Who is Axel Bassani and why hasn’t a WorldSBK manufacturer snapped him up?

Toprak Razgatlioglu may be on course to win the 2021 WorldSBK Championship but there is an argument for making Axel Bassani the 'Rider of the Year'

Axel Bassani - Motocorsa Racing Ducati

Many moons ago I worked with Visordown’s sister publication Crash.net and one of the content pieces I introduced was the MotoGP and WorldSBK ‘Rider of the Year’ poll in which we asked website visitors to run through the field, rating each out of ten, taking into consideration machinery and other factors such as injury.

Inevitably general popularity played a part - which resulted in some Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez results that swung in partisan popularity - but generally the results were fairly perceptive reflections that we agreed with. 

It also led to the eye-rolling odd comment that the champion is ‘oooooobviously’ Rider of the Year but then what is life without some opinion, eh?

Even so, it got me thinking about who I would choose for 2021 WorldSBK Rider of the Year and - with one round to go of course - it is tricky to look beyond Toprak Razgatlioglu for reasons I don’t need to explain in an article about another rider.

Nevertheless, for me it is a tight run thing with a rider few had even heard of before this season - Axel Bassani. 

Though I was faintly aware of him (probably because Axel Shogun was the name of my main character in a short story I wrote at school aged 7 which instantly made him cool in my book...), it still took a bit of Googling, scrolling and cross-checking to bulk up the news of his signing to the required minimum length of words we have for articles on here.

And yet, over 12 events Bassani has blossomed from a number on the grid, to solid mid-fielder to being in with a good shout of winning the privateers’ trophy against the highly-touted Garrett Gerloff and 34-time race winner Chaz Davies.

It’s been a continuous upward curve too, Bassani’s results improving step by step as the year has continued, helped by him being the only rider on the grid to have reached the chequered flag 34 of 35 races, scoring in all but seven of them.

Also, at 22-years old, he is the youngest rider on the grid right now.

Should WorldSBK factories be paying attention?

Having nestled himself just inside the top ten as the season crossed into the second-half of the year, Bassani had shown himself to be deserving of his place among esteemed contemporaries, but was seemingly considered too unproven for the ‘big five’ factories to pay much attention.

Rumour has it Honda did have him on their list for 2022 but unless its much rumoured signing of Xavi Vierge and Iker Lecuona doesn’t come off, it appears he is destined for a second season on the Motocorsa Racing Ducati, itself only in its second season of WorldSBK competition.

This could prove a huge boost for Motocorsa itself since Bassani’s association is likely to court the closer attention of Ducati, which is known to be curating a group of Italian flagged youngsters for the future, like it has in MotoGP. If Team Go Eleven does switch to Yamaha machinery, Motocorsa is likely to receive factory-backed help in 2022.

Which is just as well because just as the big seats were filling at the start of September, Bassani’s form kicked up another gear, spurred on by his first podium in the wet at Barcelona, the Italian duking it out with Toprak Razgatlioglu for the lead and ending up just three laps shy of taking a shock win but for a charging Scott Redding.

Since then Bassani has wedged himself among the so-called ‘best of the rest’ with the likes of Alex Lowes, Andrea Locatelli and Michael Ruben Rinaldi, the ‘number twos’ to the lead pack of Jonathan Rea, Ragatlioglu and Redding. 

This is esteemed company and allowed us to see Bassani enjoying a bristling battle with Rea at Jerez before garnering some superb air-time in Argentina with a brace of top five finishes, plus his first front row grid spot.

While it would be unfair to say Bassani has come from ‘nowhere’, one can imagine his Wikipedia page has had an uplift in traffic recently. It shows he was something special back in 2016 aged only 17 when he rocked up in WorldSSP as part of a selected programme that formed a short ‘European Championship’.

Despite having only eight outings, Bassani not only dominated that series but found himself battling with the regulars from the start, landing five top eight results, including a fourth at Magny-Cours.

That earned him a Superbike ride in the Italian CIV Championship with decent results, before returning to WorldSSP in 2020 in what was a tough year en route to 17th. In short, there was talent but it wasn’t clear if it had developed.

It means he heads into the final round in Indonesia just 14 points shy of Gerloff - a second year rider on a full factory Yamaha R1 - in the fight for the independents’ trophy.

Together with Locatelli, Bassani’s efforts are an encouraging promotion of the WorldSSP formula and prove Italy, after a few lean years, does have some eye-catching talent in its ranks…

If Bassani carries this form into 2022, expect him to be high on many teams’ lists come the end of the year.