Like a strong and regal lion, Francis Batta has observed the situation from the outside over the last years, leaving the hostilities to others. Although wounded, the experienced manager still has his proud, golden mane intact, unmistakeable in SBK, his preferred hunting ground, in which he has achieved significant success and experienced (little) disappointment. After a period of abstinence, Batta is now about to return to the paddock, with an Alstare Yamaha team that is already attracting interest.
Following a brief pit stop, the Belgian manager has taken time out to speak to us: “Recently I had surgery on my shoulder, which had been bothering me for a while. And before that, I had heart surgery. I really risked the worst. But luckily I’m good now, I just need to rest. I’ve had time to reflect on my personal and professional path”.
And what did you conclude?
“That my passion for bikes is my lifeblood. My love of racing remained a constant even when I was far from the paddock. Stopping hasn’t diminished my desire to return, on the contrary in fact. I have to say that I can almost taste the moment I’ll return to the world I love most. Believe me, I can’t wait”.
You have exceptional drive? Where does that come from?
“I’ve found the right opportunity. I’ve always been used to managed large-scale structures, so I was my own boss. I made the contracts, maintained relations with the sponsors, chose the riders, constructed the team and everything we needed to do well. Basically, I was Batta, head of Alstare. But finding myself at the beginning again, the situation is different. And that’s why I’ve agreed to make a contract with those who’ve asked me”.
Team Alstare Yamaha: Chris Ponsson the sole rider. For now
How is the Alstare Yamaha project structured? Francis explains: "Jean-Christophe Ponsson has a good financial base, but son Christophe has never been able to complete a full season, facing various problems. This was because his father had to deal with all the aspects a team requires. With me, he’s found a situation in which he need only find the necessary funding. I’ve built a small, highly functional team. We have some real professionals, who’ve already worked with me in the past. We’ll have the R1 M bike, with the relative direct support from Yamaha, I have the right contacts. Engine builder Bruno Bailly, who takes care of preparing our four-cylinder race engines, was an Alstare man”.
What goals have you set yourself?
"The rider will learn everything necessary. We’re under no illusions, reading the 2021 SBK entry list, I think that with our bike, a rider like Christophe can fight for positions between twelfth and fifteenth. That would be a good result for us. The aim is to develop the rider, thinking ahead to 2022. One step at a time, we’ll need to improve in all areas. And then we’ll focus on future projects. If things go well and with the right injection of budget, having two riders might be feasible”.
Batta, the wounded but never tame lion
How does Francis view his last seasons? Things weren’t easy: “I’m still licking my wounds. The 2013-2014 period was the most disastrous of my career as a manager. With Ducati there was an incompatibility of views. We approached racing in different ways. In Borgo Panigale, the SBK budget was reduced and then the company was bought by the Audi group, the internal dynamics changing. The mentality changed and my team, initially created to be supported by the manufacturer, became a factory team to all effects. But I had limited power to intervent. Our Panigale, as beautiful as the standard version was, had structural handicaps when it came to the race model. When Checa and Badovini pushed to the limit, they ended up suffering serious accidents. That was the only Bolognese twin to never win the SBK title”.
And in 2014 with Bimota?
“It looked good on paper. We had a competitive bike, entered in the EVO category. Badovini and Iddon were very fast but then the manufacturer was unable to build the minimum number of units destined for the market. We raced without scoring points but would have been practically leading the class if we were included in the standings. Bimota couldn’t find the money to buy the engines that equipped the BB3s. In not doing so, the Alstare team was excluded from the championship”.
“Yes, because I lost a lot of money with Ducati and BImoto. IN losing sponsors and other related issues, we had a debt of close to two million euro. I had to close the Alstare team, selling the material to MV and with other operations, I started to clear the various debts. I was very down, I had to sell personal effects to get out of it. I even sold my home”.
SBK needs figures like Francis
And yet 2021 marks a rebirth for Batta: "I find myself starting over. Sbk has changed, there’s a colder atmosphere compared to years gone by. In the early days, the paddock was small-scale and full of professional and personal contact. The teams would exchange, discuss and share. Today everyone has their own closed clique, in which they focus on their own things. It’s just hotel-circuit-hotel. I miss the ‘open house’ SBK. Today’s championship reflects the outside world: strict, restricted, closed off, conforming”.
What do you think of the riders?
“They were strong and fast years ago just as they are now. But the way of doing things has changed. We live in a world that imposes a certain personality on people. What do I mean? Well, those who play loud music are silenced. Someone who operates outside of the box is labelled. The answers to questions always have to be the same, balanced and politically correct. And that means that personalities do not emerge. If we take F1 and MotoGP, there are a couple of personalities. In SBK not even one. The multi-titled world champion can walk down the street and no one stops him. Understand?”
The public needs you.
“I hope they leave me a little creative room. The SBK public is still the same, people who spend 15,000 euro on a bike and use it over the weekend. The fans of the various manufacturers want to experience the event and its stars. We know that, the evening before the race, the SBK public likes to go out and have some beers, singing and partying. There’s no denying it, the SBK fan is accepted for who he is”.
You are truly passionate.
“I reason with my heart. The passion for Suzuki and the people I’ve worked with is still strong. We were a family, professional and human. I don’t know if it’s possible to have such a direct project today, with the world and the system so different. Our achievements with Alstare are still so clear in my mind. Times have changed but…. We can still have fun. My passion never dies, it will also continue and 2021 marks the start of a new professional life for me”.
Translated by Heather Watson