WorldSBK 2023… | Who stays, moves and leaves?
The 2022 WorldSBK Championship is back after a long hiatus with Magny-Cours entering the second half of the year with six more races (now five) completed.
Indeed, while there are those on the grid with a signed contract for next season buried deep in their leathers, for others there are still deals to be done for the remaining seats on the grid.
Although nine of the ten factory rides have been confirmed, there are still some competitive options up for grabs. Here’s what the pitch looks like so far…
WorldSBK 2023 – Who is confirmed?
Defending champions Pata Yamaha have had the luxury of avoiding all the contract brouhaha after locking their factory riders on two-year contracts last season.
So during Toprak Razgatlioglu was briefly mentioned in connection with an early progression to the MotoGP World Championship next season, he will continue to challenge the Iwata brand in WorldSBK.
He will be joined again by Andrea Locatelli, who was caught amid the frenzy of his solid mid-season form late last year. However, the Italian was one of the disappointments of the year, only stepping onto the podium once and appearing to be further adrift of the top spots than in his rookie season. He will have another year to prove himself, but he has a big job to do given the depth of talent in Yamaha blue waiting in the wings.
Kawasaki will also maintain the status quo for a third season led by its six-time title-winning talisman Jonathan Reawhile Alex Lowe – despite having been in questionable form recently – entering the second year of his two-term contract.
BMW will also keep the same runners in Michael van der Mark – who hasn’t even started a race this season due to injury concerns – and Scott Reddingwho after an atrocious start to life with the German firm has since found his stride with two podiums.
More than Ducatithe Italian brand could have nervously entered into a one-year contract with Alvaro Bautista when he returned to the team, but his seven wins and comfortable series lead at the halfway mark made his extension a formality. As for his teammate, waiting to find out if Michael Ruben Rinaldi will get the green light Axel Bassani keep on going…
After taking a punt on a brand new pair of rookie riders for 2022, HRC Honda will remain with Iker Lecuona – whose placement became almost a formality after winning the Suzuka 8 Hours with Tetsuta Nagashima and Takumi Takahashi – and Xavi Virgo, who will have to prove that his disappointing results are more injury-related than performance-related.
Among the independent riders, Barni Spark Racing is engaged with the rookie Luca Bernardi – who scored his first WorldSBK top 10 at Most – for another year, while Philippe Oettl put pen to paper on a second season to Come on eleven Ducati this week too.
The Bonovo BMW team will see a major change for 2023 at both driver and management level with Eugene Laverty stepping down (he’s reluctant to call it his retirement) to take on the role of team boss. It will be replaced by Garrett Gerloffwho is severing long-standing ties with Yamaha after three seasons with GRT to join Bonovo BMW alongside the retained Loris Baz.
With arguably the most sought-after privateer seats on the grid, Yamaha has struggled to determine where to place its impressive portfolio of title-winning international and domestic riders.
Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped him from shaking up his own plans entirely by moving quickly to seize MotoGP exile. Remy Gardner, the 2021 Moto2 world champion having been dumped by KTM after just one season in the premier class.
Notably, the Australian – son of 1987 500GP world champion Wayne Gardner – signed a contract with Yamaha, as did Gerloff.
2023 WorldSBK | Rumors…
Ducati – having already spent an age deliberating on whether to promote Enea Bastianini or Jorge Martin to his factory MotoGP seat – is currently considering whether to retain Michael Ruben Rinaldi for 2023 or take fresh blood.
Despite winning three races since joining his factory team, Rinaldi – compared to his predecessor Chaz Davies – has struggled to match his teammates, first Scott Redding and now Bautista. Nevertheless, he remains a protege of the manufacturer for several years and everything suggests that he is ready to remain faithful to him for another year.
If not, however, Danilo Petrucci had been widely touted to replace him for 2023 after impressing in MotoAmerica, but the Italian has since said he prefers to stay in the United States for the time being.
The next obvious rival for Rinaldi’s seat is the top independent Axel Bassanithe young Italian having gone from making his WorldSBK debut as an unknown to emerging as a regular top five finisher on the (very) private Ducati Motocross.
A game for Rinaldi in terms of pace and freshly scored two podium finishes in France, while it looks increasingly like Bassani will be overlooked by Ducati in favor of Rinaldi for 2023, all signs point to some factory turnover in 2024. In the meantime, he will probably stay with Motocorsa.
With a GRT Yamaha settled, there are a number of high-level potential starters battling for the second perch.
Although Yamaha has indicated that it wants to maintain a Japanese presence on the grid in Kohta Nozanethe disappointing international adventure of the 2020 Japanese Superbike champion seems to be coming to an end.
For a while he appeared BSB Champion 2021 Tarran Mackenzie was the race favourite, but it appears to have now been overtaken by Dominique Agerter in Yamaha’s affections. The Swiss rider picked up a dominating victory in the WorldSSP Championship in 2021 and is on course for an equally impressive title this year as well, which together with his freshly secured 2022 MotoE World Cup crown means he is an offer that Yamaha could not refuse.
This means Mackenzie could find himself locked into the Yamaha seat he covets, despite the likelihood that there will be at least two more R1s on the grid in 2023 thanks to the GMT94 crew.
The French side will graduate from WorldSSP next season but don’t seem to have Mackenzie on their radar, with the WorldSSP title contender Lorenzo Baldassari and native runner Valentin Debise should land both rides.
Other options could include Gil Motorsport, who will retain Christophe Ponsson (his dad is the team owner) but is known to be planning to upgrade to two bikes next year. Alternatively, there could be a WorldSBK 2022 rookie round Motoxcoursebut probably on a 1 year old R1.
It’s likely a BSB runner is heading to the international stage, however, with Tom Sykes close to getting a return with Puccetti Race in a deal that would see the 34-time race winner return to the folding Kawasaki a decade after winning the 2013 WorldSBK title.
Somewhere else, MIE Honda should retain at least Hafizh Syahrin, while Orelac Kawasaki is supposed to have a second-year option on constant improvement Olivier Konig.
With potentially a MIE Honda seat up for grabs alongside Malaysian racer Syahrin, the only other seat openly up for grabs is in perpetuity. Kawasaki Pederciniwho pursued a sort of “revolving door” policy in 2022 after parting ways with Loris Cresson after just one round.
Current seat holder Oscar Gutierrez is the favorite to retain the race, although Pedercini can fulfill his wish for a top driver to move up the standings with Leon Haslam potentially upgrading his handful of outings to a full-time return, while the 2014 WorldSBK champion Sylvain Guintoli – who was in contention at Puccetti – could be a valid target for the veteran team.