Is Tom Sykes better off as BSB top dog or a WorldSBK underdog?

Speculation may point to Tom Sykes returning to BSB in 2022 with PBM Ducati... but would a surprise minnow shot in WorldSBK be more favourable?

Tom Sykes - BMW Motorrad WorldSBK

Tom Sykes’ winter of uncertainty has lurched into February 2022 with no clear indication yet of where the 2013 WorldSBK Champion might find himself racing come April.

The Briton has been without a firm ride since August when BMW Motorrad formally confirmed Scott Redding would replace him in the factory-backed Shaun Muir set up. Despite BMW’s efforts to ‘re-home’ him, Sykes severed ties with the manufacturer after being irked at what he considered a lack of loyalty.

Since then Sykes has been closely linked with a return to the British Superbike Championship (BSB) he departed in 2008 with Paul Bird Motorsport’s VisionTrack Ducati and a WorldSBK lifeline with Pedercini Kawasaki.

One would see him billed as a title challenger, the other a risk with a team that has made up more numbers than positions over the years. 

Surely it’s a no-brainer… or is it?

Why Tom Sykes join BSB for 2022… and why he shouldn’t

Domestic though it may be, there is little doubt the British Superbike Championship isn’t short of both talent and spectacle, traits that have maintained its status as the world’s most revered national motorcycle racing series.

A BSB title wouldn’t replace the WorldSBK trophy standing proud on Sykes’ mantlepiece - at least in terms of prestige - but suffice to say his World Champion status won’t intimidate a field of seasoned and successful rivals.

And herein lies an issue - if Sykes has designs on using BSB as a springboard back to WorldSBK, he will be expected to win the title in a manner not dissimilar to alumni before him, such as Shane Byrne and Leon Haslam. 

Naturally, Sykes is very capable of doing just that but BSB is designed to keep the competition close and the room for error is slim. Moreover, as demonstrated in previous years, WorldSBK to BSB to WorldSBK bounces have been a touch hit (Haslam) and miss (Byrne).

If Sykes is basing his choice primarily on a desire to take that walk up to the podium, then he has a very tempting proposition indeed.

Indeed, Sykes has some history with Paul Bird Motorsport, beginning his long association with Kawasaki when its factory effort was helmed by PBM. He event landed his maiden WorldSBK win with a surprise success in the wet at the Nurburgring in 2011.

While PBM perhaps didn’t capitalise on its WorldSBK chance with Kawasaki, there is little doubt the team is a force at BSB level. It gives Sykes every opportunity he could want in making a triumphant return to BSB in 2022… 

But as WorldSBK looks increasingly towards the next generation for the next wave of Superbike superstars, will anyone be watching Sykes in BSB?

(Ed: As of writing, Sykes' ties to PBM Ducati have grown on the back of Christian Iddon being confirmed with Suzuki, though there are rumours of the team delaying announcements to source a new title sponsor to replace VisionTrack)

Why Tom Sykes should join Pedercini Kawasaki for 2022 WorldSBK…

Putting it straight out there, it is known Sykes has been approached by Lucio Pedercini to take his available Kawasaki ride for the 2022 WorldSBK season but it isn’t clear whether he is even interested. 

Nevertheless, we’ll play devil’s advocate for a moment anyway.

A quick glance at Pedercini’s WorldSBK form legitimately questions why anyone with status would join the steadfast but modestly-budgeted Italian team. It barely cracked the points in 2021 thanks to a steady revolving door of stand-in racers alongside perennial back marker Loris Cresson.

However, Pedercini Kawasaki runs a tight effort, one that has outlasted every other privateer outfit to have ever competed in WorldSBK. With the right backing and the right rider it has shown an impressive turn of pace, most notably in 2019 with regular top ten finisher Jordi Torres.

While not Sykes’ responsibility, a rider of his gravitas would bring Pedercini greater focus from sponsors and maybe even Kawasaki if it wants to shore up its privateer family to rival Yamaha and Ducati’s more closely associated satellite efforts, GRT and Barni. It also wouldn’t hurt Kawasaki to have such a seasoned developer back on its books.

Indeed, while the ZX-10RR has evolved since he last threw a leg over it in 2018, no-one knows the Ninja more intimately than Sykes. So by using Torres as a marker, there is an argument to suggest he could be capable of some giant-killing performances… especially when it comes to Superpole.

Indeed, if you are easy to dismiss Pedercini Kawasaki as a minnow that would discredit Sykes’ skills, then you’re actually seeing my point in reverse. Why not look at it as a rider of Sykes’ skills proving a catalyst for turning a minnow team into a competitive one?

Cast your mind back to 2008 when a star wildcard performance on the BSB Rizla Suzuki convinced Yamaha to snap him up for the following season.

It’s easy to dismiss Sykes’ tenure in WorldSBK (since 2009) for this being a last hurrah for his career. Indeed, his status is perceived to have slipped in recent years, first by being out-paced by Jonathan Rea at Kawasaki and then blending into the pack as he developed the modestly competitive BMW package from 2019.

Dig a little deeper and there is evidence Sykes is still at the top of his game. He was out-scoring big name signing Michael van der Mark prior to his season-affecting injury in Catalunya and he showed during that very round he is still capable of knocking out the perfect single lap in qualifying (51 poles and counting).

Moreover, though Rea got the better of him at Kawasaki, Sykes never slipped outside the top four overall between 2012 and 2018, something Haslam and Alex Lowes after him on the same bike didn’t come close to matching.

Alternatively, Sykes could find himself pinned to the back of the grid for the entire season but if Pedercini comes with low expectations, he is very qualified to exceed them, putting himself right back on the radar for 2023. 

So the question really is, what results on the little-fancied Pedercini Kawasaki in WorldSBK are worth as much as winning a BSB title in a far away UK? Answers on a postcard…