Is there anyone that can deny Jonathan Rea his sixth WorldSBK title?

The 2020 WorldSBK Championship is upon us and the question every rider is wanting to answer is 'who can stop Jonathan Rea from winning a sixth title?'

Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team

There was a time around 9 months ago where it seemed the unstoppable reign of one Jonathan Rea in WorldSBK was coming to a spectacular conclusion as Alvaro Bautista announced his arrival from MotoGP with a veritable vuvuzela of commotion.

From what looked to be a spectacular end of an era though instead became a spectacular comeback as Rea – helped along by Bautista’s form dropping in tandem with his Ducati’s front-wheel – not only clawed himself back into contention but sprinted to the finish line well clear of anyone.

It was a strange season of two halves, made all the more curious by the fact Rea and Bautista barely shared any direct on-track battles with one another.

Roll on to 2020 and on the eve of the new season there is the usual pomp that comes before a competitive wheel has turned. However, perhaps more than usual, there is definitely a growing sense that this could be the most competitive season for some years with all five manufacturers showing hints of race-winning form.

Ultimately though, there is just one rider they are all looking to beat… but is there anyone out there who can defeat Jonathan Rea?

Alvaro Bautista – Team HRC Honda

We’ll start with the rider who got the closest to defeating Rea on pure pace last year even if it didn’t look all that close on leaderboard in the end. Indeed, such was the swing in success in 2019, Bautista won 16 races to Rea’s 17 but still finished up 165 points behind…

However, while ingredients for success were clearly there for Bautista on Ducati machinery, he will rock up to Phillip Island in 2020 as the talisman for the all-new HRC-helmed Honda WorldSBK project.

On paper there is a lot to suggest this is a package to match – or beat – the evergreen Rea-Kawasaki set up. HRC’s credentials need no introduction in the context of its MotoGP success, while Bautista clearly knows how to win races. Moreover, while some may have questioned whether Honda could hit the ground running with its new CBR1000RR-R Fireblade, it’s top six times in testing and benchmark setting top speeds suggest the material is solid too.

Unfortunately it is not Bautista producing said top six times and while a sceptical Rea has suggested it could all be a bluff to lull him into a false sense of security, there are other riders who say the Spaniard look stiff on the what will be his first-ever inline four Superbike campaign.

A title challenge straight away always seemed like a tall order, but race wins by the end of the year doesn’t seem out of the question

Scott Redding - Ducati

The burgeoning new fan favourite will bring his special brand of charisma to WorldSBK this year – something the series has lacked for some time – meaning he just needs to be competitive to keep many happy.

However, the ex-MotoGP rider – once a rival to Bautista – has seen exactly what the Spaniard can do on the Ducati Panigale V4 R and is applying self-inflicted pressure to meet his own high expectations.

In reality there are few who expect him to hit ground running quite so formidably as Bautista did, but the Panigale V4 R has always been a stronger machine in race trim so of the front-runners he is probably the rider with more to show come race day.

Redding definitely has the skills to get the better of a rider like Rea, but it remains to be seen whether he can be as consistent as the Ulsterman.

Toprak Razgatlioglu - Pata Yamaha WorldSBK

The only rider to get the better of Rea in a straight fight for victory during the closing stages of a race last year, Toprak Razgatlioglu is the rider most are excited about heading into 2020.

A switch from privateer Kawasaki machinery to the factory Yamaha seems to have tamed some of the wilder aspects of his riding style, but what could have been a disastrous neutering of his abilities has instead matured him in the right direction.

Indeed, while joining a team he was regularly beating on a privateer Kawasaki ZX-10RR last year is something of a calculated risk, Razgatlioglu has all the weapons in his armoury to make Rea think twice in the heat of battle.

Perhaps most excitingly though, many believe there is more to come… and it could come this year.

Michael van der Mark - Pata Yamaha WorldSBK

Having seen Alex Lowes off at Yamaha (controversially, some may say), Michael van der Mark heads into the 2020 WorldSBK season facing up to a potentially bigger challenge brought on by new team-mate Razgatlioglu.

It is this new pressure that could raise him the final 5% or so he needs to get on terms with Rea on a regular basis. We have seen on occasion that the Dutchman is capable of going toe-to-toe with Rea and on his day he is difficult to beat, but for the most part he has been WorldSBK’s ‘best of the rest’.

A new and improved Yamaha R1 underneath him should help but van der Mark needs to come out of the box punching in Australia – a circuit he is often quick at – if he wants to be considered a title contender… or even the team leader

Who else can match Jonathan Rea?

BMW has maintained a low profile over the winter but has the potential to spring a surprise, especially with Rea’s old team-mate – and foe – Tom Sykes pedalling the S1000RR. With the benefit of a year’s development, coupled to Sykes legendary ability to extract the most from the qualifying tyre, it’d be a surprise not to see at least one BMW win this year.

Elsewhere, Chaz Davies was for a long time Rea’s biggest foil but he’s found the going tough on the Panigale V4 R. Things looked to be on the up at the end of 2019, but an unspectacular turn in testing suggests the problems for the Welshman run deeper than feared.

With Bautista still tweaking the Honda to his liking, the ultra-experienced Leon Haslam has been right on the pace by comparison. A front-runner without necessarily being an obvious title contender, Haslam’s sheer consistency should see him there or thereabouts in 2020.

Ousted from Yamaha but landing at defending champions Kawasaki, Alex Lowes has a tough job to prove himself on a par with Rea on equal machinery. Testing has been solid so far, but its hard to see Lowes progressing beyond a default number two role in the title-winning team.

2020 WorldSBK - Round 1 - Phillip Island, Australia
Weekend Schedule
FRIDAYSessionAUS timeUK time 
WorldSBKFP110:30 - 11:2023:30 - 00:20* Thurs PM UK
WorldSSPFP111:30 - 12:1500:30 - 01:15 
WorldSBKFP215:00 - 15:5004:00 - 04:50 
WorldSSPFP216:00 - 16:4505:00 - 05:45 
WorldSBKFP310:00 - 10:2023:00 - 23:20* Fri PM UK
WorldSSPFP310:35 - 10:5523:35 - 23:55* Fri PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole12:15 - 12:4001:15 - 01:40 
WorldSSPSuperpole12:55 - 13:2001:55 - 02:20 
WorldSBKRACE 115:0004:00 
WorldSBKWarm-up09:30 - 09:4522:30 - 23:45* Sat PM UK
WorldSSPWarm-up09:55 - 10:1022:55 - 23:10* Sat PM UK
WorldSBKSuperpole RACE12:0001:00 
WorldSBKRACE 215:0004:00