Five storylines that will unfold during the 2022 WorldSBK season? | World Superbikes

With the 2022 WorldSBK season kicking off with just over two months to go, here are five key storylines that will unfold.

The 2021 season has delivered in pretty much every aspect of what a World Championship should do. Whether it’s thrilling racing, new stars coming to the fore, a title fight pushed to the limit, you name it and it happened.

So in that sense the 2022 WorldSBK season has a lot to offer, but with the current grid looking even stronger we could be set for the best WorldSBK season ever.

Here are five storylines that believes will play out and likely define the path of the Superbike Championship through 2023.

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5: How will WorldSBK rookies Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge fare at Honda?

Honda is arguably the biggest motorcycle manufacturer in the world but success in WorldSBK has been very difficult to come by.

James Toseland is the last rider to win a WorldSBK title for them in 2007 and while Honda wasn’t always a full works team, having five world titles – Colin Edwards and Fred Merkel have the other four (two each) – is a disappointing return , considering the championship is entering its 35th season.

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Since returning as a full works team in 2020, Honda has only achieved three podiums, which is the fewest of any manufacturer.

But with that, Team HRC has taken a whole new direction for 2022 as young Spaniards Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge switch from MotoGP and Moto2 respectively.

It goes without saying that the team must provide both riders with a better package than Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam had to work with.

While standout 2021 rookies Andrea Locatelli and Axel Bassani have been on better machines with Yamaha and Ducati, young riders appear to be adapting to different classes much faster than ever, which Honda would clearly like to see them do.

While very unlikely to be in a championship fight, as are race wins in their debut season, Lecuona and Vierge have a chance to lay the groundwork for where Honda could and should go for 2023, which is obviously the development of a bike that is competitive for a title.

To that end, consistent top ten results should be the main focus, while improved qualifying performance and a more user-friendly CBR1000RR-R would go a long way towards benefiting both riders.

4: Can Bautista and Redding challenge Razgatlioglu/Rea with their new teams?

Two riders who have not been championship contenders since 2019 are Bautista (2019) and Redding (2020/21).

Bautista seemed poised for one of the most dominating years a WorldSBK rider has ever had as he won 11 straight races to start his Superbike career with Ducati and despite winning 16 overall at the end of 2019, poor performances and injuries around the middle of the year. Season began to derail his title ambitions. Jonathan Rea eventually took title number five out of six.

As for Redding, the 2019 BSB Champion was Rea’s main challenger for the title in 2020 – pushing the Kawasaki rider to the final lap – before leading Rea and 2021 Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu for much of last season in the had a look.

However, mistakes early in the season and mistakes in strategy were the undoing of Redding and Ducati, something he is reluctant to repeat with his new team BMW.

Looking at both drivers, Bautista is perhaps the favorite given the package he’s in, challenging Rea and Razgatlioglu, while Redding, who we have to say made a surprising decision to switch to BMW, is one Team that isn’t yet ready to consistently win will likely be looking from the outside in.

If Michael Van Der Mark, a proven race winner, was only able to manage three podiums in 2021, then it’s fair to say that 2023 could be more realistic for Redding when it comes to winning a Superbike Championship. On the other hand, Bautista certainly has the speed to challenge, but crashes and inconsistencies must be given high priority.

3: Who could be the next young rider to join a big team?

Locatelli was a sensation in 2021, proving that you can achieve brilliant results with a rookie in the factory team. Also, the Pata Yamaha rider’s relationship with Razgatlioglu was very strong, making them the strongest pairing on the grid.

That’s saying a lot considering Redding and Rea had riders like Michael Rinaldi and Alex Lowes as teammates. But with Locatelli already in a full factory team it rules out the Italian for that argument.

Instead, Axel Bassani looks like the WorldSBK rider with the most to win in 2022. Should the 22-year-old continue his good form from last season and make a step up into his second year then he could replace Bautista (37) or Rinaldi, who have been struggling for big parts of his first season with the Ducati team from To be in sight.

Philipp Oettl, who will also ride a Ducati next season (GoEleven Team), could and is possibly the favorite to finish as the best rookie. Should the former Moto2 rider show the instant pace he had coming to WorldSSP and achieve various notable results, the German could also put his name in the hat for a promising ride in 2023.

2: Can Rea reclaim the title or is 2021 a sign of things to come?

Speaking of signs for the future, let’s first acknowledge that 2021 was in no way a bad year for Rea, he was in fact brilliant most of the time.

But with the 34-year-old losing the title for the first time since 2015, making uncharacteristic mistakes and being generally outclassed by Razgatlioglu, it’s going to be a big year for Rea if he wants to regain the No1.

With Yamaha and Ducati showing a bit more bike potential in 2021 and BMW/Honda perhaps stepping into the title fight from 2023, winning a WorldSBK Championship is likely to become increasingly difficult year on year also given the improved quality of the riders.

That’s why 2022 could be a huge opportunity for Rea to reclaim his title, especially since the number one storyline on this list could also play a part. Stay tuned…

As mentioned above, Rea has been fantastic for most of 2021 as he drew level with Razgatlioglu in terms of win numbers (13) while also taking more podiums and pole positions. However, the consistency was not quite what we are used to from the six-time world champion.

Should Kawasaki provide Rea with a slightly more forgiving ZX10-RR, although no significant changes will take place, then Rea will likely be back in the mix with Razgatlioglu.

1: Will Razgatlioglu leave WorldSBK for MotoGP / will title uncertainty play a role?

The main storyline that will unfold this season is whether Razgatlioglu stays in WorldSBK or moves to MotoGP.

The Turkish star has already confirmed he will be testing a Yamaha MotoGP bike this year, while his team boss Paul Denning and personal manager Kenan Sofuoglu have admitted the same.

If Razgatlioglu does indeed step into MotoGP, it remains to be seen which Yamaha team, as Sofuoglu has also stated, will not race without a factory ride.

With speculation ripening even though the season hasn’t even started yet, his test on an M1 and the performances expected to be of high quality for Pata Yamaha will only reinforce talk of a potential move, which is why it does the case could be a negative effect.

Razgatlioglu will likely find himself in an intense battle with Rea for the title and will need full concentration to retain his championship crown, but with a potentially big money move on the table it will be interesting to see how this changes Razgatlioglu’s mindset, if at all.