James Toseland: Too many Britons at front, WorldSBK needs stars...

James Toseland believes the WorldSBK Championship has too many Briton's in factory seats and it lacks stars like Hayden, Haga and Biaggi

James Toseland

Two-time WorldSBK Champion James Toseland says today’s series lacks the ‘well-known names’ to help promote it, adding that the influx of successful British riders isn’t helping this cause.

Toseland clinched the title crown in 2004 and 2007 with Ducati and Honda respectively, the latter victory prompting a move into MotoGP for two seasons.

He returned to WorldSBK in 2010 with modest success before a 2011 campaign dogged by a wrist injury ultimately forced him to call time on his career.

Having maintained a relatively low profile in recent years as he focused on his eponymous rock band and continued his recovery from the complex injuries, Toseland returns to the WorldSBK paddock this year as team manager for WRP Wepol Racing, which enters Danny Webb in the WorldSSP Championship.

Reflecting on the state of the championship in an interview with Speedweek, Toseland says the series lacks the big stars to capture the imagination, pointing out the loss of Max Biaggi, Noriyuki Haga and Troy Corser – as well as the untimely death of Nicky Hayden - dealt blows to the series’ reputation.

“I was lucky enough to be able to fight well-known names like Biaggi, Haga and Corser. These were stars who respected me for beating them. Today the famous stars are missing.

“When they ended their careers, it was a big setback for the series. Since the tragic loss of Nicky Hayden, the World Cup has lost an interesting profile.”

However, Toseland adds the influx of so many British riders in the series – particularly in the factory seats – has made an impact on its perception. Five of the top eight riders in the overall 2019 standings hailed from the United Kingdom.

“It is also not a good thing that so many Britons are fighting in front,” he said. “You need strong pilots from different nations.”

He is complementary of five-time WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea's achievements, saying: "I admire Johnny's dedication to the job. Because he knows how to always keep the goal in focus - and these are victories!"

Are there too many British riders in WorldSBK?

Toseland makes a solid point. Between 2015 and 2018, every single win during that period (104 races) was split between five different British riders and just four non-British riders.

To put that into context, those four riders – Marco Melandri, Michael van der Mark, Jordi Torres and Nicky Hayden – won just seven of those races. That’s 97 times the Union Jack flew over #1 on the podium in four seasons.

The 2019 season saw things change with the arrival of Alvaro Bautista, which together with two wins for Toprak Razgatlioglu and a success for van der Mark multiplied the international tally to 19, one more than Great Britain’s.

It’s a quite the contrast to 2007 when Toseland won his second WorldSBK title. He was just one of two British riders competing in the series alongside a truly international line-up that comprised of top riders from Japan, Australia, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic and Germany.

WorldSBK does know this. The series recently posted an article pointing out the wider international input into the series for 2020 courtesy of newcomers Takumi Takahashi (Japan), Garrett Gerloff (USA) and Maximilian Scheib (Chile), not to mention Turkey’s Razgatlioglu, France’s Loris Baz and Argentina’s Tati Mercado.

Trouble is, as Toseland suggests, it is the top factory seats that are still retained by the British contingent. In fact, Yamaha is the only factory team not to feature a British rider in its line-up, while Kawasaki and Ducati are entirely British.

It’s a validation of the work Stuart Higgs and MSV have done with the British Superbike Championship to make it a proving ground for the world championship, though it is also reflective of the decline of other national championships with the US (MotoAmerica), Australian, Italian (CIV), German (IDM), Spanish and Japanese series’ not as influential as they once were.

Ironically, former organisers Infront were accused of making WorldSBK too Italian back in the day, while there has been some criticism that Dorna has been too focused on getting more Spaniards into the series to coincide with the move to visit three Spanish venues in 2020.

However, Alvaro Bautista is the only star to take up the challenge (Tito Rabat was courted by Kawasaki, but chose Avintia Ducati MotoGP instead).

In all, seven British riders will make it to the 2020 WorldSBK grid out of a (as yet provisional) 21 bikes, with three Spaniards and three Italians.