Gordon Ritchie WorldSBK Blog: WorldSBK’s Wider View

Gordon Ritchie has covered World Superbikes for over a quarter of a century, and is widely regarded as the world's leading journalist on the series. MotoMatters.com is delighted to be hosting a monthly blog by Ritchie.

It has been such a great start to the WorldSBK championship in 2022 that even last year’s two-pronged fight to the last round flag has been obliterated by the early season action. In a championship with five competing manufacturers there is also a distinct top three machine fight in 2022; Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati.

The Honda is nearly there. And nearly is where it may stay, but, an early Iker Lecuona rookie podium is still a great achievement already. The BMW is behind the 8-ball every week it seems, as much for bad luck as anything else. A fit Michael van der Mark alongside an inline four rookie in Scott Redding would probably accelerate things, in all possible ways.

But, providing the entertainment as well as leading performance now we are three rounds and nine races in, are top three top factory riders. In fact, it is an unmistakeable ‘Big Three’ title race.

They are doing all the winning and almost all the podium scoring. Those guys are championship leader Alvaro Bautista (Aruba Ducati), current third place man Jonathan Rea (KRT) and 2021 World Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha). Were it not for Rea and Razgatlioglu colliding and then both no-scoring at Assen, we would probably have been looking at a clean sweep of podiums for that ‘Big Three’ before this weekend at Misano.

Great racing makes for great stories

It is also great that five different riders, on four different makes of MotoGP machine, are winning ‘over the road’, but has the race action been quite as enthralling as WorldSBK, even with only three clear leading riders in WorldSBK? According to voices inside MotoGP itself, maybe not. Mistaken last lap countdowns and a horrible first lap crashes were the most talked about takeaways from the most recent round, despite Quartararo’s repeating sheer brilliance.

The reason that WorldSBK is getting much more public and media attention than most recent season is that it’s providing rivalry and drama all the way on track, with three very different characters, riding styles and bike characteristics attracting and repelling to deliver crazy levels of competition and entertainment.

Last year’s brilliant Razgatlioglu/Rea and often Scott Redding sort-outs really primed us for 2022. Those wee Superbike scamps are often racing corner-by-corner, and those three leading forces are almost overtaking more often than they following line astern.

Even MotoGP, with its generally closer lap times, has an issue with this mid-to-late race overtaking nowadays. So it seems.

It’s compelling stuff all the way in the production-derived world; an updated complication of the past three seasons in WorldSBK, with a full-on 2022 twist.

A plan coming together

We are actually witnessing more than the sum of the parts of the last three seasons. In 2019 Bautista was clearly going to be the most dominant WorldSBK champion ever with Ducati’s new wonder bike, the Panigale V4R. A MotoGP refugee, he went about destroying the competition for the first part of the year at every single track. Then it went wrong, for Ducati and Bautista, and Rea won the title again.

Two years ago Redding was Rea’s biggest challenger, again on that Ducati, but despite some awesome challenges, it was Rea’s sixth title in a row. For both him and his ageing but capable Kawasaki.

Last year Razgatlioglu really took the season to Rea once he had had overcome his own bad luck at Assen. He eventually pushed Rea so hard that mistakes and overriding crept in, even from the GOAT. Rea was as determined as ever, but on a package that was just 1% not quite fast enough anymore, he was maybe too determined. They swapped wins and DNFs. Razgatlioglu looked wild but stayed cool, and deservedly won his first title with Yamaha.

This year? They all still have something major to prove, and maybe just this year to do it in? OK, only Rea and Bautista have scored race wins so far, not Razgatlioglu, although only Bautista’s low mass and hyperdrive Desmo engine stopped Raz winning one race in Estoril, of course.

Excitement aplenty

In theory, 2022 WorldSBK sounds kinda dull, if you look at the Bautista/Rea winning duopoly over nine races - yet it is anything but. It’s been flat out wrestle-mania from the start, in a first round that Michael Ruben Rinaldi added to with his harrying of Razgatlioglu. Aragon’s races went to Rea, Bautista and Bautista again. Winning margins of 0.090, 5.141 and 4.393 seconds respectively. That big downhill straight eventually told in Bautista’s favour… But the action all through? Peerless.

In Assen’s Race One, it was Rea, from Bau Bau from Raz, with just 0.103 to second place and just over one second to third. In the Superpole Race a controversial few millimetre track limits penalty for Bautista saw him eventually third not second, but even Razgatlioglu in the initial bronze medal place was only 0.267 seconds from Rea’s second win.

The final Dutch race went to Bautista, by miles from Andrea Locatelli’s Yamaha and Iker Lecuona’s HRC Honda. Those interlopers’ results were in no small part due to Rea and Raz having ‘that’ collision, and a no-pointer apiece. But even that was a talking point for weeks. Who was to blame?

In Estoril the margins of victory were squeezed into 0.126, 0.174 and 0.194 seconds - mere fragments of spacetime. (And remember ‘that’ save… Toprak at peak WTF levels of transcendence).

Banging bars

But the bare stats presented there - merely to help us remember how mad it has all been - do not even hint at how much passing, fighting, race craft and sheer will-to-win has been going on. Good old fashioned motorcycle racing, with bikes that feature vestigial wings and small aero ducts at best - and almost none at all on the championship-winning Yamaha.

The biggest motorcycle racing championship of all is - of course - MotoGP. Should be until the end of time, really. But Dorna’s other 1000cc four-cylinder four-stroke venture is truly delivering after nearly ten years of ownership.

This is the culmination of fair rules, a strong regular grid, five big manufacturers (eight if you go down the classes to find MV Agusta and Triumph in WorldSSP, plus KTM in WorldSSP300), true championship ambitions from the top three, and lots of riders who are by no means merely ‘extras’ right behind…

Good times have come back to WorldSBK and people you would hardly expect it from are excited about it.

Gloom abounds

Weird then, especially for anybody like me who concentrates on WorldSBK racing almost to the exclusion of anything else, to see that the MotoGP season seems to have been littered with bad news stories and negativity - from within.

There are some pretty funky happenings going on in MotoGP looking in from outside, as well as the Rossi-free, and encroaching Suzuki-free, dark side. Contrary to what some may think, the people bowling along busily inside MotoGP’s wee brother, WorldSBK, are not looking over at MotoGP and its perceived problems with any great level of Schadenfreude.

When WorldSBK has been publicly flourishing as it is now, and MotoGP started feeling even a little sorry for itself, the alarm bells always rang inside the heads and hearts of the old WorldSBK war horses. Because even though WorldSBK has got nothing to do with MotoGP day-to-day, some people immediately start looking for solutions inside the WorldSBK paddock. They did it before, in numerous ways. But things are very different now, aren’t they?

Race what you build vs build what you race

Dorna has owned both of these big championships since 2013. After so many years and changes of format, regulations and classes, modern day WorldSBK is largely Dorna’s own doing, as they are the leading partners in the Dorna/FIM name over the door stakes. It is they who have arrived at their own more technical and rules based version of the performance equalisation philosophy that preceded the big revolution in 2013. The racing is wide-open, on bikes that are still basically breathed-on showroom models. This is not easily done.

WorldSBK in every era has had to run what others have brung, which is much more difficult to police and ‘level-up’ between manufacturers. In MotoGP the bikes are prototypes so the organisers have more control via the rulebook. In WorldSBK the manufacturers build what they want their commercially available Superbike to be, and Dorna/FIM have to find a way to make things competitive between them all. And only then hope the manufacturers will all join in. Five is plenty in WorldSBK, as we are seeing now. More would be nicer…

The freshly deployed Next Generation category inside WorldSSP racing is also panning out quite well. WorldSSP300 is technically isolated but just as thrill-a-minute as ever, and now more sane in numbers of entries and (sometimes) rider approaches.

So… big re-building and modernising jobs done, just keep decorating, massaging and onward, onward, onward for the House of WorldSBK? Assuming Covid behaves itself, of course.

More Asia, greater spread of rounds across Europe, maybe one day a dramatic return to the forbidden lands of America and Japan? Well, maybe all those things, maybe none… But it is not always ‘our’ choice anyway.

Footing the bill

All of us in global racing are often guilty of forgetting one simple thing. We are not truly in control of our industry. We are all here because other people are prepared to pay for our business to continue.

In motorcycle racing, from nationals to MotoGP, the manufacturers are the ones who provide the bikes, the bulk of the internal money, and the desire to use racing as a marketing, branding, customer relations, engineering and technical development exercise. Very often, national, regional, and local governments help underwrite the costs of putting the global races on, to stimulate tourism and local commerce. We are very manufacturer dependent, and not just in WorldSBK.

MotoGP is not two-wheeled F1, where even now it is a car racing specialists’ industry, with genuine engineering and racing headquarters remote from the production lines and boardrooms for most manufacturers. It is a ‘pay the bills, market the glory’ arm’s length scene for many of them. MotoGP in 2022 could be half full of Ilmors, KRs, Petronases, WCMs, Cosworths and the like, but it’s not. MotoGP only contains regular motorcycle manufacturers and their prototype offerings.

In WorldSBK, the complete reliance on manufacturers is built-in, as only the manufacturers can provide and homologate their own machinery. If the manufacturer refuses to homologate specific models, those models cannot be raced at this level.

Making motorcycles and more

Another simple fact of business life we need to understand is that all the mass manufacturers are way bigger companies than MotoGP and WorldSBK race series combined. And the manufacturers mostly have even more humongous parent companies in final control - however their balance sheets are formatted.

To the outside world, the whole commercial globe? Powered two wheelers in a racing context are our big business, not really anyone else’s.

Some examples? The two biggest official car dealerships in my area sell Suzukis. Kawasaki is a sprawling industrial complex with so many different theatres of operation. Honda… well, have a think if there is a person anywhere in the world who does not understand Honda - but usually in terms of cars, lawnmowers and other small engines, not just motorbikes. Yamaha… makes loads more commercial things than just motorcycles.

Ducati is a largely independent offshoot of the vast VW/Audi Group. (But what’s bigger, Ducati or VW/Audi?). Aprilia is a subsidiary of Piaggio - but how many track focused RSV-4s street bikes do they sell? KTM is a successful bike manufacturer in its own right, but doesn’t have a single WorldSBK/WorldSSP homologated sportsbike in its sales range. Their MotoGP project is an often successful outlier in relation to their core business of Adventure bikes/naked bikes and off-road sporting product.

In some cases, if it was a strictly business decision (i.e., not one taken by ex-racing engineers who eventually end up at the board level of some companies) they may not bother with big time bike racing at all.

The bigger picture

Because we are all so passionate about racing, because it consumes and brightens our lives 24/7 in many cases - because MotoGP has grown so far in comparison to where it was a couple of decades ago - we often make the mistake of believing the whole racing scene is bigger than it really is to the full outside business world. Bike racing is the apple of our eyes, not Apple.

With that reality check now made - optimism all round please? Be happy that we are where we are, still riding the big waves of adrenaline, but looking to grow wherever possible.

Speaking more specifically, now that WorldSBK has become a brighter light again, where is the next opportunity for its growth in the hard economic conditions the world finds itself in?

I think I know, and it’s got nothing to do with motorbikes, per se.

WorldSBK Unlimited?

A very high production value behind-the-scenes series, along the lines of F1’s ‘Drive to Survive’, would have a field day inside WorldSBK right now. Yes, it would have to be done exactly right, and be vastly well resourced, but look at the human source material, from GOAT-man Rea, stuntman Toprak, hair model short range rocket Bautista, obsessed bicyclist and social media major Redding… The competing manufacturers are all household names, too, with a lot to gain from the exposure outside their current base.

Plain old terrestrial and even digital TV may well be getting swamped by social media and the online world in general, but the only way for WorldSBK to truly grow, especially under the shadow of MotoGP within our own racing-obsessed world, is to spread out into a broader stage. To show more than just the wildly exciting races.

Is that even feasible?

Why, yes. The box-set/online/streaming ground is certainly fertile for something as mad a watch as WorldSBK racing. Think about it. Everybody was talking about that F1-based ‘Drive to Survive’ series. Everyone.

Sunday newspaper supplements, non-racing celebrities, general TV shows, social media, people with no ‘previous’ in F1 at all. The whole connected modern world was at least mentioning its existence, and that netted vast numbers of new customers.

Don’t believe me? A true story follows.

My niece on my wife’s side of the family, with no motorsport background or inclination, became so captivated by F1 after watching ‘that’ online series that she and two mates paid a relative fortune to travel to Imola for all three days of the Italian F1 GP. Hotel in Bologna, train in and out every day, bit of a holiday in Florence after - loved every expensive second and will be back for more. Sunday is F1 day for her now.

From sports-bypass chick to mega F1 fan in just over a year. All from watching some online TV show that made it all impossibly human, glamorous, immersive and moreish. (So I hear, I never really watched it).

Telling the story

OK, WorldSBK is not the already huge bling-fest F1 is, but as we all know, the backstory, controversy, drama and risk factors inherent in motorcycle racing knock any kind of four-wheel staged play straight into the wings (pun intended).

If I were a big time ‘TV’ producer looking at doing a behind-the-scenes personality-led series based on the most entertaining racing spectacle around, I would probably be more interested in WorldSBK than any other global category right now. Especially as Toprak really is staying around for a while longer.

And, practically speaking, there are only 12 rounds to film, not a much more expensive and logistically challenging 20-or so. Three main characters, endless plot-twists and a cast of thousands of a second, WorldSBK 2022 sure is Hollywood again, even without the mini-series.

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The optimism in motorcycle racing is derived from its potential. The fans understand how exceptional WSBK and MotoGP are in terms of their entertainment value and the risks undertaken by the competitors. Unfortunately, the sport rarely realizes its potential because the governing factions are possessed by self-defeating habits. The would-be sponsors are likely blinded by the industry's dysfunction, and they elect not to contemplate the commercial potential. 

Regarding MotoGP, it's easy to vilify the MSMA because they are the recalcitrant body politic of recent times, constantly usurping the riders, driving up costs, and robbing shareholders. Their current infatuation with ride height devices and aerodynamic wings is particularly irksome to fans. Apparently, this is something certain members within the MSMA appear to enjoy, as Aprilia has just attached a middle finger to the tail section of their bike. Dorna also share a brunt of the responsibility. They've twice been told that 1000cc is too much engine for 4-stroke prototypes, yet they insisted on a new 1000cc formula. The new formula seemed reasonable when foiled against the fuel-capacity-limited 800cc formula, but predictably, MotoGP is outrunning the circuits.....which means the FIM are begging venues for major upgrades, and Dorna have fewer potential bids for MotoGP events. InFront made a similar mistake by eschewing the 1000cc WSBK kit parts formula to operate MotoGP-Lite. The spectacle was great, but costs spiraled out of control, and the GFC nearly KO'd superbike racing around the world. 

We've discussed MotoGP flaws ad nauseum, but World Superbike has many issues that will need to be addressed, even if the racing is scintillating, must-see TV.

The current Superbike formula, despite all of the improvements (my favorite is the return to homologation specials), cannot be run by privateers. Fully prepared race bikes are still too expensive, particularly for national teams, and the performance is unsafe at many national/international venues. Controlling horsepower to ground is still too dependent upon electronics. The current 1000cc talent pool is too small to support full, competitive grids around the world. The commercial revenue model is probably still wrong, which requires the factories to subsidize the sport with money from the general corporate coffers.

I suspect the commissions are dragging their feet because they know motorcycle racing will require a revolutionary "de-powering". It is unclear whether fans would accept MotoGP and WSBK machines with considerably less power, but the commissions don't want to find out. They would rather drag their heels and hope for a miracle. 


It's interesting to go back and see the sport before Dorna. It's also good to go back and see the small grids after the financial crisis. They have a track record of doing, on average, over time, a good job of fixing issues. The return to 1000cc/990cc engines was exactly what was needed. You can remove fuel restrictions from 800cc and the current issues we have now are worse. The big bonus of the bigger engines is that they have too much torque. It's not such a nightmare to produce an engine that gets a manufacturer into the ball park. What you did with that torque was the problem. The issue now is that they have got very good at handling that torque not the finer points of finesse but by handling the brute force that torque brings. If they remove the ability to use that torque as efficiently as they do now, the speed drops and the racing picks up again.

I once held roughly the same mindset regarding excess torque, but then I saw the light. As you say, placing excess toque in the rider's right hand creates an interesting spectacle, but it also sparks a development war that ultimately threatens the both financial stability of the series and sport of riding itself, especially in displacement-limited formulas. The wheelies and powerslides quickly give way to the electronics, active suspension, and aerodynamic devices. Dorna spends the rest of their days trying to ban and spec every new system the MSMA develop to utilize the torque. Manufacturers drop out because they can't hang, or they angered by technical restrictions. 

The other style of competitive racing is torque restricted racing, similar to what existed in the old World Supersport formula. The bikes had sufficient tire grip, and were not wheelie prone. Electronics were not integral, and the teams were basically operating on a spectrum between maximum wheel torque and maximum speed by altering gear ratios. 

Torque-limited racing isn't particularly to my liking, but this is the state of affairs. Unless the manufacturers unanimously agree that excess torque should remain in the rider's right hand, and expensive technical developments should be curtailed, motorcycle racing will necessary undergo a great de-tuning, like 20-25% horsepower reduction in the top classes. 

Six of one and half a dozen of the other. It's not about putting large torque into the riders hands because it creates a spectacle. It's about the relationship between tyres and torque and it not being very difficult to reach the limit with a modern 1000cc and these tyres. Not difficult meaning cheap(ish). Aero increases the capacity of the bike to handle torque. Software never did that. The areas of a lap where the limit is the output of the engine and not the grip of the tyre or the ability of the bike to keep the front wheel down is increasing. Eeeking out more umpf whilst maintaining engine life and efficiency costs big time.

Couple of things i would slightly disagree with in this piece.   The main reason for excitement in last couple of years has been Toprak not really the rules.  Toseland mentioned in eurosport commentary this weekend if it hadn't been for TR last season chances are JR would have walked away with it last season.  IF Morbidelli has a good season in the factory Yam team next season i think TR will stay in WSB.  Superglue seems adamant that TR will only move to a factory team, by the start of '24 that may be only 2 or 3 seats!  Great for WSB, but questions will always remain over how good they really were (look at Fogarty and Rea).

The comment regarding no riders being extras, can't agree with that.  Apart from Rinaldis podium in the 2nd race in San Marino the other factory riders they have done literally nothing by taking points away from opposing factories title contenders.  Lowes, Rinaldi, Locatelli are at a lower level.  No point even discussing all the other Yam & Kawasaki riders or BMW as a factory.  

Whilst i sound like i'm having a go at WSB, GP's is in a strange place at the moment and i am a GP man.  Personally i would ban all this aero rubbish along with ride height devices.  For the first time in my 30 years of watching bike racing we are hearing comments like 'dirty air' and front tyres overheating because they are too close to the bike in front!!!  Anyone else old enough to remember Haga riding on the backwheel of the bike in front.

Not sure of the success (or not) of motoGP unlimited but WSB would be interesting for bikers but no one else.  In my opinion the reason why drive to survive did so well is the general public can relate far more to cars than they can to bikes.  Before anyone says F1 cars are nothing like road cars, i agree but that doesn't seem to bother fair weather car fans.  Bikers understand their racing far more as at some point in your life you have probably had a bike in the garage and done some very naughty speed on the roads.  The fact is in most countries bike racing is a very niche sport.


Another reason Joe Public won’t take to a moto tv series is because they literally can’t tell the difference between a Comanchero and a sports bike rider. All bikers are bikies.

…is my only gripe about the series as I really enjoy watching it….when it’s on. The calendar is so spaced out that you kind of forget that it’s still on. While the MotoGP calendar is packed and compressed, the WSB calendar is expanded with too many gaps. Maybe Dorna should to something about this to maintain the interest.


Some of the gaps are in theory easy to fill:

* Race in US - COTA or Laguna Seca ?

* Race in Turkey - wasn't this meant to happen ?

* Second race in UK - ideally Brands but I suspect that ship has sailed 

I am disappointed that the 300 class won't be running at Donington - is that to do with capacity or cost ?


I tend to agree that “wsbk unlimited” would be unlikely to be a big hit. F1 has forever been a glamour parade, the province of fabulously wealthy, entitled people that can park a gazillion dollar yacht in Monaco to sip Moët de Chandon while the pretty cars flash by. It’s a bit like the British royal family, many people are drawn to these fairy tale stories, hence the success of Netflix’s “The Crown”. Otherwise they mostly want to know who’s sleeping with who, whether Dave is gonna take out Brett for shagging his missus or Tracy is gonna rip out Charlene’s eyes for wearing that dress. Translate that to wsbk…. ways to go, lads.

And I would add what I think should be obvious: Have you ever seen and listened to an interview with Toprak? As effective as Ambien.

Yep, I think they’d need to focus on his insanely late braking and avoid too much chit chat.

that Toprak being interviewed in Turkish would be a completely different experience 

That’s a very good observation and I feel a little ashamed now for sporting at his expense, should know better.

The point of the article was that a reality series would supercharge the popularity of WSBK. Interviews of Toprak in Turkish do not fit that narrative, no matter how scintillating V4racer imagines they might be.

I am not as willing as you to give TR the benefit of the doubt. His park ferme remarks are canned and the same, and it appears that although he is quite pleasant, he is not interested in putting in the effort. (I do admit I like the Top Cat dolls however)

The Italians (Pecco, VR, Dovi, et al) are fascinating to hear in english, as are the Spaniards to a lesser extent. TR can do it too. (I do however wish that Jack Miller would learn to speak english, instead of always answering in his native tongue)      ;-)

Oh, I think we're all agreed that WSBK Unltd would probably be a bit of a beemer; seems like a good idea but never quite lives up to it's promise.

I think attitudes to media duties in the MotoGP paddock were changed by VR back in the day. Or it might even have been Schumacher doing the Loreal thing. Riders realised there was potential to make a lot of money by engaging more and making themselves more interesting. I'm not sure that has ever truly translated across to WSBK.

Toprak speaks loud and clear on track just fine for me. He is careful with words and respectful, it takes all sorts. 

You might be surprised who bugs some of us and how. This season Martin has been grating on me, not impressed by his increasingly egoic, sloppy and flippant personal countenance. Never much a Miller guy either, just not entertained by immaturity half the time. 

Toprak is alright w me. 

I can see that they weren't doing fantastically w the MotoGP Unlimited, but enjoyed it. Hoping they begin again w a few adjustments, not sure all the details. Some of it is looking logistical and marketing. I don't think it would be better in WSBK, but would love to get to see it!

I remember Martin in 2020 during one press conference saying that he didn't care about Moto2 now that he had his MotoGP contract for 2021. I thought then that if I was his Moto2 team boss I'd send him home. One second later.....care or not he's still fast and that's kind of what I might want on my bike. He wasn't in a position to fight for the title, if he was in a position to win it, I know he would care. I think it's easy to hear words, watch faces or body language and take meaning from them based on personal perspective. By that I don't just mean a perspective on a subject in a press conference but a perspective as the speaker of a paticular language, brought up in a certain culture, experienced a, b and c etc. That always makes me think twice or more. Of course what Martin was, maybe, provisionally, saying is 'I'm not concerning myself with the Moto2 title because I can't win it this year...or next year because I'll be riding in MotoGP.' I think that's what he actually meant but I can't be sure and that's the only thing I do know for sure. Near impossible to know without being there communicating in person. The other thing I try to remember is that the riders are forced to stand before a camera and talk stuff even though they might prefer to sit down in a quiet corner and reflect on events. Sometimes if you have nothing positive to say...say nothing...but they have to and so on comes the blah blah tap. I've not heard a bad word about him from others who are there.

I have criticism of Martin personally. Been watching closely, he is revealing a poorly mitigated personae that is somewhat wanton. I don't dislike him, just not enamored. It will show on the bike, a lack of decorum or crispness. He isn't of Alien ingredients in my unhumble view. I prefer Bastiannini. 


Maybe the Mir to Ducati rumor has some meat in it. That might be bugging Martin. He said he wants more say in the developmental direction of the bike. Marca is reporting that Martin and Basianini have signed on for two more years with Ducati. An interview was scheduled yesterday with Oliveira, presumably to announce his move to Gresini. Instead they talked about languages and dentistry. Why wouldn't the Beast be moving on to redder pastures? Why is Martin acting miffed? Oliveira to Aprilia with Rins? This silly season is loco.

I'd rather see Mir on a Ducati. Don't know who I would wish on the other factory RCV. Maybe the Beast.

I reckon Toprak & Superglu would like to race in Turkey. Great idea AndrewDavidLong, I really like that circuit.

The Oncu lads would probably go well and all.

I hear the motorcycle market in the USA is big. Race there SBK!

Filling in some gaps in the calendar would improve the experience for me to.