Alvaro Bautista is unsure Honda’s World Superbike project is ready to win races despite the improvements made to the Fireblade ahead of this weekend’s Aragon curtain-raiser.
Last year marked the first season for Honda’s new CBR1000RR-R bike, whose arrival coincided with HRC taking full control of the marque’s WSBK operation following years of disappointment with Ten Kate and then Moriwaki.
Ex-MotoGP racer Bautista and Leon Haslam were signed from Ducati and Kawasaki respectively to spearhead the rider line-up for HRC’s comeback, finishing ninth and 10th in the riders’ table respectively.
That left Honda a distant fourth in the constructors’ standings, only ahead of BMW, with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic cited as a major factor in its lack of progress through the year.
Following what Bautista described as the “longest pre-season of my life”, various minor changes have been made to the Fireblade for the 2021 season, which begins this weekend at Aragon.
But the Spanish rider, who scored Honda’s one and only podium finish of 2020 at the same track last year, admits that he isn’t sure that the progress will be enough to allow Honda to fight the likes of Kawasaki, Ducati and Yamaha at the very front of the field.
“We didn’t make many tests, but we fixed many things like electronics, weight distribution, geometry,” Bautista told Motorsport.com. “It’s more difficult to make a big change compared to, say, MotoGP, but at least we fixed many things we couldn’t fix last season.
“Especially on the electronics side, we made a big change, because last season it was our worst point. Now everything is working in a better way: the electronics, but also weight distribution, we try to find a more balanced bike for braking, turning, corner exit.
“We played with all these things, and we made some steps forward. [Whether it’s] good enough to fight for wins from the beginning, I don’t know, but we should be more competitive.”
Bautista made the move to Honda off the back of a rookie WSBK campaign with Ducati in 2019 that yielded an impressive 16 race wins and runner-up in the standings behind Jonathan Rea.
Late last year he admitted he liked “nothing” about the Fireblade in his early tests with the bike, as he struggled to get used to the bike’s powerful inline four-cylinder engine after years of riding V4 machines, firstly in MotoGP and then his first year of WSBK with Ducati.
Now Bautista says he is “familiar” with the Honda unit, thanks in part to the Japanese marque’s efforts to help him adjust.
“HRC got behind me, to give me more solutions,” he said. “We went in the same direction. We also improved the power delivery with the electronics and now everything is more ‘normal’, not so aggressive like it was in the past.”