The 2022 WorldSBK riders who really need a good season

All eyes may be on Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea heading into the 2022 WorldSBK Championship season but the stakes are just as high for other riders

Alex Lowes - Kawasaki Racing Team, Kawasaki ZX-10RR

The 2022 WorldSBK Championship is almost upon us with Motorland Aragon setting the stage for the first turns of what many hope will be a season capable of stacking up to last year’s ferocious battle between Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea.

A decidedly younger grid than we have seen for some time, there have also been some notable shifts in the upper echelons with Scott Redding and Alvaro Bautista arriving and returning respectively at BMW and Ducati, while Honda is effectively starting afresh with rookie pairing Iker Lecuona and Xavi Vierge from GP.

In short, there are plenty of potential threads to unfurl as the opening rounds begin, but for a select few the start of the year will be critical if they are to attract new deals amid an influx of fresh talent…

Alex Lowes - Kawasaki Racing Team

Perhaps the rider feeling the most pressure coming into the season, Alex Lowes is at pains - ironically - to emphasise his flat-lining 2021 WorldSBK campaign was hampered greatly by various painful injuries.

While the Englishman soldiered on and played some of the complaints down, it was clear he was fighting through the pain barrier at times. Even so, his second campaign with the Kawasaki Racing Team didn’t appear to be a marked step over his 2020 campaign, his strong start with a trio of podiums in Aragon being added to on just one further occasion all year.

While the KRT Kawasaki ZX-10RR perhaps wasn’t the metronomically well-sorted machine it had been in previous years, team-mate Jonathan Rea was rarely in Lowes’ line of sight in the races.

With such a strong seat potentially up for grabs, Kawasaki should have its pick of the riders if it chooses to cast the net… it is therefore Lowes’ uphill task to prove to it he is most worthy of it.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi - Ducati

There were a lot of positives to take away from Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s first season as a factory Ducati rider, namely his trio of wins, but the jury is still somewhat out on whether the Italian - now in his fifth season of WorldSBK - can bridge the margin to become a regular front runner.

The exit of Redding and arrival of Bautista will provide a gauge of where Rinaldi sits in the hierarchy, but with the Spaniard proving instantly back up to speed in testing, there will be pressure for the younger of the two riders to show he hasn’t hit his limit on the Ducati Panigale V4 R already.

Certainly quick on his day, Rinaldi needs more of those days to avoid being cast as Ducati’s ‘other’ rider, much like fellow Italians Michel Fabrizio and Davide Giugliano before him

Garrett Gerloff - GRT Yamaha

Much has been said about Garrett Gerloff’s troubled 2021 WorldSBK campaign, which started strongly but faded during the second-half as he struggled to regain his focus following sharp criticism in the wake of some high-profile clashes.

Certainly raising a fresh debate over whether today’s media management should include elements of protecting one’s mental health, Gerloff to his credit has been open and honest about the difficulties in processing the backlash.

Nevertheless, with a few months off the bike, Gerloff says he is now happy to have come through the tough times and feels stronger for it, with his lap times during pre-season testing suggesting he is back to the form that took the American to the podium in 2020 and during the early stages of 2021.

Should he carry this through to race days, Gerloff will be the privateer to beat on the GRT Yamaha.

Eugene Laverty - Bonovo BMW

While the likes of Leon Haslam, Chaz Davies and Tom Sykes have dropped off the grid over the winter, fellow WorldSBK stalwart Eugene Laverty - who made his WorldSBK debut back in 2011 - soldiers on with the reorganised satellite BMW project.

The Irishman has been associated with the German marque since 2020 but his attempts to get to grips with the BMW S 1000 RR (now M 1000 RR) was hampered by the COVID-19-dictated short season, his 2021 efforts were then ruined by his privateer RC Squadra Corse outfit going under after four events.

As such, Laverty will be hoping for an unaffected 2022 campaign with the expanded Bonovo BMW team, though his challenge will be to keep tabs with talented new team-mate Loris Baz, as well as keep pace with factory pairing Scott Redding and Michael van der Mark.

It has been a few years since we last saw Laverty competing for podiums - is this his final roll of the dice in WorldSBK?

Michael van der Mark - BMW Motorrad WorldSBK

Things haven’t started off too well for Michael van der Mark after an accident while training left him nursing a broken leg that could rule him out of the initial rounds. 

It puts him on the back foot for a campaign in which he will face challenges from all sides on the factory BMW. Flashes of promise aside - including a win in the wet at Portimao - it was otherwise a tricky first year on the BMW M 1000 RR for the Dutchman, but he will need to take a step in 2022 to both show what the bike is capable of and to cement ‘lead rider’ status from Redding, not to mention keep the sister Bonovo BMWs of Loris Baz and Eugene Laverty in check.