It has been clear for some time that 2012 would bring a major shake up in World Superbikes. With Yamaha announcing their withdrawal from the series and Althea looking doubtful of continuing, all the way up until Sunday afternoon at Portimao, it has been very difficult to sketch the outlines of a rider line up for next season. But after the hectic round of negoiating at the final round of the 2011 season in Portimao, at least part of the equation has become clear, and a relatively healthy-looking WSBK grid is starting to take shape.
It took some last-minute haggling - and the direct intervention of Ducati Corse CEO Claudio Domenicali - to get the situation straight, but on Sunday afternoon, between race 1 and race 2, the future of the Althea Ducati squad was assured. The situation was helped by the threat of losing the #1 plate of newly-crowned World Champion Carlos Checa to BMW, where he had been offered a seat in the BMW Italia team wth factory support, but Checa and Althea team boss Genesio Bevilacqua wanted to extend the partnership which has proven so successful this year. The Althea team will be expanded to two riders, with Superstock 1000 champion Davide Giugliano slotting alongside Checa.
The other two late announcements were Eugene Laverty and Chaz Davies, both leaving it until race day to announce their futures. Laverty will be riding a factory Aprilia in 2012 alongside Max Biaggi, but with a wall down the middle of the garage. When Laverty's switch to Aprilia was announced it was not entirely clear whether the Irishman would be in the factory Aprilia team or in a separate structure, and it now appears that it will be a mixture of the two: Laverty could be running in Pata colors, but he will be a part of the factory team. The 2011 World Supersport champion Davies will move up to the World Superbike series with his current ParkinGO team, but their bid to take on the ex-factory Yamaha WSBK machines failed, and the squad is to switch to Ducati. That team could consist of two riders, if they join forces with Barni Ducati, in which case Davies could be reunited with his 2011 teammate Luca Scassa.
Most of the rest of the grid was already well-known: Marco Melandri's switch to BMW alongside Leon Haslam had previously been anounced, and there is talk that the factory could drop their in-house electronics package for Magneti Marelli. Johnny Rea stays at Ten Kate Honda, where he is joined by another MotoGP in Hiroshi Aoyama. Kawasaki has handed the running of its factory WSBK team over to the Provec Motocard squad, with Joan Lascorz staying put, and a second rider - which could still be Tom Sykes - to be announced later on.
Elsewhere, the Effenbert Liberty Ducati line up remains unchanged, Sylvain Guintoli extending his contract with the squad on Sunday, while the lifeline for Althea Ducati meant that Michel Fabrizio was roped into the BMW Italia squad by his mentor Davide Tardozzi.
There are still a lot of question marks remaining, however. Leon Camier is widely felt to have earned a spot in the WSBK paddock, but the question is where he will end up. Pata Aprilia is set to run two RSV4s next season, but who will be riding them is another question. Whether Nori Haga is one of them is still unknown, the veteran Japanese rider could also retire and head back to Japan. And just as in MotoGP, Suzuki's future is completely uncertain: Alstare look like running at least one bike next year, but it will be without any support from Suzuki at all. Crescent Suzuki are believed to be set to make the jump to World Superbikes, especially if Suzuki pull out of MotoGP, with that part of the budget going to field John Hopkins in WSBK. Though the grid is looking surprising healthy, there are still a lot of gaps to be filled.
Here's the current line up of World Superbike riders that we have so far, with thanks to MotoCorse.com for confirmation of a couple of riders:
|Althea Ducati||Ducati 1198||
|Liberty Ducati||Ducati 1198||
|Factory Aprilia||Aprilia RSV4 Factory||
|Ten Kate Honda||Honda CBR1000RR||
|BMW Motorrad||BMW S1000RR||
|BMW Italia||BMW S1000RR||
|ParkinGO||Ducati 1198||Chaz Davies|
|Team Roma||Ducati 1198||
|Provec Kawasaki||Kawasaki ZX-10R||
|Pata Aprilia||Aprilia RSV4||Two man team, riders TBA|
Minor updates with thanks to David Miller of Bikesportnews.