Crunching The Numbers: Jonathan Rea vs MotoGP vs WorldSBK - An Analysis

The start of December marks the beginning of what is rapidly becoming a tradition in the world of motorcycle racing. After the Jerez test in late November, it is now "Why Is Jonathan Rea Faster Than A MotoGP Bike" season. At Jerez, Rea pushed his Kawasaki ZX-10R WorldSBK machine – down 35+ bhp and up 10+ kg – to the fourth fastest overall time of the week, ahead of eleven MotoGP regulars (including two rookies), three MotoGP test riders and Alex Márquez, who the Marc VDS team were using to train up the new crew recruited to look after Tom Luthi's side of the garage while the Swiss rider is still injured.

How is this possible? And what does this mean? Are WorldSBK machines too close to MotoGP bikes? Why are MotoGP manufacturers spending ten times as much to be shown up at a test by Jonathan Rea? And why, for the sake of all that is holy, does Jonathan Rea not have a MotoGP ride?

The answer to all but the last of those questions is buried away in the bigger picture of the laps posted throughout the week. When you examine the numbers, the picture is a lot more complex than the headline times seem to suggest. Tires, temperature, and track all play a part. But all of that can't disguise a rather outsize dose of talent.

Rea vs MotoGP

Though it is undeniably true that in the overall times, Jonathan Rea finished fourth behind only MotoGP riders Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow, and Jorge Lorenzo, that is not representative of Rea's real race pace. Rea's two fastest laps on Friday – a 1:37.986, and a 1:38.062 – were both set on qualifying tires. His next fastest lap – a 1:38.893 – was set during a four-lap run, and is more in line with what he is capable of in terms of race pace. That 1:38.893 would put Rea behind Jack Miller on the Pramac Ducati GP17 (twelfth fastest, if you exclude the other WorldSBK riders on qualifiers).

The chart below gives a much better indication of overall pace. On a qualifier, Rea is pretty much on a par with the MotoGP riders on their fastest laps. But beyond their third fastest laps, Rea's pace is a little under a second slower than the MotoGP riders. Still punishingly quick and impressively consistent, but if Rea were to enter his WorldSBK-spec Kawasaki ZX-10R on Pirellis in a MotoGP race, he would be lucky to make it into the top ten.

Chart showing Jerez lap times for Jonathan Rea vs Andrea Dovizioso vs Cal Crutchlow vs Jorge Lorenzo vs Andrea Iannone vs Pol Espargaro

The table showing the average of best laps, minus presumed qualifying laps, bears this out. Rea is nine tenths of a second slower than Cal Crutchlow on the LCR Honda, and over a third of a second slower than Pol Espargaro on the KTM.

  Average sub 1'41 laps (minus qualifying laps)
Rider Bike Class Average Diff Prev
Cal Crutchlow Honda RC213V MotoGP 1:38.993    
Andrea Iannone Suzuki GSX-RR MotoGP 1:39.026 0.033 0.033
Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP17/18 MotoGP 1:39.036 0.042 0.009
Jorge Lorenzo Ducati GP17/18 MotoGP 1:39.078 0.085 0.042
Pol Espargaro KTM RC16 MotoGP 1:39.227 0.234 0.149
Jonathan Rea Kawasaki ZX-10R WSBK 1:39.900 0.906 0.672

The chart does reveal some interesting trends among MotoGP riders. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo were working more on speed rather than race pace. Dovizioso, in particular, only had nine laps below 1:38.6 before his pace dropped to around the 1:39 mark. The decline in Lorenzo's pace was not quite as precipitate, but follows the same trend. This is consistent with Ducati working on a new chassis and parts aimed at solving some of the turning problems the GP17 had during 2017.

Suzuki vs Honda

The two most interesting curves on the graph belong to Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone. Crutchlow's, in particular, is revealing. The LCR Honda rider found himself roped in to do the donkey work of testing of Honda's preliminary version of their 2018 machine. At the Valencia test, both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Márquez had said they were surprised at how much closer to being ready the new RC213V was than it had been in previous years, and Crutchlow's times would appear to agree with this.

Crutchlow's pace is very solid, with eighteen laps under 1:39. Crutchlow did one longish run on Thursday: at 3:45pm, which was quick – nine fast laps, six of which were 1:38s. Though it is hard to see whether it was the 2018 or 2017 bike he did a given run on – and almost impossible to keep track of, without an army of people wandering pit lane to do so – Crutchlow's pace and consistency suggests the Honda could be quite good in 2018. Also for riders not called Marc Márquez.

Andrea Iannone's lap times will also be reason for cheer for Suzuki. The Italian was not quite as faster over a single lap as the factory Ducatis or Crutchlow (or Jonathan Rea, for that matter), but his pace and consistency were very good. Iannone did not do any long runs, but even during runs of five or six laps, multiple laps would be sub-1:39s. Overall, Iannone's pace was broadly comparable with Crutchlow's, a relief for Suzuki after a dismal 2017.

Rea vs WorldSBK

To get a better picture of Jonathan Rea's worth – even under the new regulations – we can compare his times against the other WorldSBK riders. Rea's fastest time is a third of a second faster than anyone else, and his advantage in race pace is pretty similar. No matter where you look, the gap between Rea and the rest is pretty similar. At the test, Rea put this partly down to the regulation changes: the rev limits in place make the bike more ridable, allowing the Ulsterman to carry more corner speed and apply the throttle earlier without risk of upsetting the bike. The new rules have only moved the Kawasaki closer to his natural style.

Jerez November test laps chart - Jonathan Rea vs Tom Sykes vs Alex Lowes vs Marco Melandri vs Leon Camier

If the testing data bears out that the new rules have helped Jonathan Rea, they also appear to have helped Alex Lowes on the Yamaha. Lowes race pace is quick and consistent, matching (if not better than) that of Tom Sykes on the other Kawasaki. Lowes did a lot of laps in the 1:39s, but he also did a long run of 15 full laps, or just under 80% of race distance. All of those laps were under 1:41, and all bar two were under the race lap record Jonathan Rea set during Race 2 here in October. This was a very promising run for Lowes, offering hope that the WorldSBK podium (if not the top step of it) could be a very much more diverse place in 2018. The table below shows the average of sub 1:42 laps posted by five different riders, and this also shows just how strong Lowes was at the test.

  Average sub 1'42 laps (minus Q tires)
Rider Bike Average Diff Prev
Jonathan Rea Kawasaki ZX-10R 1:39.900    
Alex Lowes Yamaha YZF-R1 1:40.247 0.348 0.348
Tom Sykes Kawasaki ZX-10R 1:40.324 0.424 0.076
Marco Melandri Ducati Panigale R 1:40.406 0.507 0.082
Leon Camier Honda CBR1000RR 1:40.870 0.971 0.464

Less obvious, but still visible is the fact that Marco Melandri is struggling. Though the data used for Melandri is not completely comparable – the only data I have for the Ducati rider is for Thursday, not Friday – it seems a fair reflection of the problems he was having. The Italian was faster on Friday, but only by a tenth of a second, and still over a second and a half slower than Rea.

Melandri did not try for a quick lap on qualifiers, so it is understandable that his best time was a lot slower than the others. But even in terms of pace, the Italian is lagging behind Sykes and Lowes. The Ducati Panigale R has arguably been hardest hit by the rev limits introduced in the new rules. Ducati are having to chase revs to make enough horsepower to compete against the four cylinders, and losing those extra revs are costing Ducati both top speed and lap time.

Just how badly Ducati are struggling would be clearer if we had Chaz Davies' data to compare. However, Davies crashed on Wednesday, and suffered a knee injury. Unfortunately, I do not have the full list of lap times posted by Davies on Wednesday, and so cannot make a comparison. However, Davies' fastest time on Wednesday was a 1:40.630, 0.9 behind his teammate and 2.3 seconds behind fastest man of the day Tom Sykes. That suggests that Davies' data would not have revealed that much. That might have been very different if he had not been injured on Wednesday.

Camier vs Cosworth

Though Leon Camier was slowest of the riders selected – both in terms of outright speed and race pace – it is clear just how hard the Englishman is working on the Red Bull Honda CBR1000RR. Camier put in over 70 laps on his new steed, working on adapting to the new bike and giving feedback to the Ten Kate team to help move the bike in the right direction. Though Camier is slower – roughly half a second off the pace of Melandri, Sykes, and Lowes – the consistency of the bike was impressive. Camier did a lot of laps around the 1:40.5 mark.

The main complaint Camier had was about the electronics of the bike, currently a Cosworth system. He felt there was a distinct lack of throttle connection, he told us afterwards. The throttle took a fraction of a second to react to inputs, making it difficult to control precisely. It was very like a scooter, Camier told us, requiring planning to get into and out of corners. Camier and the Red Bull Honda team are hoping that a switch to Magneti Marelli electronics will help address that, and provide a more direct connection with the throttle, but the first test with those will not come until January.

Why comparisons are flawed

As interesting as the comparisons are, they only answer some of the questions we posed at the beginning of this article. To get the bigger picture as to why the WorldSBK machines are so close to the times set by the MotoGP bikes, we have to look at all of the factors involved. Leaving aside the riders for the moment, there are good reasons why WorldSBK bikes are at something of an advantage (or rather, less of a disadvantage) at Jerez. Those reasons can be broken down into two factors: 1. The track; and 2. Tires and temperatures.

Starting with the track, the nature of Jerez is such that it does not allow the MotoGP bikes to truly stretch their legs. The track has a lot of corners where the bike spends a lot of time on its side. The track favors corner speed over top speed (the maximum recorded speed along the back straight is a lowly 293 km/h for the MotoGP bikes, well down on the 350+ km/h at a track like Mugello), and the final corner and front straight is the only place the MotoGP machines get to use their advantage in acceleration.

Comparisons with other classes help clarify just how much of an impact the track has on keeping times close. Rea's best non-qualifying lap on the Friday of the test was a 1:38.893, about a second behind the MotoGP bikes. But a week earlier, the Moto2 machines had been at Jerez, and Miguel Oliveira had posted a best lap of 1:41.518, roughly 2.6 seconds slower than Rea, on a bike with half the horsepower and only 15 or 20 kg less weight. On the Tuesday, Nacho Calero had posted a 1:45.067 on board a Supersport-spec Kawasaki ZX-6R.

When compared to other tracks, the gaps between the classes are closer. The gaps between the lap records for the MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 classes are roughly 4 seconds at Jerez. At Motegi – a fast track with a lot of hard acceleration – those gaps are 6 seconds between each class, despite the lap time only being 6 seconds slower than at Jerez.

Tires and temperature

Another area where the WorldSBK bikes have a slight advantage is in the combination between tires and temperatures. Track temperatures at the November test were not far off the temperatures recorded at the WorldSBK round in October, somewhere between 25-35°C. The tires Pirelli bring to the test work well in the cooler temps – in fact, the Pirellis seem to work better in cooler conditions overall than MotoGP Michelins – and so more of the performance from the tire is available to the WorldSBK riders and with less effort than for the MotoGP riders.

Michelin brought the same compounds to the test which they had during the MotoGP round back in early May. Then, track temperatures were in the mid-40°s C. The tires which worked then would have struggled a little in the much cooler temperatures at Jerez in November.

Where's the difference?

Despite all this, Jonathan Rea, riding a hopped-up street bike, managed to lap within a third of a second of a pure MotoGP prototype. Kawasaki are said to spend roughly €7 million a year on their WorldSBK program, while MotoGP factories spend in the region of €50 million a year. That is a lot of money to be spending for only a marginal gain.

But motorcycle racing is a game of marginal gains, and each incremental speed increase costs money. To go from being three seconds a lap slower to one second a lap slower is relatively cheap. Going from being one second slower to getting within half a second is an awful lot more expensive. Each tenth of a second after that costs exponentially more, and takes twice as long to achieve.

If Kawasaki were to decide they wanted to enter MotoGP, it would not be as simple as removing the fake headlights from the fairing and phoning Dorna for a grid slot. First, they would extract the extra 10-15 horsepower which should be relatively easily available, put carbon brakes on, and shod the bike with Michelins. Then, off to a track to go testing.

Expensive iteration

There, Kawasaki would find that the uprated engine meant that the bike was approaching corners faster and getting off the corners harder, requiring a new swingarm and frame. More power means different geometry, which also needs a new frame. Carbon brakes mean they are braking later, meaning the front of the frame would need to be stiffer to cope. The much stiffer and very different profile of the Michelins mean that the bike would behave completely differently, and the frame, swingarm, geometry, weight balance of the bike would need to be radically revised to get the best of the tires.

Once they felt they had reached the limits of their current engine, they would have to build a new one, with more power but a still usable power delivery. More power means a new frame, new swingarm, higher top speed, harder braking forces, which needs yet another frame, stiffer headstock, stiffer triple clamps, etc. Rinse and repeat until you have burned your way through a massive pile of money. Incremental gains come at exponential cost.

It's the rider, stupid

As should be obvious from the charts and tables comparing Rea's times with the other WorldSBK riders, Rea himself is also one of the biggest reasons the gap is so small. Anyone who has watched World Superbikes this year has been able to see just how well Rea is riding at the moment, able to pass other riders at will, and at any point on the track, and capable of lapping with surgical precision and blistering speed for an entire race.

If it is obvious to anyone watching WorldSBK just how good Jonathan Rea is (and arguably, Chaz Davies as well), why isn't he in MotoGP? There are a lot of complicated reasons for this, but most of the blame lies with the short-sightedness of the MotoGP paddock. MotoGP team managers – and especially MotoGP factory bosses – do not regard the WorldSBK paddock as a viable path to MotoGP. Instead, they look to Moto2 and Moto3, taking the best of the riders from there. There are good reasons for doing that – being able to watch a rider progress, and interact with them informally gives managers an idea of what a rider is made of. But it also misses out on a lot of potential talent in WorldSBK.

With factory bosses focused on Moto2 and Moto3, that leaves only seats in satellite teams up for grabs. It is much harder for riders to make an impression on a satellite team than on a factory bike. Make the wrong choice, and you end up hamstrung by a poor bike in a poor team, and without the chance to prove what you are capable of. In a career which is already short, taking the wrong turn can prove very costly, and mean you never get another chance without a mountain of cash to pay your way.

Branching futures

In a way, Jonathan Rea's career is an example of how circumstances – and perhaps wrong choices – can dictate where a rider ends up. We suspected Jonathan Rea might be quite good when he entered World Superbikes, but he found himself on a Honda and having to override the bike just to keep up with his rivals. The fact that he convincingly beat his teammate at Honda every single year was another sign of how good he was.

But nobody in the Grand Prix paddock saw through the weakness of the Honda CBR1000RR, looking only at the headline results. The MotoGP rides he was offered were on inferior machinery, and with Honda continually promising to bring a much faster bike in WorldSBK (including the mythical V4 which never seems to materialize), Rea stayed put. By the time he lost patience with Honda and moved to Kawasaki, he was already 28 years old, unfashionably ancient for the youth-obsessed Grand Prix paddock.

The proof of the pudding

At Kawasaki, Rea proved just how good he is. Since jumping onto the ZX-10R, he has won exactly half of the 78 races he has started and all three championships. The rest have barely gotten a look in.

How good would Rea have been in MotoGP? We will never know, though we came very close earlier this year when there was a very serious plan for Rea to swap places with Andrea Iannone on the Suzuki MotoGP machine. Rea is comfortable where he is, and very well paid (for a WorldSBK rider). He makes a lot of money both in wages from Kawasaki and in bonuses from his sponsors. With two young children rapidly approaching school age, being away from home for 13 races, rather than 19 MotoGP rounds is an attractive proposition.

Above all, though, MotoGP factories remain transfixed on Moto2 and Moto3, and even the feeder classes below that, such as the Red Bull Rookies and FIM CEV Moto3 Junior World Championship. Their eyes are turned inwards towards prototype racing, rather than outwards to the world. Until that changes, even talents like Jonathan Rea – easily one of the best six or seven racers in the world – will be ignored in favor of some callow youth on a Kalex.

Epilogue: method in this madness

A word on methodology. The data used to make the following comparisons was taken from the full list of lap times on the Circuito de Jerez live timing website. Unfortunately, that data is not made permanently available, nor easily accessible, and has to be taken from the website separately on each day of the test. This is a very time-consuming business, and was not possible for every rider on every day.

So I took a smaller sample on a number of days. The fastest days of the test for the WorldSBK and MotoGP riders were Thursday and Friday, and I took the full lap times (every lap turned) for a representative selection of fast riders. The comparisons the analysis below is based on were made using the pace for MotoGP riders on Thursday and the WorldSBK riders on Friday (for the most part). Those were the days the riders set their fastest times.

The charts used were made by taking every lap turned by a rider on a particular day, sorting them by lap time, and discarding obviously slow laps (slower than 1'41 for MotoGP riders, slower than 1'42 for WorldSBK riders). This provides a rough basis for comparison, though it is hardly statistically rigorous.

Laps set in qualifying trim are easy to identify for WorldSBK riders, but a little harder for MotoGP riders. The qualifying tires Pirelli supply to the WorldSBK series are good for one fast lap before they are done. Any two-lap exit – a slow out lap followed by a very fast time between six and eight tenths faster than any of the rider's other laps – is likely to have been set on qualifiers. As there are no qualifying tires in MotoGP – and no record of who set what lap on which tires – riders tend to go out for slightly longer runs (three or four laps) when chasing a quick time. Even the softest compound Michelin makes available should be capable of lasting race distance.

Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.


Back to top


Who would have thought that I would still be sitting at my PC at work having to click on my MotoMatters link on an almost daily basis!!!  

Great to suppliment my pre-christmas grind. Good work David.... another great article.  Too bad most of the ill informed out there, neither read your articles nor absorb its content fully before making ridiculous claims on social media about how much better Rea is than every MotoGP rider.......


explained! The assumptions being made around this test are ridiculous. This article is very well outlined, but really all one has to do is point to the qualifiers, when Michelin made qualifiers they were generally speaking 1.5-2 seconds quicker than race rubber at the time in Motogp. That alone would paint a very different story in regards to these times. 

It's funny, I've almost (but haven't) come to resent Jonny Rea, as he's so ridiculously good he's ruining WSBK for everyone else! It reminds me of when I was at school we had streamed classes for maths and French; if someone had been put in a class they were obviously better than, boy they let you know about it, by always having the right answers for everything.

Like it or not, WSBK is the B-set to MotoGP's A, and Mr. Rea needs a promotion, urgently. He's making the rest of the grid look like the dumb kids (which they absolutely aren't). For the good of everyone involved, Headmaster Carmelo needs to take action!

Gosh that was a great read. I work on data for a living and rarely have I seen anything as thoughtful as this. It's a horrible thought that a team can spend about 43M Euro more for a few seconds faster, but that's how vicious the law of diminishing returns can prove to be. As you point out though the likelihood is the Kawasaki is at the edge of its performance envelope relative to the regulations too, so a Kawa GP effort is hardly uncomplicated.

What I worry about is that the new regulations certainly don't seem to have brought Rea back to the field and given Ducati complaining that the new regs are hurting them (so soon....) it is awfully hard to see next year being any different to the last three. The almost ridiculous lengths that the new regulations go to, plus the tiny bit desperate race two grid arrangements, seem to reflect the futility of addressing the competitive imbalance in the class. 

I still think that an essentially Superstock WorldSBK is the way to go, but the less competitive World SBK brands might just not show up in that scenario either. Maybe they need a salary cap on the whole team and rider package? That works well in some football codes....if you can socialise the technical regulations and shuffle the grid, you have to ask why not socialise the investment?

If someone does come along to beat Johnathan, they'll be gone from the series right away--unless it's someone "stepping down" from MotoGP. And didn't Steve Hislop have the outright lap record at Donington for a time on a Ducati 998? 

it's not because Rea win 3 time the title he is be able to go to motogp, look at Ben Spies , i doRt get the picture when Rea was at honda he prooved nothing , once on the kawa , where Tom Sykes was the leading pilot ,he's bike was always faster than Tom bike ?STRANGE , all the other kawa's never get in the top 10 

Good on you David for being one of the few people to understand how to correctly analyses data and performance. As you have shown it's a very complicated business which is what makes comparisons between bikes, riders, tracks, tyres, teams, series, eras, temperatures, expertise and money so difficult.

The thousands of individual ingredient that make up performance is amazing.

I guess that one area that you touched on but didn't expand(probably because it is much too difficult) on as a "reason" for differences between MotoGP and World SBK is money, management and personnel...resources.

If you look at any individual team you must look at their resources and depth of knowledge and experience and how that is managed for an insight into performance on track.

Besides the obvious performance of the rider and bike on track is the performance of the support people; the suspension, data, engine, chasis, tyre, strategist, chief mechanic and mechanics, publicity, catering, logistics, Doctor, sports psychologist/mentor/advisor and critical research and development people/departments/suppliers. These are the "brains" of the operation.

All this costs money/sponsorship but most importantly all these resources, especially money, has to be managed well.

If you ask any top rider what all this translates into the answer is ....feel and confidence.

"The bike feels good, smooth, it does what you want, has the grip, it feels nice, the bike allows me to go harder with confidence." 

However, you might say that watching Marquez weaving, twitching, bucking, sliding, spinning and bouncing around doesn't indicate that ....but it does. He would not be able to get away with pushing the extremes, finding the limits or stretching the envelop without having the technology and resources of his team behind him that allow him to reach the times he does.

A few years ago Formula 1 teams were looking at how they could "engineer" a driver through data logging.  That is, they change the way a driver drives to get the perfect lap by analyzing data. Before you dismiss this out of hand, what if you were .1 of a second slower than your team mate and the data guy showed you that you both were identical in performance all round the track except at one spot on the track. At this one spot the other rider braked later and harder and slowed to a lower corner speed, got the bike turned and up on the fatter part of the tyre and accelerated harder out resulting in a higher top speed and acceleration down the straight. 

If you were the slower rider would you not try to do the same thing??

The next step they took was to employ programmers to write programs to analyses the rider data so they went to unis and employed the best. Who wouldn't want to work for a glamorous F1 team and get paid big money especially if the program you write allows the chief engineer to help you go faster.

telemetry, data analysis, electronics and programming cost big money and have to be managed well.



but I'm not sure I'm buying all of your arguments.....not rejecting them out of hand....but not totally convinced either.

As you say the law of diminishing returns definitely comes into play at some point, however I can't help feeling the easy gains available to the ZX10 are kinda swept under the carpet.  Lose 10kg off the ZX10 and this would obviously cut some serious time from Rea's lap.  Taking that further, this is 10kg's that no longer needs to be braked, turned and accelerated so you could theoretically go faster with less weight and be no closer to the limits of frame and geometry than the heavier bike is now.

Importantly this weight could most beneficially be lost from the rotating unsprung mass via carbon brake rotors.  As mentioned Jerez is not MotoGP bike friendly, kinda like sword fighting in an elevator with 260hp in your right hand...well, in the hands of the programmers really.  But a circuit of this nature also rewards agility, something the carbon discs greatly improve, something that Rea did not have at his disposal, especially at +10kg's.

Another easy gain would be for the Kawaski team to have both hands available when building the optimum engine, at present (from memory) they basically have one hand tied behind their back being restricted to using OEM valves and pistons, con-rods must be stock weight-same material, single set of gearbox ratio's, cylinder head ports can only have material removed not added etc etc.  Given even a modest budget, and minus these rules, it would not be hard to make a very nice engine indeed to close the gap on a MotoGP bike.

WSB bikes are even restricted to standard throttle bodies these days, no more of the split units that used to give the IL4's 500cc twin cylinder Ducati-like grip on corner exit.  

So would these simple upgrades be enough to find a second in race trim?  I dunno, but it's close enough to make the MotoGP budget's look faintly ridiculous.

Don't believe me?  Scary thought for the day: if Rea was that quick on a porky, underpowered, low-tech ZX10R, how fast could someone like Marquez go on it?  

That among your many talents and skills we should add geek, David: what an amazing analysis! My head was almost spinning when reading about the methodology...:)
Very interesting indeed!
And i really appreciated your thoughts on how a career can be made or not just on an opportunity or the wrong bike. Also the obsession of the teams with the very young in the lower classes which on the one hand is understandable but on the other hand precludes many talents outside Motogp to ever make it into that exclusive club. And this will not change.