Has Toprak Razgatlioglu Killed the 2024 WorldSBK Title Fight?

Toprak Razgatlioglu is achieving greater results than anyone previously on a BMW in WorldSBK, and it might be killing WorldSBK

Toprak Razgatlioglu, 2024 Emilia-Romagna WorldSBK. - Gold and Goose

WorldSBK is in a golden age. The competition is greater than almost ever before, and there are numerous riders who could win any race. Except, maybe all of that isn’t true.

2021 was a great season for WorldSBK — six-times champion Jonathan Rea went head-to-head and bar-to-bar with Toprak Razgatlioglu all season in a legitimate title fight in which neither rider was able to establish dominance over the other. 

Razgatlioglu won the title that year, but it was close and, with Alvaro Bautista moving back from Honda to Ducati for 2022, it was expected that what was a two-way fight in 2021 would now be split three-ways.

Except it wasn’t, because Bautista found a way to dominate the championship with Ducati in the middle of 2022 which meant the competition was sucked out of the series. He strolled to the ‘22 title, and then cruised to the 2023 title, too. The competition of 2022 was gone, because Bautista was significantly faster in the straights than everyone else, much better in the long and high-speed corners, and far kinder to tyres, therefore stronger at the end of the races.

A kind-of title fight emerged at the end of last year, because mistakes from Bautista had allowed Razgatlioglu into contention, but ultimately the pure performance of the Bautista-Ducati combination was too much for Razgatlioglu and Yamaha to overcome.

Although it was mistakes from Bautista that gave Razgatlioglu the chance to be in contention, it was Razgatlioglu’s hunger, determination, and control that allowed him to capitalise on those errors. Perhaps ironically, these attributes of the #54 were on clearest display in races he lost: Portimao’s Superpole Race and Race 2, and Race 2 at Jerez (he crossed the line first but was docked a position for track limits on the final lap).

Razgatlioglu announced in the middle of last year that he would join BMW for 2024. The reason was clear: his main deficit to Bautista was essentially any time they were at full throttle, because the Ducati had more power than the Yamaha, and so Razgatlioglu wanted a more powerful motorcycle, because the one place a rider can do absolutely nothing to improve lap time is when the maximum performance of the engine is being used.

BMW returned to WorldSBK as a factory team in 2019 after being away in an official capacity since 2012. Between the beginning of 2019 and the end of 2023 BMW won one race, in a wet Portimao Superpole Race in 2021 with Michael van der Mark.

The performance of the Bavarian brand since 2019 meant that Razgatlioglu’s move from Yamaha — with which he won that 2021 title — was little more than a money grab. There was no way he could match the performance he was able to achieve on the Yamaha with a motorcycle that hadn’t won a single race in the dry, and whose current riders believed would not suit his aggressive riding style.

Fast forward to the middle of June 2024, though, and Razgatlioglu holds a 21-point championship lead, has won six of the opening 12 races and each of the last four. Two of those victories came at the Catalan Round, where the low-grip, high-abrasion surface of the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, combined with its high number of corners exited on-throttle and with lean angle was all thought to play directly against the characteristics of both Razgatlioglu and BMW. Further, a treble at last weekend’s Emilia-Romagna Round was taken at the same Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli where Alvaro Bautista was unbeaten since he returned to Ducati in 2022 and was the circuit where his and Ducati’s dominance really took root two years ago.

In Misano, especially, Razgatlioglu was dominant. Each of his three wins was achieved with a margin of over a second, and in Race 2 his advantage was, at one point, over five seconds over Bautista’s new Ducati teammate Nicolo Bulega, who was second in all three races.

So, has Razgatlioglu moved the level on? He was, after all, 19 seconds ahead of the second-best BMW rider, van der Mark in eighth, over the line in Race 2. Well, not exactly.

Razgatlioglu’s Race 1 finishing time was 33:07.016, and his Race 2 finishing time was 33:06.338. That compares to Bautista’s finishing time of 33:06.059 in last year’s Race 2 at Misano, the only one to run over the full 21-lap distance in 2023.

So, Razgatlioglu and BMW haven’t moved the level on this year, the Turkish-German combination has merely moved to Bautista’s level of a year ago. Yet, right now, it’s difficult to see how Razgatlioglu — already 21 points up on Bulega and 24 up on Bautista — doesn’t walk to his second title in 2024.

The reason why is clear: Alvaro Bautista has gotten slower. Why? There are likely numerous reasons, but it seems hard to believe at this point that none of them are the new minimum rider weight rule for this year. 

It was a rule brought in for this year to stop Bautista dominating in the way he did last year and the year before, when the Spaniard sucked the air and the life out of WorldSBK. Dorna, the rights holder for WorldSBK and MotoGP, knew last year that the production series had all the ingredients to be incredibly exciting — it already had been in 2021. It also knew that the reason it wasn’t as exciting as it could be was because of the performance of Bautista, which it therefore decided to try to neuter.

It has clearly worked, as evidenced by Bautista’s comparative lack of competitiveness. But it’s also come in at the wrong time, because Razgatlioglu has proven that he can be as competitive as 2023 Bautista this year with BMW.

But, now, 2023 Bautista doesn’t exist, and now it’s Razgatlioglu sucking the air and the life out of WorldSBK and preventing it from returning to its 2021 peak.