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The Top 10 WorldSBK Riders of 2021 according to Visordown.com

A classic 2021 WorldSBK season brought us a new champion, some of the best racing seen in many years and a quality akin to bygone eras...

Start of the Catalunya WorldSBK race, group, Razgatlioglu, Redding, Rea


On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the 2021 WorldSBK Championship season? What’s that you say…? 11? We might just agree with you.

Hyperbole perhaps but after six years of fairly metronomic (translate = impressive but predictable) dominance from Jonathan Rea, he was finally knocked off his perch at the seventh attempt at a WorldSBK title.

More than that though, it was a proper bare-knuckle fight of a battle with champion Toprak Razgatlioglu confidently stepping up to the mark and dragging out the best in Rea as he fought tooth and nail for the crown. 

Razgatlioglu was the victor, while Rea discovered what everyone else had been feeling since 2015.

But there was more to WorldSBK 2021 than simply the top two and championship standings don’t tell the full story… so we’ll have a go at telling it instead. Here is Visordown’s 2021 WorldSBK Top 10 Riders...

Garrett Gerloff - GRT Yamaha

10 - Garrett Gerloff [GRT Yamaha]

We feel a little bad to be placing Garrett Gerloff at the bottom end of the top ten, not least because you get the impression he could have been somewhere near the summit had a few moments gone his way.

The surprise standout of the short 2020 season, particularly in the closing stages, Gerloff was rewarded with a factory-spec Yamaha R1 for this season and duly picked up where he left off, scoring two podiums early on.

However, just as it seemed a maiden win was just around the corner, things went very awry at Assen when he was responsible for a Turn 1 incident that eliminated his stablemate and title contender Razgatlioglu, drawing derision from all corners and muted disapproval from Yamaha itself.

It was a faux pas he never really recovered from thereafter, Gerloff admitting his unexpected reputation for being too aggressive on track - after other clashes with Rea and Michael Ruben Rinaldi - making him doubt his limits in ensuing races.

Clearly a podium contender when the stars align, it was a shame to see a more timid Gerloff muddling around around ten place for the rest of the year… a winter break will hopefully resolve those confidence issues.

Alvaro Bautista - Honda Racing

9 - Alvaro Bautista [HRC Honda]

If you could use one word to describe Alvaro Bautista’s much anticipated but largely disappointing two-year foray at Honda it would be ‘hard-charging’ (OK, that’s two but see the hyphen).

We could have also used the word ‘qualifying’ and looking at the silver lining for a moment, Bautista was a ‘Sunday man’ (of sorts, the first encounter takes place on Saturday) in that he would often make strong gains over a race for much better results than his grid position should have allowed.

It led to some great performances that weren’t quite reflected in the final results, even if his charging antics led to some increasingly typecast accidents, while tenth in the standings with two podiums fell short of expectations

History will remember this as being a failed (big money) jaunt but in 2021 Bautista showed he still has the skills, just not the machinery and occasionally the mindset.

Tom Sykes - BMW Motorrad, WorldSBK, 2021

8 - Tom Sykes [BMW Motorrad WorldSBK]

Tom Sykes’ (probable) final season in WorldSBK played against his usual form and deserved to conclude with a flourish rather than sitting out four events with injury.

While his time at BMW didn’t quite sparkle as it did when he was Kawasaki’s trusted hand, Sykes may have to delve into the memory to pick out moments from his 2013 WorldSBK Championship win, but he ended 2021 as a faster rider.

Measured up against new team-mate Michael van der Mark, Sykes was as quick - sometimes quicker - than his high-profile new team-mate, with double podiums at Donington Park showing what he can do around his favourite circuit. 

He even notched up an extra pole position to extend that record, while he was able to hold race pace better than in previous years when he often faded over a longer distance.

While you can reason with BMW for grabbing Scott Redding over Sykes, it’s a shame the amiable Yorkshireman won’t be on the grid in 2022.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi - Ducati WorldSBK 2021

7 - Michael Ruben Rinaldi [Aruba.it Ducati]

It wasn’t easy to gauge exactly how well Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s first season as a factory Ducati rider went. One weekend he would be battling at the front, the next barely noticeable.

Under some pressure after being chosen over Chaz Davies for 2022, Rinaldi looked a more complete rider this season, but not as consistent. Early season nerves gave way with a magical performance at Misano, during which he was almost untouchable, while another win in Barcelona came just as other doubts began to seep in.

That said, he was beaten to fourth in the standings [champion of the second riders’, essentially) by rookie Andrea Locatelli, while he really should have been closer to Redding’s pace. 

The 2022 season will be key for him to break out of the ‘Italian second rider’ mould established by Michel Fabrizio and Davide Giugliano before him.

Michael van der Mark - BMW WorldSBK Motorrad

6 - Michael van der Mark [BMW Motorrad WorldSBK]

Though one might consider Michael van der Mark to have been erroneous in leaving Yamaha for BMW just as the Iwata marque struck title gold, in reality the team was beginning to shape itself around Razgatlioglu anyway.

Sparing that potential indignity, BMW presents a worthy challenge for van der Mark and the Dutchman duly did his bit to pull the German firm further up the order in 2021.

Hampered by slow development of the M 1000 RR, van der Mark often wrung the best from it in races and - like Bautista - was another to often be moving up the order in races. 

The highlight was his performance in the great rain leveller at Portimao, van der Mark scoring BMW’s first win since 2013, even if it was one of only two podiums all year. The incoming Redding will provide an interesting measure in 2022.

Axel Bassani - Motocrosa Racing Ducati

5 - Axel Bassani [Motocorsa Ducati]

Without a doubt the surprise package of the 2021 WorldSBK season, even we had to do a bit of prior research when Axel Bassani was announced with Motocorsa Ducati for 2021.

A star-in-waiting a few years ago when he scored top five results on his WorldSSP debut, Bassani faded from the limelight prior to his WorldSBK shot, during which he reminded the paddock why he was so well regarded then.

Shrugging off his lack of experience - both of the bike and the circuits - by the season’s end Bassani was easily the fastest privateer rider and increasingly mixing it with the podium contenders.

He only just missed out on a shock win in Barcelona, while four top five finishes in the final five races should have seen him leapfrog Gerloff for top indy honours, but for a rude impact from van der Mark to swipe him out of podium contention in Indonesia.

For now Bassani doesn’t have his 2022 WorldSBK ride sorted, but the factories might kick themselves for not looking at him sooner.

Scott Redding - Aruba.it Ducati

4 - Scott Redding [Aruba.it Ducati]

This was by no means a bad season for Scott Redding, even if he wasn’t really able to sustain an incredible standard of racing maintained by Razgatlioglu and Rea this season.

In effect Redding was always playing catch up when a rotten run of results at Misano and Donington Park put him on the back foot. Despite this, Redding was always up for the fight and on his day harnessed the strengths of the Ducati Panigale V4 R to look as capable of tussling it out for the title with the big two.

The consistency came in the latter half of the year, while Redding was the star of Most and Navarra. However, he found himself wanting in elbow-to-elbow situations, while he sometimes didn’t help himself on off days with overriding and tactical blunders.

Still, seven wins was a healthy return that deserved an extended stay at Ducati rather than a move to the more questionable surroundings of BMW.

Andrea Locatelli - Pata Yamaha WorldSBK

3 - Andrea Locatelli [Pata Yamaha]

There was a point during Round 4 of the 2021 WorldSBK season when Yamaha might have been questioning its judgement in hiring Andrea Locatelli straight into the factory Pata squad from WorldSSP.

Indeed, after Federico Caricasulo flopped in making that transition in 2020, Yamaha was probably fearing Locatelli - despite his record-breaking WorldSSP dominance - would suffer the same fate as he fought on the cusp of the top ten, well adrift of satellite man Gerloff.

And then, for seemingly no reason, this was flipped on its head from Assen, Locatelli emerging on track as a different rider with two top five results, before grabbing a maiden podium in Race 2 having led for much of it.

Thereafter - just as Gerloff’s form slumped - Locatelli was barely outside the top five (he reeled off 12 in a row) with more podiums at Most, Magny-Cours and Portimao.

While he was always adrift of the ‘big three’, Locatelli comfortably had the measure of fellow ‘second’ riders Rinaldi (Ducati) and Alex Lowes (Kawasaki), while he enjoyed consistency unusual in a rookie in such high pressure surroundings.

Better still, he justified Yamaha’s faith, which in turn earned him a two-year contract extension. Expect wins in 2022.

Jonathan Rea - Kawasaki Racing Team

2 - Jonathan Rea [Kawasaki Racing Team]

The #1 plate may no longer be in his name but once the disappointment of not winning a seventh straight WorldSBK title fades, Jonathan Rea will be able to look back at this season with great encouragement.

If one person on the grid was most likely to beat Rea, it would have been Razgatlioglu, the Turk possessing a magic on the bike no-one can match. It meant Rea’s smooth, tactical style would struggle to fend off his rival if he wasn’t streaming away at the front, like he had done for much of the last six years.

It’s incredibly hard to change that mentality after six years, but Rea dug deep and brought out a more aggressive side that - while unrefined - showed he could get his hands dirty when he needed to.

Though it clearly didn’t come to him naturally and asked questions of the Kawasaki ZX-10RR it wasn’t always able to answer, Rea proved that not only was he up for a fight, he could win them too. 

We’re relishing the chance to see a new hard-edged ‘underdog’ approach from Rea in 2022.

Toprak Razgatlioglu - Pata Yamaha R1

1 - Toprak Razgatlioglu [Pata Yamaha]

What more can you say…? We’ve waxed lyrical enough to fill a Madame Tussauds about Razgatlioglu in 2021, the Turk stepping up his weaknesses into strengths and refining the flair that made him such a thrilling prospect in the first place.

At one with the Yamaha R1 this season, Razgatlioglu’s form during the latter half of the year was spectacular and not just for the results, but for the way he kept stepping up his level every time Rea chomped on his heels.

Unflustered in any given situation - Razgatlioglu didn’t crash on his own all year - it’s easy to forget the start to his season was fairly modest, a series of podiums frustrating him to the extent he vowed to himself for Race 2 in Misano that he HAD to win it.

That he did and from there he had the belief to win anywhere. His standout performances may not be obvious ones, but his victory in slippery conditions at Donington Park - via going from 13th to 1st Senna-style within five corners - his win in Race 2 at Navarra having been a distant third in the two races prior to that and his performance in the wet (a known weakness pre-2021) in Barcelona when he would have won but for a technical issue showed the strides made this year.

He took on the best at their best and won on a bike with no discernible advantage over the opposition.

11/10 we’d say...