Alvaro Bautista has been my personal stand out performance across all the pre-season tests ahead of the 2017 MotoGP season. The 2006 125cc champion has been flying on his Aspar Ducati, and finished the Qatar test in a stunning 5th position – ahead of 9 time champion Valentino Rossi, 5 time champion Marc Marquez and 0.195 behind the factory Ducati rider and 5 time champion, Jorge Lorenzo. The former Gresini Aprilia rider really looks strong ahead of 2017.
When it was announced that Alvaro would join the Aspar Ducati Team for 2017 ahead of last year’s Czech Grand Prix, I was a little bit conflicted. I was pleasantly surprised that someone had at least acknowledged that Bautista wasn’t a ‘make-up-the-numbers’ rider, and I was also happy that he had got on the Ducati, which had finally come good after Andrea Iannone took victory in Austria. However, I was a bit annoyed that Aprilia weren’t renewing his contract, but more-so that he wasn’t at what would be considered a ‘better team’ – on paper at least – with Tech 3 or even Suzuki, where his MotoGP career started. He also usurped Eugene Laverty out of MotoGP but technically that isn’t his fault.
The Spaniard has picked up a lot of flack for taking the ride too. Most notably by some of the Laverty fans, who believe that the Irishman had done more than enough to earn his place at the team for 2017 but also by the press in general. Many people were saying that he was just another rider, flicking about and hanging onto the shirt-tails of a MotoGP ride. I must admit, I wanted Alvaro to go to WSBK, a series he will be back winning in and a series that is in need of big names. But now I’m not so sure.
His lowest testing position was 11th, after Phillip Island – although he found a breakthrough on the final day. That was evident in Qatar, having finished that test fifth overall. And the most impressive thing? This is not just one lap pace – Bautista’s race simulation suggests that he’d complete the race in 3rd.
The Losail track has got some fond memories for Bautista too. In 2014, he set the fastest lap of the race, before crashing out of 3rd place with a handful of laps to go. In 2013, he finished 6th, which remains his best result at the track in the premier class. He won the 2006 125cc race, whilst also taking pole position and the fastest lap.
But as we all know, the Losail circuit is not one we can gain any accurate information from. The race is unique; held at night, it poses an aspect of racing that, for MotoGP at least, is incomparable to anywhere else. Not only because of the night race feel, but because it’s in the middle of the desert, meaning that sand is forever engulfing the circuit, located around 30km north of Central Doha. It is also unique because apart from the home straight, there is no real atmosphere at the track with regards to fans. There’s limited noises emitted from the fans, which although maybe not affecting the riders, it does affect the overall feel to the Grand Prix.
We may have to wait until we hit Europe, and in the words of Wayne Rainey “this is where the ground war starts”. More familiar circuits will prove a more accurate test of man and machinery, particularly for Ducati. The Italian manufacturer has tended to slip away during the first four or five European races, although all remains to be seen for 2017.
Alvaro will be up there, challenging the top 8 positions. Do I think a podium is possible for him? Yes, I do. Do I think a win is possible? Maybe, depending on weather and circuit. He is familiar with the team and he loves the Ducati. He knows the championship and has enough experience to go for the big results. The bike is a proven winner and with the data already gathered from not just the test but last season, Bautista could be a bit of a revelation in the forthcoming season.
Kiko Giles @MotoGPKiko