The 2023 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship is on the horizon; bikes are warming up, the paddock is being built and the riders are preparing to do battle once again. 2022 taught us one thing that is completely indisputable: Alvaro Bautista (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) were in a class of their own, and whilst other riders did mount the podium, the common denominator for the majority of the season was that the three most recent World Champions really had elevated themselves as the ‘aliens’ at the front.
THE TITANIC TRIO: what are the stats and are there any upgrades in 2023?
That story is set to continue in 2023; after sharing the podium together 21 times throughout last year, all three remain in the same teams for the forthcoming season. Bautista will have the highly anticipated new Ducati Panigale V4 R model at his disposal and the #1 displayed on the front of a Ducati for the first time since 2005, Razgatlioglu returns to #54 with plenty of work undertaken at Yamaha to improve their acceleration in the off-season, whilst Rea and Kawasaki have a new engine update to try and counter their opposition. Not one of the titanic trio members have stood still, nor have their factory teams, potentially setting up an even closer title fight than 2022.
To break into the top three in WorldSBK has never been harder; in races where all three riders finished, there were only ten races and six riders who could conquer the top three. For argument’s sake, two of the ten races (Magny-Cours Race 1 and San Juan Race 1) saw Razgatlioglu and Rea crash and re-join, whilst Race 1 at Phillip Island was a flag-to-flag race and Race 2 was red-flagged with less than five laps to go. In ‘normal’ circumstances however, it’s a hard task to step on the podium, which makes the achievements of Michael Ruben Rinaldi (Aruba.it Racing – Ducati), Scott Redding (ROKiT BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team), Axel Bassani (Motocorsa Racing), ex-Yamaha rider Garrett Gerloff (Bonovo Action BMW), Andrea Locatelli (Pata Yamaha Prometeon WorldSBK) and Alex Lowes (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) very much worthy of praise. On their day, all are capable of stepping on the podium, as is Iker Lecuona (Team HRC), who took third and was a main beneficiary of the clash between Razgatlioglu and Rea at Assen in Race 2.
WHO CAN JOIN THEM? Have the titanic trio become a fantastic four, or maybe more…
Listing those names leads us very nicely onto a question that has so often been asked: can the titanic trio be caught regularly? Well, after two major pre-season tests, that question has perhaps changed; now it’s not so much ‘can they’ but more of a ‘have they’, following a stunning run of testing form from Rinaldi. The Italian, who comes into the 2023 season training hard and more efficiently than ever before with a new trainer – the same as Alvaro Bautista – has lit up the timing screens at both Jerez and Portimao. The #21 showed consistency in 2022 but missed the outright pace that he demonstrated in 2021 that saw him ease to three wins – but now, has be merged them both to be the strongest form of himself we’ve ever seen? Whilst it’s too early to say, if testing is anything to go by, then Rinaldi is at least knocking on the door.
But it isn’t just Rinaldi who is right there. Andrea Locatelli was consistent and solid throughout 2022 and despite a mid-season lull, came strong in the final two rounds of the year, one of just four riders – the other three being the titanic trio – to finish each of the final six races inside the top five, in the end resulting in him being 19 points adrift of fourth overall. Alex Lowes was likewise a force to be reckoned with and had it not been for costly mechanical errors earlier in the season, a bout of illness at Most and a crash in Barcelona, he’d have been fourth in the Championship. Now with consistency, the #22 may well be one of the riders in the chasing group to bridge the gap. Then there’re the likes of Redding, Lecuona and Bassani who all have their moments, although for Redding and Lecuona, they’ll hope that the updates brought by BMW and Honda respectively are enough to help them be regulars in the second group before jumping up to the battle for victory constantly, whilst Bassani is perhaps the most unknown. A constant in the second group and occasionally with the leaders but struggling in testing at Portimao, who knows what will happen – although the Italian youngster was clear that he now “wants to win” in WorldSBK.
NEW FACES: can the rookies hit the ground running?
We’ve seen it plenty of times before in WorldSBK; fast rookies come in and are instantly on the pace – Alvaro Bautista in 2019, Scott Redding in 2020 and to go back further, the likes of Max Biaggi and Ben Spies in 2007 and 2009 respectively. So, why can’t history repeat itself? Remy Gardner (GYTR GRT Yamaha WorldSBK Team) is coming in fresh from a year in MotoGP™ and on a Championship-winning motorcycle in the Yamaha YZF-R1. The 2021 Moto2™ World Champion is bound to be in the mix, but can he be in the lead group? If the answer is yes, then will it be regularly? His teammate, double WorldSSP Champion Dominique Aegerter also steps up and has been fast in testing, but given the level of WorldSBK, can he fight straight away in the lead group? Perhaps the most exciting addition is Danilo Petrucci (Barni Spark Racing Team), aiming to become the 18th rider to win in WorldSBK and MotoGP™.
However, whilst all these names are unequivocally in the spotlight for potential wins, podiums and top five finishes, can they deliver the same consistency that the current titanic trio have? The experience in WorldSBK, with Pirelli tyres, on these tracks… to be a continuous threat every weekend is something that comes with time. That’s why perhaps, in his third year in the factory Ducati team, Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s pre-season testing pace is the most indicative and that he may be the one to make the jump. Or will a surprise come elsewhere? More questions than answers, mainly because we’re waiting for the Grand Ridge Brewery Australian Round for the answers.
- From WorldSBK.com