Why Alvaro Bautista’s Honda move is the best outcome for WorldSBK

With Honda signing Alvaro Bautista, Yamaha launching a new R1 and ex-MotoGP rider Scott Redding joing Ducati, is 2020 WorldSBK shaping up to be a classic? 

WorldSBK Start Field Line-up

Alvaro Bautista’s much anticipated switch to Honda next season was officially confirmed this week and it is possibly the best news the WorldSBK Championship could receive at a fairly crucial time for a popular but flagging series.

Leaving Ducati – a manufacturer he has won 15 races with in 2019 – for one that has secured only three top ten results this season, Bautista is nonetheless being lured by the Japanese manufacturer’s move to throw the full weight of its HRC operation behind a renewed 2020 World Superbikes bid.

Coupled to what is expected to be an all-new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade to replace one that hasn’t achieved a podium in its current guise, the new HRC team is coming into 2020 with a blank sheet of paper. In short, Honda is starting afresh, so forget all you know about its recent campaigns, nothing will be carried over.

Indeed, HRC’s involvement in WorldSBK cannot be underestimated because this is campaign is borne at the highest levels in one of the world’s biggest companies.

Beyond the fact HRC’s immense success in MotoGP means there is barely any outfit more qualified to steer this new project, it sets it up a fascinating premise for Honda in that it is now in a position to win in two series that showcase its engineering excellence on two and four wheels - Formula 1 and MotoGP – which is a DNA shared by its production models in WorldSBK and WTCR (touring cars).

That’s going to look very enticing on TV adverts, on a billboard or – as it’s 2019 – an intrusive 30secs ad before a YouTube video. Win on Sunday, buy on Monday.

Is the 2020 WorldSBK season shaping up to be a classic?

Regardless of Bautista’s reasons for leaving Ducati to join Honda, you cannot deny it creates a fascinating premise for the 2020 World Superbike Championship season on paper at least.

Beyond the prospect of Honda coming back to World Superbikes in full HRC force – which will surely become successful at some stage if not straight away – Bautista’s switch means all five manufacturers are led by experienced race winners who have enjoyed consistent success over the years.

2020 WorldSBK Rider Line-up
Kawasaki Racing TeamJonathan Rea (Leon Haslam. Alex Lowes)
Aruba.it DucatiScott Redding, Chaz Davies
Pata YamahaMichael van der Mark (Toprak Razgatlioglu)
BMW WorldSBKTom Sykes, Eugene Laverty
HRC HondaAlvaro Bautista (Alex Lowes, Stefan Bradl, Takumi Takahashi)

Bold confirmed riders - Linked, not confirmed in italics

Moreover, it paves the way for Scott Redding to make his debut. Though the Briton followed a slightly different path to fellow ex-MotoGP-to-Superbikes convert Bautista, he will line up alongside the Spaniard on the race-winning machine he has vacated and if his BSB exploits are anything to go by he is going to bring his personality to a series that has at times lacked some.

There are a few seats at a factory level to determine – one at Kawasaki, one alongside Bautista at Honda and two at Yamaha (though expected to be handed to Michael van der Mark and Toprak Razgatlioglu) – but there is already plenty to get excited about

This is even before you consider there is a new Yamaha R1 coming together with the new Honda Fireblade, not to mention an expected step forward from BMW with a year of development under its best with its quick but under-developed  S1000RR.

Of course, they all need to beat Jonathan Rea on the Kawasaki, but rumour has it the Japanese manufacturer is spooked enough by the movements around it to be considering its own homologation-angled update to the ZX-10RR in much the same way Ducati did with the Paniagle V4 R.

It’s possible all five manufacturers will come to the 2020 grid with quite different machines than they raced in 2019.

Boom or bust: Can WorldSBK bounce back?

A series that at one stage looked like it could challenge MotoGP in terms of interest with its multiple race winners, plus 30-bike grids and competitive wild-cards, WorldSBK has struggled in recent years to muster a similar kind of interest.

Though the stagnant format was given a shake-up in 2019 with the addition of a third race, it’s just served to magnify the dominance of Rea on a Kawasaki and Bautista on a Ducati. 

What’s probably more bizarre - given they have won 26 of 28 races - they’ve barely battled on track in person such has been the swing of momentum.

Yamaha has closed the gap in 2019 and BMW can get amongst the best in qualifying, but there has been little mixing at the front this year, a complaint levelled at previous seasons too.

However, no-one can ask Rea or Kawasaki to be less successful, so it’ll take the rivals to respond – and 2020 is arguably the best opportunity the series has had in a decade when Aprilia and BMW joined the ranks.

A lack of career progression prospects hasn’t helped matters either. Whereas the likes of Cal Crutchlow, Ben Spies and James Toseland could progress from Superbikes to MotoGP around ten years ago, there seems little prospect of that now if Rea with his four world titles isn’t even being touted as an option.

After all, if MotoGP is on your radar as a youngster, a switch to Moto2 is by far the more viable route.

This could change though if Bautista does find a successful way back as he desires, while one would think Redding could be rewarded with some Ducati outings too if he lands the manufacturer’s first world title since Carlos Checa. 

Time will tell, but for the first time in years the battle-lines are being drawn wider than before. The 2019 title may not be decided yet, but we cannot wait for 2020… 

WorldSBK Pirelli French Round, Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours Event Schedule (Times local GMT+1)
Friday 27 September
9:00 - 9:30WorldSSP 300FP1 (Group A)
9:45 - 10:15WorldSSP 300FP1 (Group B)
10:30 - 11:20WorldSBKFP1
11:30 - 12:15WorldSSPFP1
13:30 - 14:00WorldSSP 300FP2 (Group A)
14:15 - 14:45WorldSSP 300FP2 (Group B)
15:00 - 15:50WorldSBKFP2 
16:00 - 16:45WorldSSPFP2
Saturday 28 September
09:00 - 9:20WorldSBKFP3
09:30 - 09:50WorldSSPFP3
10:00 - 10:15WorldSSP 300FP3 (Group A)
10:25 - 10:40WorldSSP 300FP3 (Group B)
11:00 - 11:25WorldSBKSuperpole
11:40 - 12:05WorldSSPSuperpole
12:20 - 12:40WorldSSP 300Superpole (Group A)
12:50 - 13:10WorldSSP 300Superpole (Group B)
14:00WorldSBKRACE 1
15:15WorldSSP 300Last Chance Race
Sunday 29 September
09:00 - 09:15WorldSBKWarm-up
09:25 - 09:40WorldSSPWarm-up
09:50 - 10:05WorldSSP 300Warm-up
14:00WorldSBKRACE 2
15:15WorldSSP 300RACE