MotoGP stars that shone in WorldSBK... and the riders who bombed

Iker Lecuona becomes the latest rider to swap MotoGP for WorldSBK but is he more likely to end up as Max Biaggi... or Randy de Puniet?

Nicky Hayden - Ten Kate Racing Honda, 2015 WorldSBK

MotoGP is already underway and now we are gradually nearing the start of the 2022 WorldSBK Championship with the opening round at Aragon on 9-10 April primed and ready for Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea et al.

As it stands, a healthy grid of 23 confirmed riders will line up in Spain, including a number of standout rookies that feature among them three stars of the GP ranks; Moto2 rider Xavi Vierge, ex-Tech 3 Yamaha/KTM MotoGP man Hafizh Syahrin and Iker Lecuona.

Of the trio, Lecuona is the highest-profile, the Spaniard taking up a spot alongside Vierge at the factory HRC Honda squad. Unlike many that have come before him, Lecuona's star is still ascending at 23-years old and is arguably unlucky to have been bumped off the high quality grid at this time in his career.

However, while MotoGP might be regarded as the most competitive motorcycle racing series in the world but, as history has shown, that doesn't always translate to immediate success in WorldSBK.

As such, Lecuona will do well to study the performances of our selection below which have all made the move from MotoGP to WorldSBK (via BSB for a couple) over the last decade or so... with mixed results!

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MotoGP-to-WorldSBK Stars

Alvaro Bautista

3 seasons (ongoing), 16 wins (2019 WorldSBK Runner-up)

This is a story that still ongoing, Bautista having only made his WorldSBK debut in 2019 with a bang, claiming 11 wins in a row from his debut in Australia, a start so ferocious that his name was probably already being etched in the title trophy.

Alas, the Spaniard's dramatic slump in form - and ability to stay on the Ducati Panigale V4 R - cost him the title despite ending the year with 16 wins, which still makes him statistically one of the series' most successful racers. A big money move to the returning factory-backed HRC Honda squad, however, failed to yield notable results with just three podiums his return from two frustrating seasons on the slow-developing Honda CBR1000RR-R.

Still, team bosses are tipping Bautista to be back to his best when he returns to the factory Ducati squad in 2022 following some strong performances in testing.

Max Biaggi

6 seasons, 2 titles, 21 wins (2010, 2012 WorldSBK Champion)

MotoGP’s loss was WorldSBK’s gain in 2007 when Max Biaggi said ‘ciao’ to the top-flight in favour of what would go on to be a successful career revival in the production ranks, one that arguably paved the way for the likes of Marco Melandri and Nicky Hayden to follow suit. 

A win on his debut with Suzuki should have been an indication of what was coming but it took Biaggi until 2010 to notch up a first WorldSBK title – his fifth world title overall – after leading the Aprilia project to glory in its second season with the RSV4. A second title followed in 2012 before Biaggi called it a day in fitting style right at the top.

Carlos Checa

6 seasons, 1 title, 24 wins (2011 WorldSBK Champion)

A rider that was never quite in the right place at the right time in MotoGP, a WorldSBK switch was a blank canvas from which Carlos Checa could start afresh and he grasped the opportunity with aplomb. While some may have pondered his wisdom of racing in WorldSBK with a solid, if unspectacular turn with Honda initially, hindsight tells us he arguably out-performed a bike that wasn’t in the same league of Ducati and Yamaha at the time.

Remarkably it took a move to the (semi) privateer Althea Ducati team for Checa to flourish, confounding expectations his career was winding down as he swept to a dominant title win in 2011. In all, 22 of his 24 WorldSBK wins came on Ducati machinery across three seasons before he eventually called time on his career mid-way through 2013.

Marco Melandri

7 seasons, 22 wins (2011 WorldSBK Runner-up)

While Marco Melandri never quite made it all the way to a WorldSBK title, it’s worth pointing out he scored more wins than his Italian counterpart Biaggi over a six-season period. Skipping from Yamaha to BMW to Ducati and back to Yamaha until his retirement at the end of 2019, Melandri never finished outside the top five overall between 2012 and 2018, though he came closest of all during his rookie year.

Sylvain Guintoli

7+ seasons, 9 wins (2014 WorldSBK Champion)

Though he was never a star of MotoGP, proving himself to be a dependable if unspectacular mid-field racer with Pramac Racing, that sheer consistency certainly came in handy when he finally had the machinery to showcase his talents in WorldSBK. In fact, in 170 WorldSBK starts, Guintoli failed to finish just 12 of them!

Strictly speaking Sylvain Guintoli’s MotoGP to WorldSBK move came via the British Superbike Championship, though that season was almost destroyed by injury anyway, while he had to spend three years making the best of his Suzuki and privateer machinery initially.

His big break with Aprilia came in 2013, taking him all the way to the title in 2014 having scored points in all but one of those 40 races. It is worth pausing for a moment when you realise Guintoli was the last person other than Jonathan Rea to win a WorldSBK title.

Nicky Hayden

1+ season, 1 win

Nicky Hayden’s burgeoning WorldSBK career will always be a case of ‘what if’ after his tragic death in 2017 robbed the motorcycling world of one of its most charismatic talents.

However, in the short season and a half period he spent in WorldSBK, there was evidence that he would have gone on to become. To date as the only person to win a race for Honda between 2015 and 2020, we’re confident he would have avoided the scourge of MotoGP-to-WorldSBK flops…

Scott Redding

3 seasons (ongoing), 13 wins (2020 WorldSBK Runner-up)

Desptie flirting with retrirement after his acrimonious slump with Aprilia dumped him out of MotoGP, Scott Redding has gone on to revive his career as an adept Superbike racer.

Like Guintoli, Redding chose an unconventional route by reaching WorldSBK via the electronics-free school of hard knocks in BSB, proving a worthy deputy for Alvaro Bautista in the wake of his exit to Honda in 2020.

Instantly competitive, Redding was Jonathan Rea's closest rival for the 2020 WorldSBK title, taking their fight to the final round in Estoril but eventually settling for the runners-up spot.

Always good value when it comes to a show or a quote, Redding mounted a title challenge in 2021 but despite several race wins fell short in the fierce feud up ahead between Razgatlioglu and Rea. As such, Ducati has swapped back to Bautista, leaving the Briton to try his fortune at BMW for 2022.

The riders who wish they hadn’t bothered with WorldSBK…

Randy de Puniet

1 season, 7th best finish (2015 WorldSBK - 18th overall)

After spending eight seasons in MotoGP riding machines with varying degrees of competitiveness, many saw de Puniet’s move into the WorldSBK Championship in 2015 as a chance to reassert his talents on the world stage.

However, with the Suzuki GSX-R1000 not in the first flush of youth and with de Puniet somewhat out of practice from a year focusing on MotoGP development, the Frenchman never got into the swing of WorldSBK. Scoring only two top ten finishes all year, he was comfortably outperformed by team-mate Alex Lowes.

Stefan Bradl

1 part-season, 6th best finish (2017 - 14th overall)

The Honda Fireblade has been a tricky mistress over the past 10 years, as demonstrated by the fact we could have also featured Hiroshi Aoyama here for his disastrous 2012 jaunt. However, as a MotoGP podium winner and Moto2 champion we have included Stefan Bradl instead.

Though injury scuppered his one and only season in WorldSBK, Bradl struggled to find his feet in the series up to that point, cracking the top six on just one occasion as team-mate to the more successful Hayden. However, Honda still values his input as he has been one of the development forces behind the new Honda CBR1000RR-R.

Makoto Tamada

1+ season, 9th best finish (2008 WorldSBK - 20th overall)

To Makoto Tamada’s credit, he should have hoped for better when he made the move from MotoGP to WorldSBK in 2008. The Japanese rider is actually a WorldSBK race winner – on three occasions, no less – as the best of the Japanese wildcard army that used to descend on the local Sugo rounds during the early 2000s.

From here Tamada went on to forge a successful MotoGP career, scoring two wins across five seasons, which by rights should have seen him competing at the sharp end when he swapped to WorldSBK in 2008.

However, the Kawasaki ZX-10R wasn’t a competitive performer and despite cracking the top ten early on in the season, he didn’t score a single point during the second-half of the year. He raced in in 2009 but an accident left him with injuries that all-but-ended his international racing career.

Karel Abraham

1 season, 9th best finish (2016 WorldSBK - 18th overall)

With five seasons of experience competing in MotoGP, though Karel Abraham wasn’t exactly a front-runner in the premier class he might have hoped that longevity would have rubbed off on him as he made his debut in WorldSBK in 2016 with the Shaun Muir Racing-prepared Milwaukee BMW team.

However, while his ageing BMW machinery wasn’t terribly competitive, Abraham was only a mid-field runner at best and he was comfortably outclassed by team-mate Josh Brookes. Strangely, though Brookes promptly returned to BSB, the well-funded Abraham found his way back into MotoGP and spent three more seasons there before being nudged out of his Avintia Racing seat at the close of last year.

Tito Rabat

1 season, 9th best finish (2021 WorldSBK - 16th overall)

A rider whose credentials as a Moto2 World Champion never quite translated to the MotoGP stage - despite five seasons of trying - Tito Rabat came to WorldSBK in 2021 looking to reassert himself.

Hopes were high for the Spaniard, not least because he very nearly ended up on the factory KRT Kawasaki ZX-10RR alongside Rea in 2020 before deciding to re-sign with Avintia Racing in MotoGP. However, on the near-factory Ducati Panigale V4 R prepared by satellite team Barni Racing struggled to break-out the rear-half of the busy mid-pack.

A flat series of races that yielded just two top ten finishes saw Rabat depart mid-way through the year, though he returned for the rounds of the year on the Puccetti Kawasaki.