Jonathan Rea at Kawasaki: Why would he leave? Why should he leave?

Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki ZX-10RR at the 2020 Phillip Island WorldSBK round - photo by Steve English

The news that Jonathan Rea had re-signed with Kawasaki was met with almost universal ambivalence. There are lots of pros and cons to Rea staying put. From a racing perspective, why would he leave? He has a team centred around him with a proven track record of success. What could motivate him to move? A new challenge is the reason most cited.

In 2014 there was a general feeling in the WorldSBK paddock that Rea was a rider waiting for the right opportunity to show his true ability. Years on a Honda had seen him at the sharp end of the field, despite racing with a blunt weapon. Switching to the all-conquering Kawasaki gave him the opportunity he had been waiting for.

Five world titles, 74 race wins, and 128 podiums later, and Rea is regarded as the greatest Superbike rider of all-time. There’s nothing left for Rea to prove in WorldSBK so why would he leave? A loyal team, a good bike, a hefty pay cheque and an ambassadorial role with the manufacturer when he retires would certainly make it very difficult to walk away from Team Green.


In the past Rea has dallied with options on the table from other manufacturers. He’s flirted with Ducati in the past and held court with Aprilia and Suzuki, but there was never a concrete offer on the table to move to MotoGP. Moving to Ducati in WorldSBK, which would give the possibility of moving to MotoGP, would be an attractive proposition for any rider, but Rea is also a realist. He’d want to be paid for leaving Kawasaki. After all his success, he holds the cards at the negotiating table.

With that being the case he opted to remain with what he knows and stayed with Kawasaki. Is it such a bad thing that Rea has elected to stay with Kawasaki for “multiple years?” The Northern Irishman has won five titles in a row and is the bookies favourite to make it six in 2020.

Why would he leave indeed?

The biggest reason to leave is the competitive balance of WorldSBK. Have Ducati moved into the ascendancy with their V4R? Their bike certainly looked all-conquering with Alvaro Bautista in the early rounds last year. The Spaniard was a perfect match with the bike and circuits in the early part of his Superbike career and it showed what was possible. When the Ducati was on form it was unbeatable.

Would that have sparked any doubts for Rea? It would only be human for them to surface and he surely needed to hear some arguments from Kawasaki about their future plans for the ZX10-RR. Whether it will be the right decision for the final chapter of Rea’s career remains to be seen, but it could make for a compelling close to his career.

Digging deep

Last year was Rea at his best. The ability to dig deep and overcome the battering ram that was Bautista was amazing. One rider fell apart while the other asserted themselves. It was a one-of-a-kind campaign from Rea. Whether he can do that in future years, particularly 2020, will be a very interesting story to follow. We’ve seen what Rea can do with the dominant package in WorldSBK and now we need to see how the Ducati develops with Scott Redding this year.

Redding is the key player in WorldSBK. He has arguably the best bike on the grid and is with a team that’s as well resourced as Kawasaki Racing Team. The Englishman is incredibly motivated and took to WorldSBK well in Australia. Was that a sign of what we’ll see from him all year? Or was testing a more accurate portrayal, where he was fast but not amazingly so? Has Rea signed on for “multiple years” of chasing Ducati rather than setting the pace?

Challenges internal and external

For a championship that has, wrongly, been derided for having a dominant champion, suddenly we’ll see Rea have to dig deep on a regular basis. He’ll do that with a teammate, Alex Lowes, who’s out to win and prove his mettle. With a second year of his contract confirmed Lowes is as relaxed as he is focused.

Battles within and battles outside Kawasaki look set to rage for Rea. It’s going to be fascinating to see how reacts to both. Would it have been good to see Rea on another bike? Definitely. I’m also definite that it wouldn’t have been good to see him on the Ducati. Rea won’t have it all his own way going forward because the Ducati V4R is just too good a motorcycle for that to be the case.

The greatest Superbike rider of all time has signed his new contract, and we’ll get to see him at his best with his back against the wall at times. It’s an exciting prospect.

This is part of a series of articles published in partnership with, run by contributor Steve English.

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... MotoGP failed to recognize one of the greats thanks to his unorthodox (by MotoGP standards) pedigree. I have no doubt Rea would have made big waves in the premiere class, rattling the Spainish/Italian barricade and then some. It's too bad the world of racing can be so insular, it only stunts growth of the sport as a whole.

Right? Honda gave him an old dog bike, and vague unmanifesting hope for more in SBK. Then no MotoGP ride. There was context of the times, but they lost him unwisely.

So now we have not just a piping hot and with momentum Redding on a more sorted Duc he knows. We have Yamaha and "next Rea?" Toprak and Co. That bike is looking competitive!

Another Honda related deal, the Ten Kate Yamaha with Baz...they look interesting. Especially in building a bike upon which they are seeding their future selling race parts (good for you, Yamaha!). This is interesting subplot, eh?

BMW - don't underestimate this bike. Sweet chassis, great electronics, and it was on the pace w a Superstock engine spec a year ago. Now the motor is here, and the rest of the field has a slightly lesser tune than 2019 right? 3% makes 10ths. A top rider is going to want to get on one. And Sykes is no slouch in the mean time.

Honda is here. Beautista has another bloom on him (just trim back to where there are five leaves, and give him what looks like a REAL DEAL Superbike, possibly the best when sorted?).

Lowes is ascending, albeit unclearly re how high. It is time, now or never. Good entertainment. Wishing him the best. Finally, are we forgetting that Leon Camier is on a V4 Ducati right now? And healthy? He has been a "Honda era Rea" rider, way over riding his bikes. VERY talented, focused, smart. He too may be poised to draft in with charging bikes. And I will be cheering aloud.

Rea showed vulnerability last yr. Can't see there being less this year. Some kids are coming in the pipeline, as well as a few GP guys. Not a bad era, not at all.

Peek again?
12 mins highlights

Race 1 (Espanol, mucho que ver!)

Race 2 (WOW - both races are amazing eh?)

8 Mins Superpole Sprint Race (a green bike finishes with Red and Blue paint on it)

Watch a few times, remember you've a racing heart in your chest. Holy crap, guarda! Viva P.I.

Yeah, 2020 was shaping up to be a great year for WorldSBK. It was such a shame that we couldn't immediately build on Australia because that weekend was amazing. The energy within the paddock after Sunday's races was amazing. We all enjoyed Race 1 but when the Superpole Race and Race 2 were great everyone exhaled and thought "wow! yesterday wasn't a one off!" Hopefully when we restart the same can happen at Jerez and there's no reason to expect any different. I'd view it that all the bikes are very strong now and while they won't all work amazingly at each track (like PI for instance) we should see two or three that are very closely matched at each track and some great racing. I think the champion this year will be the team/rider that do the best job possible on the tracks where you bike is working great 

My own viewpoint is that it's a big shame that we've never been able to see exactly what JR could have done on a MotoGP bike. Crutchlow was coming through at the same time and when you look through their careers you'd have thought that Rea was more talented than Crutchlow and you see that Cal has been able to win Grand Prix. I think that Cal's determination and hard work marks him out as a very special sportsman and he's done a great job of maximising his talent and he is the best British GP rider in decades and his feats shouldnt be underestimated. JR on the other hand is more talented and has shown himself to be a very hard working rider that doesn't rest on his sheer ability. I'd have loved to have seen him in MotoGP but can't blame him for wanting to have been given a good bike/team. Cal went to MotoGP at the right time and JR hung around a bit too long in SBK. Both have enjoyed success and made a lot of money from it but Rea is just the same as a later day Foggy where the opportunity didn't present itself at the right time and with no guarantee of winning they weren't willing to jump. It's a what if but I do think that if he'd taken the jump (at say the same time as Foggy) that he could have won races and been a success but he also wouldn't be a five times world champion. It's a tough balance to make for a rider

Claro que si, Sr Esteban!

2015 Honda Customer CRT bike? No thanks, that was an easy pass. Given the difference in tires, and how little time Rea got on the bike, this was little job interview eh? We will never know his GP fate of course, but the ingredients, the chef, and the pan were all looking deliciously poised.

A few mins from Rea immediately upon learning he was to rush over for a #27 replacement ride, and in the GP garage. Good guy, eh? So little ego.