2022 WorldSBK returns | Which 5 riders who need to hit ground running

The 2022 WorldSBK Championship picks up again at Magny-Cours with the second-half of an engrossing season... but which riders need to pick up their form?

Jonathan Rea, Alex Lowes - KRT Kawasaki

The 2022 WorldSBK Championship bursts into life again with the resumption of action at Magny-Cours in France following the (very long) summer break.

Unlike most championships, after six events WorldSBK is still only at the half-way stage in its campaign with another six to come at Magny-Cours, the Circuit de Catalunya-Barcelona, Portimao, San Juan Villicum, Mandalika and Phillip Island.

That means there is still lots to play for among those who need a good run to the end of the season, such as these five riders…

Jonathan Rea

OK, this is a controversial selection on paper, so hear me out first.

Truth be told, Jonathan Rea is probably at the peak of his powers right now as he chases an unprecedented seventh WorldSBK title, the Ulsterman showing an edgier riding style this season in response to the threat of the more unashamedly boisterous Toprak Razgatlioglu.

However, this season the Kawasaki rider has come up against a fresh foe in Alvaro Bautista, who in many ways is the antithesis of Razgatlioglu. While Bautista and Razgatlioglu make for an intriguing rivalry with their extremely disparate strengths - the former with his power and top speed, the latter a demon on the brakes - Rea finds himself trying to cover both bases, plus everything in between.

Logic would dictate a blend of those skills would make Rea the more potent contender but while this has worked on occasion this year, especially Assen and Estoril, more recently he has found himself vulnerable to Bautista in a straight line, then challenged into corners by Razgatlioglu.

It means Rea hasn’t won a race in three events - his longest spell without a victory since joining Kawasaki in 2015.

So while Rea isn’t necessarily lacking in performance, he heads into the second half of the year needing to adjust his tactics if he is to catch Bautista and repel Razgatlioglu in the standings. 

Andrea Locatelli

Arguably the biggest disappointment of the year, this season was shaping up to be a career-maker for Andrea Locatelli, his second in the series with the factory Yamaha team.

Indeed, having answered all of the questions that surrounded him initially in WorldSBK by reeling off a marvellous second-half of the 2021 season, Locatelli hasn’t made the step many expected him to make in 2022.

Mired in the so-called ‘second rider’ pack with equivalent Kawasaki and Ducati counterparts Alex Lowes and Michael Ruben Rinaldi, while there is no doubting Locatelli’s consistency of top tens in all but one race, the results themselves haven’t been terribly eye-catching.

While a strong start to the year yielded a string of top five finishes - plus a podium at Assen - more recent rounds, Locatelli’s form has subsided just as team-mate Razgatlioglu’s results have improved.

The talent and the package is there, but with several strong options waiting in the wings for Yamaha - such as Dominique Aegerter, Tarran Mackenzie, Josh Gagne and possibly also Remy Gardner - Locatelli may have his 2023 WorldSBK deal signed and sealed, but now is the time for him to make the seat his own.

Alex Lowes

After a 2021 WorldSBK campaign almost written-off by events missed through injury and others spent battling through the pain barrier, Alex Lowes came into 2022 with renewed optimism that he can rediscover his form on the factory Kawasaki ZX-10RR.

However, save for a few flashes of strong form, namely Estoril and Donington Park, Lowes has generally appeared further adrift from team-mate Jonathan Rea than at any other time over the last two and a half seasons.

With the worst finishing record of any other rider in the top ten, while Lowes is liked by Kawasaki for his development knowledge, the question begs as to whether his seat could be served better in the hands of someone else.

Xavi Vierge

It hasn’t been an easy season for rookie Xavi Vierge to make an impression.

The Spaniard arrived in WorldSBK and Honda as one of two GP exiles along with Iker Lecuona, but while his team-mate has the gravitas of competing in MotoGP to bolster his profile, Vierge was certainly the lesser known of the two newcomers.

However, the combination of learning the ropes in WorldSBK, a Honda package that is still developing and injury woes, Vierge has been something of an anonymity this year.

A summer of healing and a useful vote of confidence from Honda - who chose to commit to Vierge rather than negotiate with Axel Bassani - should see him begin the second-half of the year on better footing.

Loris Baz

He may be one of the more experienced racers in WorldSBK but there has long been the sense that Loris Baz hasn’t had the right opportunity to show his evident talent.

Once a factory Kawasaki rider capable of wins, Baz’s star substitute turns on the Go Eleven Ducati last year were proof enough the Frenchman is a bonafide front runner in WorldSBK on the right bike.

Unfortunately, for him, his satellite Bonovo BMW M 1000 RR is not. 

It hasn’t been a poor season for Baz, but having shown what he can do on Yamaha and Ducati machinery, it is a shame the decision to join BMW seems to be wasting his skills and do little to elevate his name higher on factory shopping lists…