WorldSBK: Can Jonathan Rea take title number seven this year?
Jonathan Rea faces the huge task of attempting to take title number 7 this year.
Jonathan Rea is like a fine wine, he only gets better with age, this year he will line up once again for Kawasaki in the World Superbikes championship and faces his toughest season yet with some incredible competition arriving to try and take his crown. Rea is a rider who came of age quite late into his career after doing some seriously impressive things on the Honda for 6 full seasons taking multiple wins and podiums on a bike which if we are honest really wasn’t up to scratch, well up to scratch against the riders around him anyway.
Finally, in 2014 he would sign a deal to ride for Kawasaki for 2015 and onwards and the rest is history, he has taken every title since with 6 consecutive titles making him the Greatest Of All Time (G.O.A.T) of the class, no other rider has a record better than the Northern Irishman’s in this championship, he also comes level with the one and only Giacomo Agostini with the duo being the only two riders in history to win 6 consecutive titles in the top class of their respective championships with Agostini actually taking seven consecutive 500cc titles between 1966 and 1973 and then, of course, Rea taking 6 titles between 2015 and 2020.
Rea hasn’t had it easy though, it has been one hell of a ride having to fend off extreme competition with his 2019 and 2020 titles being his most difficult so far. Many thought the dream was all over in 2019 when Alvaro Bautista came into the class as a rookie and won the first 11 races in a row, Rea’s championship-winning mentality and race strategy meant he could salvage as many points as physically possible in these opening rounds taking 10 consecutive P2 finishes and a P1 finish before taking over the reins at Imola starting his own winning streak which combined with Bautista’s tendency to chuck it up the road meant Rea once again would come home with the title-winning by a staggering 165 points.
6 titles. 6 rings.
2020 was arguably even tougher than 2019, Bautista had moved to a new HRC backed Honda which required some more development before it was competitive and he was replaced by ex-MotoGP and at the time BSB champion Scott Redding who after spending a year finding his feet and learning to enjoy racing again in the national British Superbikes Championship was hungrier than ever to come and knock Rea off his pedestal. You have to give it to Redding, he did a spectacular job especially given that he was a rookie to the class. He had just spent a year in BSB riding a Ducati V4 with no electronics at circuits he wasn’t too knowledgeable of and took the title in his first attempt, he then had to re-learn the electronics and the special World Superbike spec Pirelli tyres and learn even more racetracks, he rapidly adapted to the class and took victory in only his fourth race and would push Rea to the very last round of a 24 race season. Rea had hoped to take the title a race before in Magny Cours but Redding’s strength, hunger on track meant Rea really had to dig deep if he wanted to win the title.
Looking to 2021 it will be even harder than 2019 and 2020 combined, Scott Redding remains with the same team but now has a year’s worth of experience under his belt, he has track knowledge, bike knowledge and above all he has immense confidence. He is more confident than ever and truly believes he can do all he can to take the championship this year. We know will put 120% into every single lap he does to ensure he gives himself a chance of beating the insanely tough Jonathan Rea.
Not only does he have Redding to put up with he also has a number of other riders who will be able to take wins out of Rea’s pocket and either take them for themselves or simply take championship points out of Rea’s pocket and give them to someone else, the main man who will be able to do this will be Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Rinaldi took a race win last year in Aragon and is an incredibly strong young talent with much to prove in the sport after taking the beloved Chaz Davies’ Aruba.it seat at the end of 2020. Rinaldi will be another rider battling for the title and taking some wins from Rea, not only this but he is Ducati’s secret weapon, there is no doubt that Redding will be Ducati’s #1 man this year with Rinaldi a very close #2, therefore if Redding is in a place where he can win races and take a lot of championship points the Italian factory will more than likely utilise Rinaldi to ensure he finishes ahead of Rea to push him further down the order meaning he scores less points, by doing this and it means Redding will be able to take a greater points haul each race over his competitor and provide him with more legroom when the going gets tough. Of course this works vice versa too but with Redding being a title favourite it makes sense.
The Ducati duo are eying up the title.
This is not forgetting Chaz Davies, Davies got a bit of a ‘demotion’ out of the Aruba.it team and into the Go Eleven Squad despite finishing in third place overall last year. This move will most definitely have fuelled some motivation for Davies to prove Ducati wrong and prove he is the right man for the job, he has been the only rider in the class who has been able to consistently battle against Rea finishing many seasons as the class runner-up.
World Superbikes is brimming with talent this year and Yamaha are proof of this, they are fielding not one, not two but four incredibly strong riders across their Pata and GRT teams with Toprak Razgatlioglu proving to be a really strong threat this year after finishing in fourth place overall in the 2020 championship standings. Joining Toprak in the team for 2021 is Andrea Locatelli, Locatelli stormed into the World Supersport championship last year from the Moto2 World Championship winning every single race bar 3, 12 wins in 15 races? Not too bad for a rookie eh? This insane record meant Yamaha made the decision to move ‘Loca’ into their factory team replacing Michael van der Mark who headed off to BMW to ride their new M 1000RR. Locatelli boasts a strong record already and he could really prove to be a dark horse along with the GRT team of Garrett Gerloff and Kohta Nozane who was placed into the team by Yamaha who highly rate the Japanese rider.
Gerloff came into the class as a rookie on outdated machinery and was able to take home 3 podiums at tracks he had never even seen before after spending his entire career racing in the AMA Superbike/MotoAmerica championships taking two Supersport titles for Yamaha, this year the American is out for blood with a season of confidence and knowledge under his belt, he took podiums in a brand new team on a brand new bike on tracks he didn’t know, imagine what he will do now that he has chemistry with his team, track knowledge and bike familiarity! This is not forgetting that Yamaha have rewarded him for his outstanding season last year with factory spec machinery.
His teammate Kohta Nozane is not to be ignored, the Japanese rider is held in high regard by Yamaha with the factory even putting him on their M1 for the 2017 Japanese MotoGP race as a replacement rider in Tech3, this is not forgetting his multi-year deal as their MotoGP test rider, you will have seen him on track this year at the Qatar pre-season MotoGP test riding for the Yamaha test team. He has spent the last few years of his career riding in the JSB1000 championship achieving some great results, now at 25 Yamaha believe he is ready to take on a full season in the World Championship, he had already impressed during testing and could be another threat to take points off Rea.
Nozanne at this years MotoGP pre-season test in Qatar.
Just to add another spanner in the mix we have 2013 champion Tom Sykes joined by Michael van der Mark in the BMW squad, the German factory have revealed a brand new M 1000RR and it is incredibly competitive with Sykes believing he has the package to be able to take some race wins this year and even battle for the title, plus we have the incredibly strong Flying Dutchman alongside him, Van der Mark has stepped over leaving Yamaha and has already impressed the factory during testing.
Finally we also have Rea’s old manufacturer Honda to touch upon, the HRC factory are putting in full support to the project this year with ex-rider Leon Camier being appointed the team manager. Already the duo of Alvaro Bautista and Leon Haslam have been able to unlock some extra speed from their new and improved machine, Bautista already took some podiums last year and isn’t going to be too happy about settling for second place.
Rea has got one hell of a job on his hands this year if he wants to have a shot at the title but with six already under his belt, you don’t need me to tell you that he’s going to be incredibly difficult to beat.
Featured images – WorldSBK/Kawasaki World SBK/GeeBee Images