The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is less than a month away from kicking off in style at the mighty Phillip Island Grand Prix Circuit in Australia, with excitement building with each passing day. The first motorcycle road racing World Championship to kick off a season of motorsport action, an iconic year awaits as the 35th anniversary of the Championship closes in. However, all the talk coming into the year has been whether reigning World Champion Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati) will sport his traditional #19, or showcase the #1. After a spectacular team launch in the Italian Dolomites of Madonna di Campiglio, the Spaniard will indeed go to defend his crown with the #1. The number one is back on the front of a Ducati in WorldSBK, but it’s been a while…
RECENT HISTORY: the #1 is a rare sight for Ducati in WorldSBK
It had already been 11 years since Ducati’s last WorldSBK crown, coming with Spaniard Carlos Checa in 2011, after a dominant season. However, going into 2012, he opted to stay with his traditional #7. Despite winning races, he wouldn’t retain the crown. Prior to him, Ducati relied on Troy Bayliss in 2008, the three-time Champion’s final season. He wrapped up the title but wasn’t back to defend his crown in 2009. In 2006, he was also Champion but sported his traditional #21 instead, after using the #1 in 2002, only to come up short in an epic showdown at Imola.
TURNING BACK TIME: it was previously commonplace
So, who was the last Ducati rider in WorldSBK to display the #1 as they went in search of defending their crown? The answer is James Toseland; the youngest-ever WorldSBK Champion took the 2004 title with only three race wins but after receiving the same engine that teammate Regis Laconi had been using throughout the whole season for the final three rounds of the year (Assen, Imola and Magny-Cours), Toseland finished strongly to become an underdog Champion.
The curse of the #1 for Ducati was ever-present though, and Toseland couldn’t deliver the goods, finishing fourth at the end of the year. The ‘curse’ had started in 2002, as Troy Bayliss – having dominated the 2001 season – sported the #1 and led the Championship from start until the final round kicked off. At one point sporting a 58-point advantage, arch-rival Colin Edwards put together one of motorcycle racing’s greatest comebacks, winning the final nine races of the year and overhauling Bayliss’ tally in a stunning final lap battle in Italy.
Bautista may be with the #1, but who was the last Ducati Champion to successfully defend the title with it? It hasn’t happened in this millennium; Carl Fogarty reclaimed his title in 1998, his third, following two years of being beaten to the trophy by Troy Corser and John Kocinski respectively. So, going to 1999, the #1 was back on the front of a Ducati for the first time since 1995. Fogarty dominated the 1999 season, just like he did in 1995, and the #1 retained its place aboard Ducati machinery, although 2000 would see Fogarty’s career end in a crash at Phillip Island, and the #1 went to Honda and Colin Edwards. Other occasions where Ducati’s #1 was retained are limited, with Doug Polen keeping it going into 1993, whilst he took it from 1990 Champion and fellow Ducati rider Raymond Roche in 1991, the Frenchman also using the iconic #1, the first Ducati star to do so.
PREDICTING THE FUTURE: which list will Bautista be on at the end of 2023?
Back to Bautista and whether or not we can expect him to defend it successfully, the answer is of course unclear before any racing action gets underway. However, a stunning season in 2022 saw him take 16 wins and 31 podiums, wrapping the Championship up in Indonesia with three races to spare. Even after that, he took two further wins, including one of the greatest tyre gambles we’d ever seen in Phillip Island’s Tissot Superpole Race, when on a wet-but-drying track, he gambled on full slicks whilst the rest opted for intermediates or full wets. Add on to that some classic victories in final lap battles and taking the Ducati Panigale V4R to new heights at circuits it had previously struggled on, it may well be of the same. Or perhaps, as history has shown us before, the opposition fight back.
- From WorldSBK.com