Best of the Rest | The 10 most successful riders NOT to win a WorldSBK title

Is having a WorldSBK Championship title to your name everything or can you still be one of WorldSBK's greatest of all-time without it...?

Noriyuki Haga

The WorldSBK Championship has delivered some legendary riders over the years but only a fairly small handful have gone on to achieve champion status. This is our salute to those that came so close, yet so far…

A quick disclaimer. We have based this list on the number of wins achieved by riders over the years and picked out those which achieved many without claiming a world title.

It’s worth nothing that today there are more WorldSBK races in a season – even before the move to increase it to three on a single weekend, but we think this list gives an accurate representation of the best that didn’t quite go all the way…

9= – Regis Laconi, Ruben Xaus, Stephane Mertens (11 wins)

Technically speaking, this is a list of 11 riders up to ninth position (but let’s not let specifics get in the way of a good headline) as three riders sit tied on 11 victories during their time in WorldSBK.

Regis Laconi [pictured] might have stood to achieve more had he not suffered a career-ending injury that left him in an induced coma for several weeks during the 2009 season. His successes came during 2004 and 2005, the former seeing him take the title fight down to the wire against James Toseland but coming up just short. It’s also worth noting he was one of the few to wring some good results out of the Kawasaki during the manufacturer’s lean period of the 2000s.

Ruben Xaus spent 10 years pedalling in WorldSBK, achieving his best results on Ducati machinery – 9 with the factory team and two on the privateer Sterilgarda twin. He came closest to the title in 2003, albeit some distance off his team-mate Neil Hodgson.

Stephane Mertens was there from day one in WorldSBK and remains one of Belgium’s most successful motorcycle riders. Runner-up to Fred Merkel in 1989 on a Honda, he actually achieved more wins than the title-winner that year.

7= - Eugene Laverty, Aaron Slight (13 wins)

Eugene Laverty stands to add to this tally as one of three riders in this list still competing in WorldSBK, though you have to go back to 2014 for his last victory on the Suzuki. Succeeding by winning races on three different machines (Suzuki, Yamaha and Aprilia), it is with the latter he came closest to the title in 2013 with a tally of nine wins in that season alone.

One of the series’ most enduring figures, Aaron Slight [pictured] was one of WorldSBK’s leading performers during the 1990s but it never quite led to a title. Nonetheless, while the Kiwi notched up a relatively modest 13 wins over nine seasons, his impressive 87 podiums perhaps tell the true story for being one of WorldSBK’s nearly-men. 

6 – Giancarlo Falappa (16 wins)

Nicknamed the ‘Lion of Jesi’ because of his fearsome riding style, Giancarlo Falappa didn’t quite take that ferocious nature right to the title but 16 wins in 106 starts represents a solid return for the Italian.  Interestingly, Falappa never once finished a WorldSBK season inside the top three, though fact he won seven of those races in 1993 but finished only fifth overall (with nine DNFs) tells its own story.

Alas, fate intervened when Falappa suffered a career-ending head injury while testing his Ducati in 1994 after managing to complete just three full uninterrupted seasons of racing, nixing any hopes of coming good on his evident speed.

5 – Pierfrancesco (Frankie) Chili (17 wins)

The fact many – and not just Italians – still champion Frankie Chili as their favourite Superbike rider of all time is testament to this enduring legend. A lengthy career spanning 1995 to 2006 perhaps reveals more about Chili’s success rate than ever really challenging for the title, but he was still a regular on the podium across a mix of Suzuki and Ducati machinery.

4 – Alvaro Bautista (19 wins)

We’re a bit loathed to include Bautista in this list for one key reason. Comapred to most other riders here, he got at least 13 more attempts at scoring a victory than most on this list because of the series’ move to three races per weekend from 2019. 

However, even if you remove a third of his 16 victories last year, it’d still place him with around 10 or 11 victories, which would still qualify him on the bottom end of this top ten. So, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt here in recognition for his impressive tally achieved in just one single season with Ducati in 2019. 

Two lean years at Honda subsequently followed but a return to Ducati for 2022 has already made an impact with - at the time of writing - three wins from the opening two rounds.

3 – Marco Melandri (22 wins)

Looking to follow in the footsteps of countryman Max Biaggi in turning MotoGP experience into WorldSBK success, Marco Melandri came close to title success on a number of occasions but never quite finished it off in style. Even so, he was always in the hunt, scoring wins in six of the seven seasons he competed across Yamaha, BMW, Aprilia and Ducati machinery, while he was top five overall in all but his swansong 2019 campaign. 

It’s also worth noting that despite starting fewer races than Biaggi, he won more races than his Italian counterpart.

2 – Chaz Davies (32 wins)

Not only is Chaz Davies the second ‘winningest’ rider in WorldSBK history not to claim a title, he actually sits a lofty eighth on the list of all-time of victories. Were it not for Jonathan Rea then Davies could be celebrating two or three titles by now but the Welshman has never quite been able to get the measure of his Kawasaki rival. Even so, his tally is impressive on paper with wins to his name in seven of the eight seasons he has competed across Aprilia [pictured], BMW and Ducati bikes.

Perhaps the good news here is he still has a long way to ‘defeat’ our number one on this list…

1 – Noriyuki Haga (43 wins)

Regarded as one of the greatest WorldSBK riders of all time – title or not – Noriyuki Haga came excruciatingly close to the top spot on a number of occasions in a long career spanning 1998 to 2013.

Three times a runner-up (and ending the year third on four occasions) such was the longevity of the Japanese rider’s abilities, his first and final runs to second overall were nine years apart. The last of those, in 2009, stings the most as he let slip a healthy lead over Ben Spies to miss out on a long awaited championship win. 

While Haga’s career never quite recovered from that disappointment, his legacy of 43 victories and 116 podiums stands alone as a superb WorldSBK record even if he never quite got the chance to etch his name on the title trophy.