Back to back rounds kicked off the WorldSBK season and after six races, Jonathan Rea has opened a commanding 35-point lead. Estoril showed that the field is competitive but that Rea and Kawasaki still have the edge thanks to their experience and consistency. Over the course of a full season he’s very hard to beat, but over a race weekend it can be a very different story. Here’s some of the biggest stories from the paddock in Portugal.
Jonathan Rea is the margin for error
I said it on commentary this weekend, Rea is your margin for error. Whatever the circumstances in WorldSBK the Northern Irishman can make the most of the situation. He doesn’t make many mistakes and he’s always ready to capitalise on those of his rivals. On Sunday it was Scott Redding’s mistake when he tried to retake the lead that Rea took advantage of.
The Kawasaki rider has claimed over 100 victories by, amazingly, being more risk averse than his rivals. It’s very rare that Team 65 go to the grid with question marks. Rea and his crew chief, Pere Riba, generally use tried and tested settings rather than looking for a magic bullet on their tough weekends.
It can mean that they get beaten but rarely means they give up big chunks of points. Rea typically will have the pace to be a podium finisher on his bad days. That consistency is why he wins titles. On Sunday Riba said that “this weekend has been our best ever weekend. There was so much pressure to use the SCX tyre but I said that we had to trust our data and not care what everyone else was doing.”
Kawasaki’s decision to opt for the harder SC0 tyre was the defining moment of the weekend. During the opening race Rea lost out on the run to Turn 1 and then spent the race chasing down the leaders. His pace was better but he had given up too much ground. For the rest of the weekend he knew that success or failure would come down to his start and the opening lap. In the Superpole Race it was a shock to see that he had still opted against using the softest tyre but the race came to him and so did the 12 points.
In the closing laps of Race 2 Rea was hunting down Redding and putting his rival under pressure. His extra grip was clear to see and when he attacked and took the lead Redding pushed too hard and crashed trying to immediately jump back into the lead. It was a rash moment from Redding and one that he’d wish to have back.
In six races this year Rea has been almost flawless whereas his rivals have already had dips in form. If the last six years have thought us anything it’s that you can’t give Rea an inch. He’s already taken a mile in the form of a 35 points advantage.
Closely matched manufacturer battle
While the headlines will talk about Rea’s early season lead and “more of the same” in WorldSBK, last weekend showed again that the series is more competitive than it appears. Kawasaki, Ducati, and Yamaha were incredibly closely matched in Portugal. The trio battled it out for the podium spots and while tyre strategies were opposing, this was a weekend where if the chips had fallen slightly differently we could have had three different winners.
Ducati and Redding were able to – finally – make the super-soft SCX compound work effectively. Redding’s win on Saturday was a perfect race from the front. He didn’t make any mistakes and he adjusted his strategy to focus on keeping Toprak Razgatlioglu at bay.
Toprak would come away from the weekend with three podiums and moved into second in the standings. His speed all weekend was very impressive and he was mistake free all the way through three days. Yamaha has made improvements to the bike and he is now getting the most from it on a regular basis. Aragon and Estoril are race tracks of polar opposite nature and the Turkish rider has been very strong at both of them. Yamaha are very well placed for this year.
Estoril was the worst weekend of 2020 for Kawasaki yet throughout the weekend they were on the pace. Both Rea and Alex Lowes had strong speed and consistency in practice but with Lowes relegated down the order following the loss of a front row Superpole lap we never saw his true potential. It bodes very well for Kawasaki that they were strong in Estoril with their evolved bike. It bodes even better than for a second consecutive weekend Lowes looked very competitive.
Pitlane start for Gerloff
Garrett Gerloff is fast. He’s a talent. He’s now very highly regarded. He’s also earned a reputation as a loose racer that leaves no margin for error. For the third round out of four, the Texan was involved in a racing incident, and on this occasion the FIM Stewards have decided that a penalty is needed to try and teach him a lesson.
One rider, off the record, said to me that “he’s good enough to race in MotoGP. He’s very talented but he’s got a lot to learn about racing at this level.” World Championship racing means that everyone is at the elite level and are racing at the limit.
On Sunday, Gerloff clashed with Michael Ruben Rinaldi in the early stages of the race. Coming just a week after his clash with Rea in Aragon the unfortunate reality is that Gerloff has been involved in contentious issues on too many occasions now. Rea survived in Aragon. Rinaldi didn’t in Estoril. With these incidents adding up, a penalty was inevitable for Gerloff and it’s a heavy penalty; a pitlane start in Misano.
After the Rinaldi clash Gerloff said that he had braked earlier and softer and wasn’t riding aggressively but the bike kicked under braking and he lost control. Regardless of the intention, Gerloff made a mistake and it was clear for all to see on the video. This was a weekend where Yamaha were expected to be very competitive and Gerloff could have been an outside bet for a win. The pressure was on and he made a mistake.
The contrast from one weekend to the next from Gerloff was interesting though. After the Aragon clash with Rea he made a beeline to apologise to Rea in parc ferme and his contrition was clear. In Portugal, though, he was upset at the reaction to his move. With the rest of the grid starting to voice their complaints, Gerloff’s back was up.
Twelve months ago Gerloff was out to prove his worth and that of MotoAmerica. He’s taken that mentality forward this year and now backed himself into a corner. In Aragon he held his hands up and said it was his fault. In Estoril he looked for excuses. He needed to hold his hands up and say he made a mistake and then move on from it.
Gerloff is nice as pie off the bike but a different beast when he’s on the bike. Actions speak louder than words and now the Texan needs to show he’s learned from his mistakes.
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