Ranking the Top 10 riders of the 2021 World Superbike season

The 2021 World Superbike season was one of the best in the series' history, headlined by a titanic scrap between Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea. Motorsport.com picks out the top 10 riders of the year.

Ranking the Top 10 riders of the 2021 World Superbike season

Honourable mentions

Perhaps the most notable omission from this list is GRT Yamaha's Garrett Gerloff, who started off the year promisingly with two podiums in the opening four rounds. Unfortunately, his first-corner incident with fellow Yamaha man Toprak Razgatlioglu at Assen seemed to destroy his confidence, with just one more top-five following. The American, perhaps more than any other rider, failed to make the most of the machinery at his disposal, although he at least secured top independent honours.

Several riders suffered injury-ravaged campaigns in 2021, but perhaps none more so than Chaz Davies, who finished a strong second at Estoril before a series of crashes in Misano damaging his right shoulder. That ailment held him back for several more rounds, preventing him from making any further podium visits, before a crash in Barcelona left him with two broken ribs. At least he was able to return to action at the end of the season after announcing his retirement.

Leon Haslam tied his Honda teammate Alvaro Bautista on points in 2020, and for the first half of the '21 season there wasn't much to choose between the pair again. But, despite an impressive qualifying effort in Portimao, the pendulum swung decisively towards Bautista from the late summer onwards, with a crash that ruled him out of the Mandalika finale capping off another season to forget for the Briton in what turned out to be his last year as a Honda WSBK rider.

10. United Kingdom Tom Sykes

Best result: 2nd (x1)

Championship standings: 11th*

Tom Sykes, BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Tom Sykes, BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s hard to imagine WSBK without Sykes in the paddock, but BMW’s shock decision to jettison the 2013 champion and sign Scott Redding means that next year, for the first time since 2008, the affable Yorkshireman will be competing elsewhere.

That was a decision that would have been almost unthinkable around the time of the Donington Park round, where Sykes led a BMW two-three ahead of Michael van der Mark. But, while Sykes beat van der Mark as often as he didn't in the first half of the year, he was less consistent, with strong rides punctuated by some puzzling finishes outside of the top 10.

It was unfortunate that Sykes was ruled out of action for so long by the nasty crash he suffered at Barcelona, where he extended his WSBK Superpole record by topping qualifying for the 51st time in his illustrious career. But the first race that weekend summed up his year – from pole he faded to eighth, while the ever-reliable van der Mark finished fifth, perhaps demonstrating that BMW had made the right choice about which rider to keep.

9. United Kingdom Alex Lowes 

Best result: 2nd (x2)

Championship standings: 8th*

Alex Lowes, Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Alex Lowes, Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s not easy to evaluate Alex Lowes’ season given how many races he missed in an injury-ridden campaign. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the British rider underperformed during his second year at Kawasaki, even if the Japanese manufacturer felt he was worthy of an early contract extension.

Lowes started the season with an impressive triple podium in the Aragon season opener, leading to suggestions that he had bounced back from his late-2020 slump. But it turned out to be false dawn and the 31-year-old would go on to stand on the podium only twice again all year.

It wasn’t always a lack of pace that held him back. A shoulder injury during pre-season training and crashes at Donington Park and Assen took a toll on his physical well-being, and he even admitted to taking painkillers at Most.

Then there was the crash at Barcelona that left him with a fractured hand. To his credit, Lowes tried to race in both Jerez and Argentina, but he was declared unfit mid-weekend on both occasions and could only contest three more races in the final stages of the campaign. Perhaps in hindsight he would have been better off focussing on recovering fully for what is sure to be a crucial 2022 season.

8. Italy Axel Bassani

Best result: 2nd (x1)

Championship standings: 9th

Axel Bassani, Motocorsa Racing

Axel Bassani, Motocorsa Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

He might not have taken rookie of the year honours – Yamaha’s Andrea Locatelli saw to that – but in many ways, Motocorsa Ducati rider Bassani was the discovery of the season. Unlike Locatelli, he arrived in WSBK with little in the way of results in World Supersport, and carrying no expectations of being much more than tail-end cannon fodder.

The 22-year-old really announced his arrival with a pair of strong seventh-place finishes in the two longer races at Misano, where he put his fellow Ducati independents Chaz Davies and Tito Rabat to shame. A first top-five followed at Most, before wet weather in Barcelona really allowed Bassani to shine and grab his first podium, and almost his first win.

Bassani’s form, combined with Michael Ruben Rinaldi’s up-and-down results aboard the factory Ducati, prompted speculation of an early promotion to the Borgo Panigale marque’s works stable in the middle of the season. While that didn’t come to pass, Bassani is surely now at the top of the list the next time the manufacturer has a vacancy.

7. Italy Michael Ruben Rinaldi

Race wins: 3

Championship standings: 5th

Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Aruba.It Racing - Ducati

Michael Ruben Rinaldi, Aruba.It Racing - Ducati

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Replacing 32-time race winner Chaz Davies was never going to be an easy task, but for the most part Michael Ruben Rinaldi did a fine job as Scott Redding’s teammate at Ducati.

There was no shortage of headline results, with Rinaldi dominating his home weekend at Misano in front of Ducati’s Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali and winning again at Barcelona later in the year. A few more podium finishes spread across the campaign showed the marque was right to promote him on the back of his impressive campaign with the Go Eleven team last year.

Ultimately, though, Rinaldi was simply not as consistent as he needed to be, scoring 200 fewer points than teammate Redding. And with rookie Andrea Locatelli almost always racing near the front on the Yamaha, Rinaldi fluctuating form cost Ducati a shot at both the teams’ and manufacturers’ titles.

A step up in 2022 will be needed if Rinaldi hopes to establish himself in the team long-term and not merely end up in the shadow of returnee Alvaro Bautista.

6. Spain Alvaro Bautista

Best result: 3rd (x2)

Championship standings: 10th

There was a point in the middle of the season where Bautista’s motivation aboard the Honda had appeared to evaporate almost completely. From the very start of the year, the Spaniard was clearly disappointed that the troubled CBR1000RR-R had made little real progress from last season, which in turn prompted him to consider his future options.

It’s hard to say whether it’s just a coincidence, but once the news of Bautista’s impending return to Ducati was made official towards the end of August, the former MotoGP rider’s results improved markedly. He finished on the podium at Barcelona and Jerez, while further chances to finish in the top three went begging at Portimao.

After finishing last year level on points with Honda teammate Leon Haslam, this time around Bautista was clearly the stronger of the duo, at least in the latter half of the season. Now he faces the unenviable task of proving that Ducati was right to jettison Scott Redding and rekindle the magic that resulted in 11 straight wins on the V4 Panigale R back in 2019.

5. Italy Andrea Locatelli

Best result: 3rd (x4)

Championship standings: 4th

Andrea Locatelli, PATA Yamaha WorldSBK Team

Andrea Locatelli, PATA Yamaha WorldSBK Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

After a slightly shaky start to life as Razgatlioglu’s teammate at Yamaha, Locatelli delivered on the promise he showed in a dominant World Supersport campaign last year to establish himself as one of WSBK’s brightest young talents and a potential future title contender.

From July’s Assen round until the Magny-Cours round in September, Locatelli embarked on a miraculous run of form in which he never finished outside of the top four, firmly establishing himself as ‘best of the rest’ behind Rea, Razgatlioglu and Redding. That consistency when many more experienced riders were plagued by injury or less competitive machinery ensured he was able to finish a creditable fourth in the standings.

The question has to be now whether Locatelli can take that final step towards becoming a contender for race wins, and not merely podiums. That will involve closing the considerable gap between himself and teammate Razgatlioglu, although the Italian would find himself in a great position if the new champion does indeed make the move to MotoGP in 2023.

4. Netherlands Michael van der Mark

Race wins: 1

Championship standings: 6th

Michael van der Mark, BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Michael van der Mark, BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Leaving Yamaha just before the marque embarked on its first WSBK title success in a decade may not been a sound career decision looking back, but there’s no denying that Michael van der Mark made the most of the machinery at his disposal in his first season with BMW.

Adapting to a new bike is never easy, especially for a rider who is accustomed to something as easy to ride as the Yamaha R1. One only needs to look at Jonas Folger’s struggles on the Bonovo BMW to understand how difficult it is to transition to the M1000RR. But van der Mark was quick from the very beginning of the season, bagging a slew of top-five finishes from the opening round.

He continued to give 2013 champion Tom Sykes a run for his money as the season went on - and his form must have most certainly played a role in Sykes’ departure from the outfit.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Dutch rider pounced on every opportunity to score a big haul of points, especially when wet conditions levelled the field between BMW and the big three manufacturers. This included a podium finish in only the fourth round at Donington Park and a stunning victory at Portimao later in the year - BMW’s first since 2013. 

When similar conditions presented themselves in the Indonesia season finale, van der Mark came out on top in a mighty battle with newly-crowned champion Toprak Razgatlioglu to secure the final spot on the podium.

3. United Kingdom Scott Redding

Race wins: 7

Championship standings: 3rd

Scott Redding, Aruba.It Racing - Ducati

Scott Redding, Aruba.It Racing - Ducati

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

It’s easy to look at the championship standings and conclude that Scott Redding wasn’t able to repeat the heroics of his stellar rookie campaign. But that would be an extremely unfair way to evaluate the ever-outspoken Brit, who ended the year with roughly the same points deficit to the title winner as he did in 2020.

An outsider in the championship fight from the very beginning, Redding carried the ‘win or bust’ mentality for much of the season, aware that he had less to lose than both Toprak Razgatlioglu and Jonathan Rea. At times this approach paid off, such as when he gambled on slick tyres to score Ducati’s first win of the season at Aragon. On other occasions he was left to rue costly crashes, for instance when he suffered an early fall after taking pole position in Argentina.

Overall though, Redding was extremely rapid on a bike that for the most part was clearly not on the same level as the Kawasaki or the title-winning Yamaha, scoring seven wins and finishing on the podium in more than half the races.

How he fares on the BMW next year will depend more on the bike’s capability than his own talent, but it is clear that Redding will continue to trouble the likes of Rea and Razgatlioglu in the years to come.

2. United Kingdom Jonathan Rea

Race wins: 13

Championship standings: 2nd

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

When a rider is in the midst sustained period of dominance like Rea’s virtually-uncontested six-year reign, it’s hard to imagine the circumstances in which they would eventually be dethroned. But from early in the 2021 season it was clear that the Ulsterman faced the fight of his life to stay on top against a reinvigorated Yamaha and Toprak Razgatlioglu.

The first real warning sign that Rea’s reign was in real danger came at Donington Park, where he crashed at Coppice while battling Razgatlioglu. Three more falls would follow later in the season of a similar nature, with the sensitive front end of the Kawasaki ZX-10RR simply closing without warning on each occasion. You have to go back to 2016 to find the last time Rea failed to score even in just two races in a whole season.

The fact that Rea was able to keep the championship open until the final round – if not quite the final race – was testament to his own resolve and his team’s quest to extract every last ounce of performance out of a bike that was clearly no longer the class of the field.

Rea’s crew chief Pere Riba said he had never seen his man ride as well as he did this year, and at 34 years old he shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, finally losing his crown to Razgatlioglu looks like it will only give Rea fresh motivation for what promises to be a fantastic rematch between WSBK’s two true heavyweights in 2022.

1. Turkey Toprak Razgatlioglu

Race wins: 13

Championship standings: 1st

Toprak Razgatlioglu, PATA Yamaha WorldSBK Team

Toprak Razgatlioglu, PATA Yamaha WorldSBK Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Over the years many have tried to challenge the dominance of Kawasaki’s Jonathan Rea, but no one quite came close to dethroning the rider widely regarded as the best the WSBK has ever seen. So for Toprak Razgatlioglu to finally halt Rea’s streak was a historical achievement - and one that could also play a huge role in his future with Yamaha.

While the R1 was clearly the fastest bike on the grid over the course of the season and played a big part in Razgatlioglu’s success, the Turkish rider never cracked under pressure and avoided the kind of unforced errors that plagued his rival’s campaign. 

It took until the ninth race of the season for Razgatlioglu to bag his first win of 2021, but once the Yamaha-friendly development Pirelli SCX tyre became available he quickly gained the upper hand over Rea and installed himself as the favourite for the title as he gradually cut into the Ulsterman’s points lead. 

If it wasn’t for fellow Yamaha rider Garrett Gerloff wiping him out at Assen or a bizarre broken mudguard incident at Portimao while running second, Razgatlioglu might well have wrapped up the title well before the finale at the new Mandalika Street Circuit in Indonesia.

He was also smart with the kind of mind games that are prevalent in professional sport, rubbishing Rea’s suggestions that he was too aggressive in wheel-to-wheel battles and claiming the Kawasaki rider was “scared” to be in a title-losing position. That was the clearest sign that WSBK has finally found a rider that can rival Rea both on and off the track.

* missed one or more races

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