WorldSBK weight limits being discussed by riders and rule-makers

| | WorldSBK
Picture: GeeBee Images

After the evidence of quite how potent the combination of Alvaro Bautista and his Panigale V4R are becoming in the overall WorldSBK Championship fight, there are high-level and serious discussions ongoing about the potential for a combined bike and rider weight limit coming into WorldSBK.

This may not happen in 2023, as many desire, but it is a much more serious prospect in 2024. The top three riders and manufacturers in WorldSBK are incredibly closely matched in 2022, but the one obvious difference is in how much mass the highest revving and most powerful WorldSBK machine, of this or any recent year, has to accelerate down the straights in real racing mode.

Watching Bautista use that one obvious advantage to pass even riders like Rea and Razgatlioglu as if they were standing still, has been impressive but also painful for many of the neutrals to witness in 2022.

It was the same in 2019, much worse in fact, until the entire Ducati challenge collapsed for a variety of reasons. But, here we are again, with a very even championship three-way this time, and only one thing seeming to be making an unassailable difference.

Last year the much taller and naturally bigger-built Scott Redding had not the same acceleration advantage on the works Ducati, even with more peak revs like Bautista has against his rivals. So the relative weight of each rider must make a difference, and clearly it does. But the ‘one-factor’ argument has to be tempered by the fact that Bautista is only a little smaller and lighter than his current team-mate Michael Ruben Rinaldi. Yet Rinaldi’s results are not at the same level - so let’s not leave Bautista’s abilities and experience out of the equation.

Even Bautista’s hardest rivals understand he is riding the Bologna bullet quite brilliantly, making very few mistakes. He is also genius at getting into position to get all that power down as early as possible, as we saw with him passing Rea and Razgatlioglu very early off of the final corner at Portimao.

In fact, even the rivals are heaping praise on Ducati’s tech capabilities and Bautista’s cool-headed on-track excellence in extracting everything he can, in the straights and in the corners.

But it has to be concerning for any series to see several races this year decided by a clear horsepower advantage, especially as so much effective work has gone into levelling up WorldSBK in recent years, via a bewilderingly comprehensive set of balancing rules and regulations, all arrived at via analysis and comparison of real results.

So now the very small and light baby elephant in the room is the tiny frame and low mass of Alvaro Bautista, and the big elephant is his high-revving Ducati engine.

First, the weight disparity.

Jonathan Rea said that the riders were weighed with all their riding kit and he was 84kg all-up. Bautista he said was 66kg. Lowes he remembered was 79 - Razgatliolgu 78.

Said Rea about the difference, “18 kilos. I was 84 and he was 66. I think Alex was 79, Toprak 78.”

“It’s not all weight that is making the difference from 2019, said Rea too. “It’s just he’s managing difficult moments much better than ’19. I think that’s the biggest difference. You can argue the first races of ’19, he spanked everybody. Now aside from Barcelona where he was incredible, winning margins are less than five seconds.

“So, I don’t think he’s improved so much. I think everyone has improved and we’re much closer. But of course he’s not having weak moments this year. In ’19, he had a big disaster in the middle of the season, but this year he has managed the season very well so far.”

Rea’s comments have been many and consistent about the straightline speed differentials he cannot make up but Bautista has several lines of defence of his own to put up vis-a-vis any new combined bike and rider regs.

Especially with these tyres that need some laps to warm up, not like Jonathan or Toprak because I’m lighter than them so I need more time. This is a disadvantage for my weight. Maybe if I’m 20 kilos heavier, I can go fast from the beginning. But, because I’m light, I miss the first lap. I cannot push because the tyres are not ready. So, this time I think I have more disadvantage to be light.”

He continued on the idea of a combined bike and rider limit, “I think there is no sense to put weight on this kind of bikes because what I said yesterday, in case of crash, if you for example put 20 kilos to my bike, you need more time to stop the bike. So, you have to change many places (run-off, etc) in many tracks for safety.

“So at the end for me, no sense to put more weight on the bikes. Or, everybody, or not. Also for me, it’s not easy to gain 20 kilos. Believe me. I eat. I do strength work. But, sorry, I can’t. Why you penalise me? It’s not a problem for me, but at the end I can’t gain 20 kilos.

“Maybe if I eat more pork or something I can gain three kilos. So for me it’s not fair to put a minimum weight in this bike with this power because in many places we don’t use all the power. In fact, me, full power in a lap basically I use on the straight and a couple of places more. So at the end, for me no sense to put more weight.”

Alex Lowes, hearing Bautista’s comments about his weight not always being an advantage, said at Portimao after Race Two - which Bautista won, “I felt so sorry for him, that he is light. It must be hard.”

Bautista commented that he is not pushing the bike down as hard as heavier riders, to which Lowes said, “Which is fair enough - but you can change the suspension to counteract that. You can’t counteract sitting on a bike from there to there and gaining three tenths.

“I’ll say one thing. Obviously, he has a speed advantage. All the Ducatis do, and they’re hard to race against. It doesn’t change the fact that you’ve still got to ride it and the way he is riding it is really well. The speed advantage for me is a bit too much, because the way he can pass.

“It’s not just about a lap time. It allows the race to be slow. If I would have caught Rinaldi (in race two) I was going to pass him. Like yesterday with Bassani, I was faster than him. But how can I pass him? Unless you’re going to smash him out of the way and then get a penalty, you can’t pass him. So, it’s tough - but you can’t then hate on Ducati for building a good bike. It’s very tough how it works.”

Series technical director Scott Smart is in favour of a combined limit which he has already introduced in the Supersport and SSP300 classes but it won’t be as easy to introduce as some may think.