eye to what many observers perceived as a sad scandal in the history of motorcycle racing. What is particularly shocking is how strikingly Ducati factory riders were repeatedly spared penalties in both world championships. In the case of Magny-Cours and the Rinaldi crash, which was caused by Bautista, he even had to be taken to the medical center and treated there. Afterwards, many spectators could hardly believe their eyes as they watched Alvaro being relegated to second place and remaining completely unpunished.

The hairy situation on lap 5 when approaching the fifth corner in Magny-Cours, when Alvaro Bautista braked and crashed into the back of Rinaldi, who was no longer able to save himself from a nasty crash. Despite the Italian being injured by this collision, the Spaniard was not punished for his foul. On the other hand, Scott Redding received a long lap penalty from the FIM stewards because he had previously touched his BMW colleague Garrett Gerloff and caused him to fall, although the Englishman also fell a little later, unlike Bautista.

A comparison with 4 years before – with two later teammates

Many were reminded of Jerez 2019, when Jonathan Rea touched Alex Lowes in the finish corner in the first run after a risky overtaking maneuver and he then crashed. Although the Englishman later stated that he saw this as a normal racing accident and that he did not blame Rea, the FIM officials decided otherwise. Although Lowes got up again after the crash and continued the race, the then four-time world champion was punished. Alex took the checkered flag in sixteenth place and Jonathan Rea was first on the podium in third place and then celebrated at the paddock show. But in the evening the public found out that the Kawasaki rider not only lost third place to fourth place Marco Melandri, but also received a severe starting penalty for the sprint race the following day. At Bautista’s home race in Jerez de la Frontera, of all places, Rea had to start at the very end of the field. The Northern Irishman still managed to get to position 4 within 10 laps and thus secured a starting position in the second row. In the following second race on Sunday, Bautista crashed safely while in the lead and Rea came second behind Van der Mark. It was the beginning of a turning point in the title fight and after numerous mistakes, Bautista was to lose his first title for Ducati, which he had already believed to be secure, to Rea on a Kawasaki.

Our photo of the paddock show after the first race in Jerez, with from left winner Bautista (Ducati), Toprak (P2, Yamaha), Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki), who was actually third, and Marco Melandri (Yamaha) as the best private rider in fourth place. Only after the honor did the little Italian inherit the Northern Irishman’s ranking and was ranked third. What was worse for Rea than P4, however, was the punishment with which he was moved to the last starting position for the sprint race as pole sitter, meaning he lost any chance of victory. The sporting idea has been trampled on by the FIM for decades.
Cover photo of a Spanish newspaper after Bautista’s victory in the first race on Saturday – calling him the King of Jerez was definitely too premature. The next day he won the sprint race in the morning, but in the second run he crashed through his own fault and the overall winner of the weekend became “Magic” Michael van der Mark on a Pata Yamaha. Accordingly, a Dutchman was now king of Jerez de la Frontera.

Bautista and his MotoGP guest start in 2023 – a laughing stock

What happens when the little Spaniard has to fight for every hundredth of a second could be seen at his guest start in Sepang (Malaysia) in MotoGP in the same year. His performance in the sprint race on Saturday, November 11, 2023 was simply embarrassing. While his compatriot Alex Marquez won this 10-lap race on the same bike, Bautista only saw the checkered flag 36.5 seconds later. This meant that the 2022 and 2023 Superbike World Champion lost more than 3.6 seconds per lap to the fastest rider in the Tissot Sprint Race. Many immediately remembered the 2006 season at the finale in Valencia, with a very similar starting position for the newly crowned three-time WSBK world champion Troy Bayliss. The Australian, like the Spanish tiny 17 years later, was already quite familiar with the MotoGP Ducati of earlier years. Like Bautista, he was certainly allowed to practice for tests on the current machine beforehand. What he did with it at the season finale in Spain went down in history as a heroic deed.

A winner’s photo after the Grand Prix de la Communitat Valenciana, with from left Ducati factory pilot Loris Capirossi, the unforgettable world champion Nicki Hayden (Honda, died on May 22, 2017 after a terrible traffic accident in Cesena, near Misano) and wildcard pilot Troy Bayliss. The latter entered the history books of two-wheel racing thanks to his tour de force ride at the season finale. Before the Australian, a Superbike World Champion had never achieved a MotoGP Grand Prix victory (© MotoGP).

The comparison with another WSBK world champion in 2006

Back then, WSBK icon Troy Bayliss, the newly crowned champion, also won the race on a Ducati with a flawless start-to-finish victory. Like the Australian, Bautista had already gained a lot of MotoGP experience on a Ducati. In doing so, he not only exposed himself to ridicule in Sepang, but also impressively demonstrated why he was able to safely win the Superbike World Championship two years in a row. It was all about the material. With his weight advantage and the vastly superior MotoGP Replica Panigale V4R due to the questionable interpretation of the regulations by the FIM and Dorna, he won the majority of his races, mainly thanks to his superior top speed and exorbitantly better acceleration than the competition. Of all people, Alvaro’s conqueror of the year 2019 in the title fight also showed in 2012 on Honda how you can put yourself in the spotlight in guest starts. His fans were probably annoyed for years that Kawasaki had withdrawn from the premier class of road racing far too early.

Jonathan Rea on Repsol Honda in Aragon – this is not a photomontage, but a photo of the later six-time WorldSBK record world champion during one of his two guest appearances in the MotoGP 2012. In place of the then injured factory pilot Casey Stoner, the Northern Irishman came in for the 13th and 14th round in Misano and Aragon. Without any MotoGP experience, preparation and testing, Rea sensationally achieved 8th and 7th place in the race. Bautista could only dream of that 11 years later when, despite 9 years of experience in MotoGP, the last two of which were on Ducati, he found himself in Sepang Disgraced to the bone in 2023 and lost half a world per lap to the fastest in both races (© MotoGP).

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© WorldSBK).