Same old, same old in WorldSBK season. Jonathan Rea walking away with his sixth consecutive title. Kawasaki doing the same with the manufacturers title. No matter what happens Rea and Kawasaki have all the answers and the title all sewn up.
That’s the narrative spun by many about WorldSBK but the reality is very different. Rea and Kawasaki might have won the titles, but this was a challenging season for both that ended with the ZX10-RR clearly outmatched at two of the last three rounds. Ducati had the bike to beat in 2020 but too many riders fighting with one another.
Yamaha are close, very close, and have a hungry rider line-up. The return of a full-blooded factory effort from Honda showed lots of encouraging signs. BMW were a write off this year but still claimed two pole positions and have an all-new bike coming for next season. The future is brighter for WorldSBK than it has been for many years.
The season began with a classic in Phillip Island. Three great races and a tenth of second the combined victory margin. It was a terrific blend of strategy and different bikes. It encapsulated why WorldSBK is looking forward rather than to the past. We don’t have to look at the “golden age of Superbikes” any longer. We’re living one. Seven different riders won races. Ten riders stood on the rostrum.
We saw the emergence of potential stars this year. Toprak Razgatlioglu had made himself known in 2019 as a potential champion. A switch from the Puccetti Kawasaki to Pata Yamaha yielded a win on his debut. He’d finish the season with a Portuguese double at Estoril. His fellow Yamaha runner, Garrett Gerloff, marked himself out as one to watch by standing on the podium at Catalunya before adding another two at Estoril.
Michael Ruben Rinaldi parlayed an Aragon victory and a weekend of three podiums into a factory Ducati seat for next year alongside Scott Redding. They should form a strong team with Redding having adapted very well to WorldSBK. Podiums in his first six races showed he had a clear understanding of the bike and tyres but following his double win at Jerez he was inconsistent at times.
Chinks in the armour
That ultimately gave Rea the edge in the title battle. Redding’s eye was off the prize in Aragon when he complained about Rinaldi being lighter and thus able to use a softer tyre during races. It was reminiscent of his time in Moto2 but as the season drew to a close Redding was correct in his assessment by saying that he needed to find solutions.
He wasn’t able to, and for the second year in a row Ducati were unable to win the title, despite looking at one point to be sitting pretty. The double header at Aragon was where the title pivoted to Rea. For 2021 Redding will need to be more consistent. He can win races but against Rea that isn’t enough; you need to be on the podium almost every race.
One rider that was able to do that for much of 2020 was Andrea Locatelli in the Supersport class. He was invincible for most of the campaign and saw his record-breaking season rewarded with a factory Yamaha seat. Quite how that fits in with the role of GRT Yamaha as the named Junior Team remains to be seen.
He’ll be joined in the big bike class next year by Lucas Mahias who will also step up. The Frenchman, a former Supersport World Champion, will be on the Puccetti Kawasaki. They won’t be the only riders to make the jump from the Supersport with Isaac Viñales confirmed at Orelac Kawasaki and Loris Cresson potentially also on the move.
That being said none of these rookies will generate the excitement of Jonas Folger making his full-time debut next year. The German will be on a satellite BMW next year, having wildcarded a Yamaha twice this year. Switching to the IDM series, which he dominated, has revitalised Folger’s career and the relaxed Superbike paddock is sure to be a better fit for him compared to the pressure cooker world of MotoGP. He won’t be the only satellite BMW with Eugene Laverty also riding one next year.
While Folger and Laverty form an exciting pair of satellite machines, the real excitement for BMW will be what happens at the factory team. The all-new M1000RR has a raft of upgrades, including aerodynamic wings, but their new rider is what has really set tongues wagging up and down pitlane. Michael van der Mark has made the switch to partner Tom Sykes.
The switch is a clear indication that BMW are putting their money where their mouth is. The Dutchman has won races and finished third in the championship. By hiring him they have brought in a top-tier rider, and there’s now no hiding place for them. Four BMW’s will give the Germans plenty of data but now they need to prove they can make it work.
Another rider out to prove the doubters wrong will be Chaz Davies. After seven years on the full-factory Ducati he has swapped places with Rinaldi. The switch to GoEleven could work wonders for Davies, who struggled for consistency since the switch to the V4R. Some of the blame can be put at the Welshman’s door, but a rumoured frosty relationship with his crew chief didn’t help matters.
Now he has the chance to prove Ducati made a mistake by letting him go. Nine podiums and two wins netted him third in the championship this year but his form in the second half of the year meant he was the most consistent Ducati rider. If he can replicate that feat next year don’t sleep on him being a title contender.
The majority of the grid will be in the final year of contracts in 2021 so expect fireworks from the outset of the season in April at Assen.
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