For the first 11 WorldSBK races of last season, Alvaro Bautista was untouchable on the Ducati Panigale V4R - a brand new motorbike which had never been raced.
At the Phillip Island opener, he won the first race by 15s and the second by 12s. Country miles. Now, at the same venue in testing, he is a second slower than Jonathan Rea and six-tenths down on team-mate Leon Haslam.
Haslam is moving his own direction for bike set-up, although his impressions appear to be the same as his new team-mate. However, Haslam’s approach is working while Bautista is struggling with the aggressive Honda engine.
“I’m not sure what he has been doing here but at previous tests we have had the same comments regarding the direction of things we want to try,” Haslam told bikesportnews.com. “He’s got his ideas about what he specifically wants to try. I would say it’s different approaches to the same sort of comments we both have.
“My feeling is less of an issue in some areas where he has more of an issue, but we are both saying the same things. He’s not enjoying some areas more than me and vice-versa. Certain points I feel are acceptable are points in which he wants to improve a lot, so a lot of it is down to setup.
“These bike are so adjustable nowadays, you can pretty much make it how you want to make it, but it’s down to understanding how to make it in order to have the best package.”
Rea can’t put his finger on Bautista’s problem and suspects there could be some sandbagging going on.
“I am very surprised. You never really know how much they are struggling because it is clear there bike is really high level. Their support is really high level. When you see what this guy did last year for the first 11 races, it is so strange,” said the Kawasaki man.
“It is sad when you see somebody that has so much potential struggling, but it is clear it is not the bike when you see what Leon can do there is a way to make it go fast.
But last year Alvaro was also very clever, because in the winter tests he never showed the same potential as he did in the race weekend at Phillip Island. Maybe he is keeping his powder dry until Friday.”
Team-mate last year Chaz Davies added: “This is probably his best racetrack and it just shows the difference that riders can have with a different motorcycle and different feeling. I was in a bad position last year and he was exceptional, and it looks like Leon is getting on a lot better at the moment on the Honda and Alvaro is really struggling.
Eugene Laverty has spent some time observing his fellow former MotoGP star and believes the stuff is there on the new Honda. “Every bike is different of course but you can see that someone like Leon Haslam has jumped across and he is riding it well, so it means that the bike is not so bad.
“But it is such a different way of riding. What Alvaro had last year is not what we would call a conventional type of Superbike but that is what he is going to have to learn.
He really does not look comfortable. He’s really inside the bike, he looks very wooden, not very confident. But, he is a top class rider and what he did last year, winning 11 races in a row or whatever the number was, I am sure he will get his head around it.
“It is tough because I am going from a V4 to an inline four and I am having to change as well. It is just going to take time.”