Ducati double up
November 2022 will be a month fondly remembered by Ducati as they followed up the Moto GP riders, manufacturers, and team titles with the same clean sweep in the World Superbike Championship.
With only one MotoGP rider’s title prior to 2022, this season marks the first time Ducati have ever won both the MotoGP and WSB championships in the same season and whilst Pecco Bagnaia had a more nervous time winning the former, it was a bit more straightforward for Alvaro Bautista in the latter.
Having made his return to Ducati, after two low key years at Honda, the Spaniard was keen to right the wrongs of 2019 when he last rode the Panigale V4R. Back then, he dominated the first half of the championship only to fall away dramatically in the second half but this time around, there would be no repeat as he maintained his challenge throughout the season.
Two wins at the opening round gave the former 125cc World Champion the series lead, and it was one he wouldn’t relinquish as he took full advantage of the package he had. The combination of Bautista and the Panigale proved unbeatable and whilst much was said of the top speed of the Ducati, and Bautista’s light weight, the fact remains he was the only Ducati rider to run at the front week in, week out.
WSB is the only world championship where a minimum combined weight for the bike and rider isn’t enforced but Bautista doesn’t make the rules so can’t be blamed for fully utilising the advantage he had. With 16 wins and 31 podiums from the 36 races, he was a deserving champion and the new benchmark the other riders must measure themselves against.
Second best for Yamaha
Just as Fabio Quartararo and Yamaha finished second overall to lose their MotoGP world title, the same fate happened to Toprak Razgatlioglu in the World Superbike series, but it was another good season for the Turkish rider and the R1 Yamaha.
The trio of Razgatlioglu, Bautista and Jonathan Rea were head and shoulders above the rest, a fact borne out that they won all the 36 races between them. Off track, the much taller Razgatlioglu stood head and shoulders above the diminutive Bautista too and he, perhaps, rode better in 2022 than he did in his championship winning year.
He got the maximum out of the R1 at every round and with 14 wins, he had just two victories less than Bautista. He also made very, very few mistakes and if the package of rider, team and bike had been a little bit stronger early in the year, he would have pushed Bautista for the title even more.
It was round four before he won a race, victory coming in the Superpole race at Misano, and by then he was already 79 points adrift in the title standings. He was never able to recover that ground but the fact he ended the year 72 points behind Bautista more than proved how he’d matched the Spaniard in the second two-thirds of the year.
Talk of a move to MotoGP is never far away for Razgatlioglu but that will have to wait until 2024, at least, as he’ll be back in WSB next year where he’ll look to reclaim the title.
Rea slips back to third
After six straight titles between 2015 and 2020, the last two years have been more difficult for former champion Rea and although he was close to making it seven titles in 2021, only losing out to Razgatlioglu by 13 points after matching the Turk’s 13 wins, he was a lot further away in 2022.
The Kawasaki ZX-10RR no longer has the advantage it once did, when it was clearly the best bike on the grid, and Rea is, arguably, having to ride harder than he’s ever done before. That’s been seen in the races where he’s made several mistakes which he wouldn’t have made before. Running wide and out-braking himself has been an often occurrence as he’s been on, and over, the limit just trying to live with Bautista and Razgatlioglu.
The competition’s red hot at present and both Rea and Kawasaki know they need to improve as a combination if they’re to get their hands on the number one plate again. The Northern Ireland rider won at the final round in Australia at the weekend but that was his first victory since Estoril in May, six long months ago, and that highlights the challenges he’s faced.
But he’s made it abundantly clear he’s up for the fight and whilst he turns 36 in February, the fact Bautista is over two years older shows age isn’t an issue.
Best of the rest
Best of the rest in fourth overall, some 209 points adrift of third placed Rea, was the second Ducati of Michael Ruben Rinaldi and, indeed, the team-mates of Bautista, Razgatlioglu and Rea respectively occupied fourth to sixth overall – Rinaldi, Andrea Locatelli and Alex Lowes.
The trio were covered by just 21 points which shows how they were evenly matched but whilst all three took podiums during the year – four each for Rinaldi and Lowes and two for Locatelli – there’ll no doubt be disappointed they weren’t closer to their team-mates.
They would have been looking to bridge the gap in 2022 and certainly help their team-mates – ultimately the number one rider in the team – in their quest for world title success so that remains the challenge next season with the trio remaining where they are in 2023.
The first independent rider – the one not riding directly for a factory team – was Axel Bassani and although the Italian rider had a few rushes of blood to the head during the course of the season, he proved to be one of the revelations.
Three podium finishes, two in France and one in Argentina, showed his talents at their best but he was well to the fore in the majority of the races elsewhere and can perhaps consider himself unlucky not to have ousted Rinaldi from his factory seat.
Just 23, Bassani has a great future ahead of him and having made great strides forward this season, just his second in WSB, more of the same next year on the Motocorsa Ducati will make the Ducati bosses sit up and take note even more. Rinaldi is fully aware of the challenge from Bassani so will need to up his game in 2023.
BMW continue to toil
Having finished third overall for Ducati in 2021, 63 points behind champion Razgatlioglu, much was expected of Scott Redding’s move to the BMW Motorrad team this year so slipping back to eighth overall will rank as a disappointment for the Brit and the Shaun Muir-run team.
The gap to this year’s victor Bautista, who replaced him at Ducati, was a whopping 397 points, and apart from a mid-season burst when he took three podiums in six races at Donington Park and Most, the Gloucestershire man found himself running in the sixth to tenth place positions more often than not.
Of course, riding for most of the year without a team-mate, Michael van der Mark out injured for much of the year, won’t have helped with development and Redding, one of the larger built riders, was one of the most vocal about the weight advantage Bautista had.
The difference between the two on track was clear to the naked eye so it will be interesting to see if there are any rule changes with regards to combined minimum weight for man and machine over the winter months. Irrespective of that, both Redding and the team know a winter of hard work lies ahead.
Rider changes for 2023
All the above will be remaining with their respective teams for 2023 as will Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge (HRC Honda) and Loris Baz (Bonovo BMW) but there’ll be plenty of new faces in the series next season.
Leading the way will be the GYTR GRT Yamaha squad who will field a completely brand-new line up of former Moto 2 World Champion Remi Gardner and Swiss ace Dominque Aegerter, the latter having dominated the World Supersport Championship for the last two seasons.
Lorenzo Baldassari, who finished second to Aegerter in 2022, will also make the move, this time with GMT94 Yamaha whilst former GRT Yamaha rider Garrett Gerloff makes the switch to BMW where he’ll join Baz at the Bonovo team.
Ex-World Champion Tom Sykes returns to the series after a disappointing season in British Superbikes, the former champion riding for Puccetti Kawasaki and it’s still hoped the last two BSB champions, Bradley Ray and Tarran Mackenzie, will also make the switch with Ray looking the most likely to make the move.