Álvaro Bautista Interview: “My goal is to fight with the best riders”

 In MotoGP, News

Before the 2012 season starts in earnest with the first official test of the year in Sepang at the end of January, Solo Moto journalist Borja González sat down with new Honda rider Álvaro Bautista and asked him many, many questions about working with Suzuki, almost wandering off to Superbikes, joining Gresini after tragedy hit and everything else. Below is the complete translation.

One of the great attractions of 2012 will be to watch the performance of Álvaro Bautista with the Honda. After two seasons in MotoGP, characterized by injuries but also by his great work on the Suzuki, the Spanish rider faces one of his biggest challenges.

The best bike in MotoGP. That’s the dream of all riders, and one that could happen to Bautista this year, provided that Honda confirms the power that’s already been hinted at in the first test of their 1000cc. But it also needs to be said that the youngster from Talavera de la Reina is not taking the place of Marco Simoncelli at HRC as he will not have the official status, although he will have a machine at his disposal which will show where he stands as a rider.

Solo Moto: How did it make you feel when you heard the announcement that Suzuki won’t continue in MotoGP after two years with the factory?
Álvaro Bautista: Sad. That Suzuki disappears from the world championship is not just sad for me but for everyone. For me especially after two years of working with them. It’s been two difficult seasons, because I’ve been injured during both, but I learned a lot; we have developed a motorcycle that was hard to compete with when I arrived and when I left it was normal and you could even think about getting good results with it. In the 800cc era Suzuki had taken a big step forward and I think now they had found a way to work from and they knew how to keep on working to make the bike more competitive. It’s a shame that they stopped now when it seemed like things were going well; also without as much money as for example Ducati works with. With what we had we were always improving, with a good way to work on and a fairly clear path to take, which is sometimes the hardest part. On many occasions you start doing things, but if you’re not sure where to go you can not get anywhere. I especially feel sorry for the great team they had, very professional and like a family, they all worked at one hundred percent. They were people who were on the team almost since it first appeared. We hope they return.

SM: There is a dilemma. At Honda, for example, they always insist that the bikes are developed by the engineers, not by the riders. There are also examples of riders who have shown the way forward. Who do you think develops a bike: the engineers or the riders?
AB: Man, the bike has to be developed by the factory and the engineers, they are the ones who really know. But the one who gives the direction, who says which way to take, is the rider; he’s the one who gets on the bike and in the end has to have the feeling for it.

SM: But in your case, did you say what happened or what you thought should be done?
AB: A rider has to be a rider, he has to go out on track, open the gas and ride the bike. There are many who get off the bike and, for example, say: “Make it stiffer, its too flexible.” I do not do that. I say, “This is what happens”; it doesn’t matter that I know the bike is too soft, I won’t tell them to make it stiffer, because I’m not an engineer, I am a rider. With experience you learn many things, so when something happens you know what it is. But I just mention it and they, the engineers, are the ones to say “then it’s because of this.” When what I think it is is the same they tell me, it is easy. Although there are times when I say something and the answer doesn’t add up for me, then I ask them to let me test the bike again to see how it goes. In the end, the ones who develop the bike are the engineers. To build a chassis, you ask me how to do it and I have no idea, not the stiffness, not the other… No idea. I just say: “With this chassis I feel like this” or “With this I feel better.”

SM: Is this a way of working that you brought with you from before you joined Suzuki or have you learned it within the team?
AB: I’ve always been like that. But before [Suzuki] I said how I felt on the bike and been told “it is what it is”. Now I had the opportunity to do things to improve it.

SM: When you joined Suzuki, I imagine that the input came from the side of Loris Capirossi.
AB: Exactly.

SM: He’s a racer with a peculiar style of riding. Was it hard for you to adapt to what he was doing or to impose your will to do things more for your side?
AB: I’ve never tried to say that they should pay more attention to me because I knew more than him. Never. In contrast to all the experience he had I was just in my first year. But yes, it is clear that Loris has a slightly peculiar riding style, he is a very, very brave rider. When I saw his telemetry compared to mine I was shocked, because the guy would open the gas to the limit, and I said: “I don’t know how to do that”. It was because of his riding style, it was helped a lot by the electronics, it was different. At first I worked in the direction he had set, but it seemed a bit stagnant. So I took another direction, not to say that I was doing the wrong thing, but simply because of my feeling on the bike, because there were things that didn’t feel right. That’s when the engineers said “let’s make this drastic change”. And suddenly we saw that it was better. I just did my job, and eventually there’ve been times, well, in those moments almost always, when Loris set up the bike similar to how mine was.

SM: Have you worked only with the English people in the box or also with the Japanese?
AB: With both. I have worked with the English guys, but the one who does the chassis is Japanese and also the engine and the electronics, although that’s done by 2D, the whole mapping was also done by a Japanese. Directly my technician was English, but we met a lot with the people from the factory. When I arrived, with Loris, always, after every session, we had a meeting. This year we didn’t have that. It is important to give information, but there are other times when you have nothing to say; then I prefer to work with my technician directly and he talked with the engineers. In other cases I talk to my mechanic, but I also go to tell those things to the engineer because he wanted that information, if I considered it very important you go there directly, without intermediaries.

SM: That’s the bonus you get from working with a factory.
AB: Yes, because normally you can only talk to the technician, but being in a factory you can even get to talk to the engineer who made ​​the chassis. That’s the advantage.

SM: Now you turn the page.
AB: The good thing that I have now, changing the bike, is that I have the reference of the Suzuki. You can learn from everything. When we start testing, if I see that the Suzuki was better at something, I can comment on that. I’m not going to work directly with the factory, but if I can contribute something to help all Hondas, make it a little better… At best the factory takes notice and decides to listen to me. Although I don’t work directly with them, all four bikes start from the same base, with the factory behind them.

SM: With that sense of working with a factory, what can you say about the year of Valentino Rossi? Do you think he went crazy trying to change the bike?
AB: There is no doubt that Valentino is still Valentino and for me he is the best in history, not only for what he has won, but for the way in which he achieved it. The number of fans has grown a lot thanks to him and maybe the bikes are more important now than before he started, because of his charisma, his personality. This year, I guess he thought it would be easier with Ducati; in fact, I remember that last year in Valencia Burgess said that in a few seconds they could make the bike good. Although it appears to take longer… I don’t know what problems they have, but what’s obvious is that Ducati stands 100% behind him. The life-long philosophy of Ducati, which is to use the engine as a part of the chassis, has been changed only because of him. Will it bring success or not? Time will tell.

SM: But you think he still has the speed to win?
AB: I think so, but what happens now is that MotoGP is so equal, the difference is so small and the level is so high… In reality he’s not that far behind, but in a race, with 0.7s a lap, you finish over 20 seconds behind.

SM: And that he has crashed a dozen times?
AB: It shows he’s going to the limit. This year he’s crashed more than in almost all his life…

SM: And there is a curious fact that Nicky Hayden crashed twelve times last year when he partnered Stoner and this year only twice.
AB: When you have Stoner there, who also crashed several times last year, you think “Fuck, my teammate is pushing me hard, so I have to push as well”.

SM: Was the first contact with the RC212V more than just a form of taking action?
AB: Honestly, when I got on it, it was like saying “that’s it”. Those days were very tense, since Sunday after the race… well, the race, I mean the straight that I managed [laughter]. They were tense days, we had to talk to many people and it was tough. The situation was a little odd. If I had to endure that two more days I’d have gone mad. And on Wednesday, finally, when they told me I could ride, above all I felt I could relax. It was also a way of saying “I’m here now”. You talk, but until you ride the bike it’s not for real. It helped me to meet the team and little else, because the bike has nothing to do with what I’ll be riding.

SM: Did you get an explanation of why things were so slow and why it was so hard to finalize your move to Honda Gresini? I suppose Suzuki wanted you to stay, but the project seemed increasingly bleak.
AB: What I know is that Suzuki wanted me, but what they offered me was not interesting. I would have liked to stay with them, but with a bike with which we could follow in the direction of work that we had. Have a 1000cc and continue working. The first one to want that was me. What they offered me didn’t motivate me, didn’t give me any excitement. I wanted to find something that motivated me; I don’t know if there were any conflicts, but luckily I spoke directly with Sahara-san [Shinichi Sahara, head of Suzuki MotoGP] and explained that with what they offered me I had no motivation and that I had difficulties to move to Honda and didn’t know if they could do something about it. I told him that if I couldn’t go to Honda, I wouldn’t continue with Suzuki, that I could find something else. We would have MotoGP, CRT and the 800cc, three categories. Against whom would I fight? I was going to be alone and I was not interested in that. When I told him that if I couldn’t go to Honda I’d look for a life elsewhere, in SBK, he realized that I really did not want to stay with them for this project. It is not his fault, it came from Japan; he is responsible for the races, but the boss of Suzuki is the one who decides.

SM: This slowness of Suzuki left you with a strange view. You missed the option with Yamaha, you also had an offer from Pramac and then you stood between going with Lucio Cecchinello or the alternative of Gresini.
AB: Time went by and some options went with it. The first, and really a very interesting one for us at that time, was going to Yamaha. But Suzuki was not yet clear about what to do. We gave our vote of confidence and they asked us to please wait and we went ahead and lost that opportunity. Suzuki’s decision was delayed and it began to look like if we kept hoping we would be out on the street or left with something we wouldn’t like.

SM: With Honda you ended up with two options. It seemed clear that it would be yes for Gresini and not for Cecchinello.
AB: No, it was actually Cecchinello who came, well, after Dovizioso said he was going to Yamaha, and offered me his bike. So I had Suzuki or LCR, because in the end the choice of Pramac, over time, also vanished. We were in talks with Cecchinello, seeing what he offered me, if the factory would be involved… After what happened in Sepang this seat [at Gresini] was free. It’s tough to say, but it’s like that, life goes on. And that became another option. We had some things already talked through with Cecchinello and for us he was the favourite. Then at one point Lucio had to withdraw the offer, he was forced to withdraw the offer, on Sunday morning. We called and he said it couldn’t be.

SM: Because of Suzuki?
AB: He was called by Honda. So he told us, half crying, we should forget about it, that it’s not depending on him, that it’s depending on the higher ups and that he couldn’t do anything. And then we didn’t have anything. [His manager, Armando Guerrero, interrups to clarify that if Cecchinello had signed Álvaro, Honda would have withdrawn the financial support for his team.]

SM: A phrase that is heard a lot since it was announced you had signed with Gresini is “Bautista on Simoncelli’s bike”. Does that bother you?
AB: No, look. I know it gives people chills, but I do not see it that way, because in reality I won’t use anything from Simoncelli. I’ll be with the same team as Aoyama was, I will work with the technician of Aoyama, the mechanics of Aoyama, the 1000cc that has nothing to do with it and I’m not an official Honda rider. So it’s not the same situation. If I had taken his place, I’d have signed a contract with the factory and there’d be three official riders, not two as it will be. It’s not his place.

SM: Do you change anything when you’re going to work with a Spanish crew chief? In 125cc you started with Christian Lundberg, who one could say is Italian-Spanish, but from then on you had two Italians and a Brit.
AB: In the end what’s important is that the technician knows what he’s doing. Yes, maybe you can communicate small details in your language that in English or in Italian you couldn’t explain in the same way. But I don’t thing that’ll change much. The important thing is that he knows, that he understands, and when I tell him what I feel, that he interprets it together with the data and helps me. That we both follow the same path.

SM: What do you expect from the 1000cc?
AB: I really don’t know, I want to get on the bike, but don’t know what I’m going to find. There can’t be much difference. The 800cc is a bike with lots of power, the 1000cc I don’t know, a little more, but still I think it’ll be fun. It will be a little heavier and that will affect the behaviour, but I don’t really know.

SM: And the athletic expectations? Knowing how the Suzuki was, a bad weekend could be justified because the bike was not the best. Now you ride with what is supposed to be the best bike on the grid.
AB: Now I have to find another excuse, if the bike doesn’t do it anymore… [laughs]

SM: It’s almost like you’re about to take a school exam.
AB: An exam… It’s a year, it’s 18 races, and the first to go and find out if the bike goes well is myself. I think now at least we have a bike that we know works. Last year it was only me.

SM: I was going to say that, now you have the same bike as someone like Stoner.
AB: I’m convinced that winning against Stoner is not easy, but I trust that if the bikes are the same and I am able to adjust it to my liking and get used to it… In the past I’ve been fighting with Lorenzo, with Dovizioso, and I’ve also won against them. I fought with Stoner in 125cc and I’ve beat him in some races, so why shouldn’t I be able with the same bike, or a similar one, to be fighting with them? My goal is this, to be fighting with the best. I think no one is invincible. Let’s see if I’m luckier with the injuries this year and can do a full season without interruptions of recoveries, something that has slowed me down a bit. If all goes well, I’m confident to be on a good level.

SM: Are you surprised by the ability of Stoner to go fast right away?
AB: In 125cc the guy was quick. Perhaps what surprised me, or what I remember well, is the first year in 250cc with Cecchinello. I thought, “Gosh, how this guy goes”. I remember he had some hefty crashes, but when he didn’t, he was going very fast. In fact, when he moved to MotoGP, the second or third race he took pole. He goes fast. When he switched to Ducati that gave him the confidence to win, although with Ducati each year the confidence was less. This year I think he is as good as when he was at Ducati, not better, but now the bike doesn’t hinder him. And Valentino has to ride faster than he was with the Ducati. Of course, the standard has been raised by Honda and Stoner, who pushes us all.

Source: Solo Moto
Photos by Jaime Olivares for Solo Moto

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