Pressure building, contract renewals, tyre talk and more – the last three rounds taught us a lot.
It has been a rollercoaster journey in the 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship, even if it is just five rounds old. From round three however, the unpredictability has heightened greatly and now it’s time to debrief exactly what we can read into after the last three rounds. From spectacular home wins and dealing with pressure to the never-tiring tyre debate and Championship contenders locking horns and suffering crashes, there’s plenty of patters emerging in WorldSBK in 2021.
Championship contenders: the form, the success and the drama
Over the last three rounds, we’ve seen the top six in the Championship all stand on the podium, with three of them winning back-to-back races but all of them have crashed out of a full-length race too. Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) leads the Championship by 37 points over Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with BRIXX WorldSBK), but that’s not an accurate reflection of how close it has really been, with Toprak beating Rea in five of the last nine races.
Then, there’s been the Misano double from Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), whilst teammate Scott Redding faded, suffering a crash at home at Donington Park and going on a barren run of seven races without a rostrum. Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) has been quietly chipping away in the background, whilst America’s Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) has shown flashes of brilliance as well as moments of madness. In conclusion, there’s no more ‘definite’ expectations in WorldSBK at each round; the script has been torn up and from track to track, there’s genuine uncertainty as to who will flourish and to who will flounder.
No rubber can erase tyre talk: one of the hottest topics around?
Every round, there seems to be new dynamics introduced into WorldSBK as Pirelli continue their quest in innovation and development. At Misano, the Official Sole Tyre Supplier to WorldSBK brought a new front SC1 and a development SCX, whilst they also brought a new front tyre to Assen and returned the SCX development back into contention from Italy. All of this throws different aspects at the riders and teams; some riders and bikes can get the ideal solution to work, others can’t – and this is proving costly if you’re not able to find the correct direction.
Scott Redding has been critical of the SCX tyre in the past, whilst teammate Michael Ruben Rinaldi is able to make it work. Jonathan Rea took three wins at Assen but switched compounds for Race 2, opting not to use the SCX tyre – and it worked. In short, doing long runs in Free Practices, doing your homework, finding crossover points in the performance of each compound, and finding a tyre direction and a bike set-up that work in harmony has never been so important. WorldSBK is so close now that if you’re not on the pace, you run the risk of being punished more than ever before.
Razgatlioglu’s consistency: giving Rea a hard time
Whilst Scott Redding’s title charge may have, for the moment, slowed in progress, Toprak Razgatlioglu’s has surged sensationally, with all but four races on the podium and all but Race 2 at Assen – when he was taken out – in the top six. Ten podiums in the last 12 races, including seven consecutive – of which four were two second places and two wins – have propelled Razgatlioglu into being Rea’s main challenger. Assen wasn’t the best round for the Turk, not helped by being taken out by Garrett Gerloff in the final race. Now 37 points back – the same number as the points swing from Race 1 at Misano to Race 2 at Donington Park – it’s time to edge back into contention. If 37 points can be gained and then lost over nine races, the Championship race certainly isn’t over.
BMW growth in potential: podiums achieved, what next?
The all-new BMW M 1000 RR has certainly not disgraced itself in WorldSBK in 2021, having taken a first podium in the Tissot Superpole Race at Donington Park – of which Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) was second and teammate Michael van der Mark was third. Sykes backed that up with a Race 2 podium, whilst both were on the pace at Assen despite being blighted by technical issues. There’s no question that the BMW is making progress and that Sykes and van der Mark are relishing the development whilst also making strides forward. Poles, podiums and – if conditions and circumstances are right – victories may well be on the horizon.
The rookies are starting to come good: not just a flash in the pan
WorldSBK in 2021 has seen some nine rookies come into the Championship and across the last few rounds, we’ve seen impressive performances from a fair few of them. Most notably, the talking point in terms of rookie revelations must be Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with BRIXX WorldSBK), who – amidst the Turn 1 drama of Assen’s Race 2 – managed to get himself to the front of the field, stretch away and lead for a fair portion of the race before Rea and Redding ultimately passed him. Still finishing third, the reigning WorldSSP Champion is starting to find his feet on the Yamaha R1.
Other notable performances included Jonas Folger’s (Bonovo MGM Racing) sixth place grid slot at Assen before his Race 1 crash put him out of Sunday, and Lucas Mahias’ (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) strong Superpole showings, tracking Jonathan Rea for most of the time. Over at Ducati and the flying rookie honours have been with the youngest rider on the grid, Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing). The Italian scored a stunning top six at home at Misano and has been looking better with each session. At Assen, Isaac Viñales (ORELAC Racing VerdNatura) and Loris Cresson (OUTDO TPR Team Pedercini Racing) scored their best results with 11th and 13th respectively in Race 1 – for Cresson, his first points in WorldSBK and Belgium’s first since the late Michael Paquay in 1996.
Silly season and musical chairs: a summer of signing awaits
From the Jonathan Rea to MotoGP™ gossip to the actual contract renewal of his teammate Alex Lowes and Yamaha’s commitment to Toprak Razgatlioglu and Garrett Gerloff, 2022 is already taking shape. Performing strongly at the start of the season has always been necessary but before we’re even halfway through the year, three of the factory/factory-supported seats have already been added to the 2022 entry lists. As a full summer of WorldSBK begins to kick into action and performances begin to shine through, there’ll be a clearer complexion to the 2022 field as each round gets ticked off.
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