WorldSBK in 2021: what have we learnt so far in this epic encounter?

Wednesday, 10 November 2021 14:44 GMT

From fierce rivalries to new limits, intriguing venues and plenty more, this season has had it all

The 2021 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has seen more twists and turns than ever before, with Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) leading the Championship by 30 points from Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) ahead of the final round. The Pertamina Mandalika International Street Circuit will host the Pirelli Indonesian Round and there’s plenty on the line as this rollercoaster season draws to a close. However, despite all the unpredictability and all of the drama, plenty has been learnt throughout the course of the year. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key themes from what will go down in history as one of the greatest WorldSBK seasons.

RAZGATLIOGLU VS REA: one of the biggest rivalries ever seen?

When people talk about WorldSBK rivalries, it’s often Colin Edwards vs Troy Bayliss in the 2000s or Carl Fogarty vs Pierfrancesco Chili, Aaron Slight and Troy Corser in the late 90s, perhaps James Toseland vs Troy Bayliss and Jonathan Rea vs Tom Sykes. Take the best bits of all of them and it may give the fight for the title in 2021. Toprak Razgatlioglu is the young pretender, set to dethrone Jonathan Rea, the greatest of all time in WorldSBK and the reigning six-time World Champion. Both have had on-track battles and off-track dramas, with Magny-Cours being the epitome of both of those things. They’ve even mirrored celebrations and crashes in the same round at Portimao, with Razgatlioglu winning Race 1 and cleaning the green at Turn 5 as Rea crashed at Turn 15, whilst Toprak crashed at Turn 15 in Race 2 and Rea did a burnout on the green at Turn 5 – the visual, psychological and theatrical aspect is something to behold, building for one last dance in Indonesia.

THE LIMIT: it can be your friend and enemy

In 2021, we’ve seen the title fight being fought on the limit like we’ve never seen; some of the racing has been exceptionally close and the elbows have come out on more than one occasion. Razgatlioglu and Rea have duelled on countless occasions, and both have shown signs that they can often go over their limit. For Jonathan Rea, it was crashing out of the lead on three occasions – twice at Portimao and once at Donington Park – whilst also crashing twice in WorldSBK’s first ever race at Most. For Razgatlioglu, the rider raising the bar and pushing Rea and his other rivals to new extremes, he’s made sure that the limit has yet to be exceeded in way that results in a crash and in fact, he’s struck at the right moments with incisive final corner battles – straight from the Jonathan Rea textbook out of Championship management and consistency. The question remains to be answered in terms of which one will triumph, but there’s standout moments for both, seeing crucial points bagged.

FIERCELY CLOSE RACING: WorldSBK’s spectacular show has been another level

“It’s a great fight in WorldSBK. It’s one of the best fights…,” not just our words, but the words of nine-time MotoGP™ World Champion Valentino Rossi. The WorldSBK fight has really captivated the motorsport fraternity in 2021, with a stunning amount of final lap battles and showdowns. Not only have we had intense races and those special, final corner-last gasp moves, but we’ve seen dramatic turns of events and a huge amount of variety. For the first time since 2014, there’s been four winning manufacturers (Yamaha, Kawasaki, Ducati and BMW), whilst there also been five different race winners and 13 different podium finishers. New names have emerged, and manufacturers have developed to projects into race winners, all whilst a title fight rages. WorldSBK has been so close in 2021 that not only is the Riders’ Championship up for grabs, but the Manufacturers’ too, as Yamaha lead Ducati and Kawasaki to Indonesia, all three still able to take honours.

TALKING TYRES: they’ve been crucial in 2021

Tyres are always important, but in 2021, they’ve been on everyone’s lips. New swingarms may have been brought in by some manufacturers whilst others have focussed on aerodynamics, engine upgrades, different chassis configurations and torque sensors, but on race day, the tyres have had the big say. With Pirelli always pushing to the forefront of innovation, the SCX tyre has seen various versions that have benefitted some riders and not others, whilst new front tyres have also been in the paddock and again, some working in favour and others not so much. The tyre variables have not just seen the racing closer, but they’ve added one more dynamic – suddenly, late race pace and tyre management are serious factors as many riders are go with different combinations, meaning varied strategies. Add on technical enhancements and new bikes, they’ve all given some of the best racing.

NEW TRACKS, NEW POSSIBILITIES: breaking new ground

On the 2021 WorldSBK calendar, there’s three brand new tracks – Autodrom Most, Circuito de Navarra and the Mandalika International Street Circuit. Most was the first one up and gave us arguably one of the best races of the year, when Toprak Razgatlioglu burst through to win in a final lap showdown with Scott Redding, the start of their rivalry as Redding fumed at the penultimate corner move. Then at Navarra, the Tissot Superpole Race erupted in the opening laps as Jonathan Rea rode as hard as we’d ever seen, with him and Razgatlioglu clashing whilst Redding was picking up the pieces and taking honours. The close racing at both tracks was expected, with them being neutral grounds, and more could be on the way in Indonesia.

However, there was another dynamic: the returning circuits. With plenty of riders moving teams for 2020 before the pandemic, some tracks came back and for many, were completely new for the riders on those bikes. Even for the like of Jonathan Rea and Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team) who were at the same teams as 2019, they had new models of their bikes, meaning it wasn’t a full-gone conclusion. Tracks like Misano, Donington Park, Assen and San Juan all gave surprises in one way or another, adding to the excitement of the season. Then, the regular tracks gave familiarity, but also the likes of Team HRC, who had valuable data at the likes of Barcelona-Catalunya and Jerez with their new project, plenty of potential.

STARS EMERGE: new names shining bright

Whilst the established stars of Razgatlioglu, Rea and Scott Redding ( Racing – Ducati) have all been at the very front and often inseparable, there’s been plenty of fresh talent showcased on the WorldSBK stage in 2021. Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha with Brixx WorldSBK) graduated into the class as WorldSSP Champion in 2021 and has been on the podium four times and is fighting for fourth overall. Then, there’s been the revelation of recent rounds Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), with the 22-year-old rookie taking a best of second at Catalunya in the wet, although the chirpy, humorous Italian has been a constant feature inside the top eight ever since.

On top of that, other rookies such as Lucas Mahias (Kawasaki Puccetti Racing) and Kohta Nozane (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) have shown plenty of flashes of brilliance with top ten showings, as both suffered injuries that have slowed their momentum at various points. Besides those, Michael Ruben Rinaldi ( Racing – Ducati) and Garrett Gerloff (GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) have also shown strength, with Rinaldi backing up his singular win in 2020 with three more so far, whilst Gerloff likewise took two podiums at the start of the 2021, being consistent in the second half.

Watch the thrilling showdown of 2021 from Indonesia in style with the WorldSBK VideoPass!