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MotoGP

Ducati’s blockbuster wildcard continues a great MotoGP ‘what if?’

by Josh Suttill
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Ducati’s defending World Superbike champion Alvaro Bautista will return to MotoGP for the first time since 2018 when he makes a wildcard appearance in the premier class at Sepang later this year.

Bautista is going in pursuit of his second successive Superbike crown, a title defence that started exceptionally well when he won 16 of the first 18 races.

Even after a rocky couple of weekends that only produced two wins from six races, he still leads the points standings by 74 points with four weekends remaining but he’s facing stiff competition from 2021 Superbike champion Toprak Razgatlıoglu.

Once his Superbike season is complete he’ll clamber aboard Ducati’s MotoGP bike for the first time since he left the Aspar satellite outfit at the end of 2018.

During that final year in MotoGP he made his sole appearance in factory Ducati colours when he stood in for an injured Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island.

It was arguably the highlight of Bautista’s MotoGP career as he adapted to a newer-spec Desmosedici on short notice and claimed a fourth-place finish after a race spent at the front. But two races his MotoGP career (until now) was done and he switched to Superbikes in 2019.

He’s already completed two tests on the Ducati Desmosedici GP earlier this year at Misano in preparation for his wildcard appearance – the third for the Aruba.it Racing team that ran Ducati test rider Michele Pirro at two events earlier this year.

“I’m really happy to be able to race in MotoGP as a wildcard at Sepang, a track that I really like and that I’m happy to be back at since it’s not on the WorldSBK calendar,” Bautista said.

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“The tests with the Ducati Desmosedici GP gave positive feedback: the feeling was good, and I had fun. I want to sincerely thank Ducati and Aruba.it because, without them, it would have been impossible to have this opportunity.

“At the same time, I would like to say that this MotoGP race will be a bonus for me and not a priority. That’s why we must stay focused on the WorldSBK Championship, which is the only thing that matters now.

“I want to stay focused for this last part of the season, which will be very demanding, with many races in a short time. The feeling with the Panigale V4R machine is good, and I hope to continue on this path.

“Then, when the season ends, we’ll think about going to Malaysia and having fun. Now I’ll have a little holiday, and then we’ll be back at Magny-Cours.”

Bautista’s message that his MotoGP wildcard is “not the priority” is a recognition of Razgatlıoglu’s increasing pressure. Though of course had the Yamaha rider not fallen from the lead at Most – something Pirelli is investigating as a potential tyre issue – that pressure would have been even greater.

Despite the breathing space that gave Bautista he knows he can’t afford the kind of woeful second-half dip he suffered in 2019 that lost him the title after a dominant start. If he can avoid that then he’s a sure bet to arrive back in MotoGP as a two-time champion.

As to what he can achieve at Sepang – where he finished fifth during his rookie year in the premier class – remains to be seen but it will be a just reward for the great work he’s done on a Ducati since leaving MotoGP five years ago.

And just maybe if it’s half as good as his Phillip Island stand-in then it can carry on a great ‘what if?’ of his MotoGP tenure.

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