5 Riders who REALLY need a good 2020 WorldSBK season

The 2020 WorldSBK season is set to roar into life in Australia but for some riders this year will be more important than most...

Chaz Davies, Scott Redding

The end of February may signal the first blossoms of Spring for many, but for motorcycle racing fans it also marks the start of the new motorsport season as the WorldSBK Championship heads down under for the traditional season opener at Phillip Island.

Bringing some racing warmth to cure those late winter chills, WorldSBK may have seen the same rider and team top of the pile for the last five years but there is renewed anticipation (hope) there will be more variety at the top of the podium in 2020.

However, just as many are looking towards the likes of Toprak Razgatlioglu and Scott Redding to take the fight to Jonathan Rea and Kawasaki, there are a few riders that come into 2020 knowing they MUST give a good show of themselves if they want to stay in the fight for the best seats in 2021 and beyond…

Chaz Davies

The Welshman may have been the closest thing to a rival for Rea between 2015 and 2018, but Davies was bizarrely out-of-sorts in 2019 as he contended with a brand-new bike and a high-profile team-mate.

Indeed, while Davies has seen off strong team-mates in the past, the arrival of Alvaro Bautista from MotoGP saw Ducati siphon resources towards ensuring the big money Spaniard was up to speed quickly on the all-new Ducati Panigale V4 R, leaving the Welshman all at sea when it came to adapting the bike.

What didn’t help was the lanky Davies’ frame and smooth style versus Bautista’s compact physique and front-end heavy approach, which made getting a base setting for both riders very difficult.

Inevitably, Ducati focused on Bautista when he won on his debut, leaving Davies to largely fend for himself until a mid-season pick up saw him triumph at Laguna Seca and throw in a handful of podiums too.

Fortunately, Davies’ two-year deal meant his seat was never under threat, while he will no doubt be satisfied to see the back of Bautista in favour of his friend Redding. With similar frames this time and a much closer working relationship there won’t be any excuses this time, though he’s been fairly off the pace in testing thus far and has alluded to more problems with set-up.

After last year, he can’t risk allowing Redding to get the jump on him so early.

Michael van der Mark

It’s easy to forget this will be Michael van der Mark’s sixth season in WorldSBK this year. The Dutchman is now an established front runner, albeit one that hasn’t quite stepped up to the superstar status being predicted of him when he first burst onto the scene in Superstock and Supersport.

At Yamaha van der Mark is a competitive figure and on his – and the R1’s day – has the ability to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Rea. However, having retained his Yamaha seat for 2020 despite finishing behind team-mate Alex Lowes last season, van der Mark comes up against a highly-rated new stablemate in Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Indeed, Razgatlioglu’s results on the privateer Puccetti Kawasaki in 2019 alone are enough for van der Mark to be a little nervy, but it’s also the perception the Turkish rider with his imperfect but aggressive style still has a lot more speed to come.

Much like Davies then, van der Mark needs to take a sizeable step forward this year to see off Razgatlioglu and nail down leader status in a team he has called home for four years.

Alvaro Bautista

Twelve months on from Alvaro Bautista’s extraordinary treble victory on both his and the Ducati Panigale V4 R’s debut at Phillip Island, he will attempt to do the same on the Honda CBR1000RR-R this year.

With the might of HRC behind this project and the bike proving encouragingly quick out of the box – at least in Leon Haslam’s hands – during testing, there are those that ponder whether Bautista has been sandbagging a bit as he did on the Ducati when he revealed its true pace in race conditions.

Regardless though, Bautista’s defection from Ducati to Honda will command a lot of attention in the early rounds. Ducati accused him of leaving purely for financial reasons, while others have questioned the wisdom of leaving unfinished business at a winning team to join an unproven project.

Bautista says he believes in what Honda is doing but for a rider that really should have won the 2019 title, there will be a lot for him to prove in 2020.

Eugene Laverty

To label the 2019 WorldSBK season as ‘one to forget’ for Eugene Laverty is a grand understatement. Having been shifted out of the Shaun Muir Racing team when BMW came on board and brought a German rider with it, Laverty made do with a privateer Ducati instead but destroyed his season with wrist injuries.

Flashes of form towards the end of the season showed Laverty still has glimmers of the performance that took him to the runners-up spot in 2013, but it feels like a while since we’ve seen the Irishman battling for wins.

For 2020, Laverty returns to SMR BMW alongside Tom Sykes in what will be his first proper full factory ride since that 2013 season. That brings its own pressures too though, not least because Sykes showed at times in 2019 what the still-developing BMW S1000RR is capable of.

The WorldSBK grid would certainly be a poorer place without Eugene Laverty on it but this year could be make-or-break for his career…

Leon Camier

This is less that Leon Camier needs a good season, more that he needs a season without injury.

The Briton has competed in WorldSBK since 2010 but his first two seasons with Aprilia aside his following campaigns with Suzuki, MV Agusta and Honda have been blighted by arm’s length factory support that hasn’t quite provided the machinery to capitalise on his talents.

For 2020 though Camier goes privateer but does so with a well-funded, proven Barni Ducati which should give him the machinery with which to battle inside the top ten as it did with Michael Ruben Rinaldi in 2019. If anything, this is his most competitive package since the Aprilia days despite it coming in a much smaller team set-up.

However, Camier must try and stay fit and healthy in 2020 having spent a disproportionate amount of his career on the sidelines recovering from a variety of injuries. Even now he’s recovering from shoulder surgery in the run up to the new season.

This is Camier’s 11th season in WorldSBK but it’s potentially his best chance yet to launch some giant-killing efforts.