Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki ZX-10RR) ahead of Leon Haslam (Honda CBR-1000RR-R) – the dominance of the 6-time world champion is by no means primarily due to his bike. As is usually the case in motorcycle racing, the driver accounts for a good 80 percent of success in the WSBK. Otherwise Leon Haslam would have become vice world champion 2 years ago and Alex Lowes in 2020 (© Kawasaki Racing Team).

Balance of power then and now in WorldSBK

While in the sour cucumber era many scribes disappoint with copied old stories and often even repetitions, we like to dig a little deeper. Above all, we are much more careful than many others in searching and evaluating our almost inexhaustible archive. Errors such as the claim that Corser was the first private Superbike World Champion on the Power Horse Ducati in 1996 can hardly ever happen to us. Nobody is infallible, and we discover potential for improvement every day. But anyone who overlooks Doug Polen and his American team “Fast by Ferracci” in 1991 at the WSBK is either stupid or ignorant. But exactly this we have seen on a sports-news site few weeks before.

Doug Polen, the driver of the “Fast by Ferracci” team from the USA on the Ducati 851 WSBK 1991 champion and Sugo winner. His team boss emigrated to the USA in the 1960s and made a name for himself in the United States as a tuner, especially for Ducati motorcycles (© WorldSBK).

The supposed knowledge – with countless mistakes
At a time when some (or most?) journalists get their supposed wisdom from Wikipedia, some readers’ hair stand on end. The errors in such “knowledge databases” are innumerable and often catastrophic, especially in motorsport. Unfortunately, truthfulness specially in journalism is only a word, see also articles in the everyday and tabloid press. During the ongoing revision of our history of the first WorldSBK years (see on this page under “History”, we are constantly adding additional images and result sheets) we noticed something that is very similar today, compared with the first years of WSBK.

Fred Merkel (Honda VFR750 RC 30) – according to the Wiki, only successful in the first two WorldSBK years. The only thing that is confusing is that the Californian achieved three victories and another four podium places in 1990, more than in 1988 when he won his first title. This is a prime example of what nonsense is often stored in the supposed knowledge database, which even journalists often use. Incidentally, Merkel was absent in 1990 due to a neck injury shortly after the middle of the season and until then was still competing for the title with the eventual world champion.

The balance of the first 3 WorldSBK years

What is hard to imagine today: Back then, 3 manufacturers were exactly tied with 16 wins each. But this was not surprising after the first three years of WorldSBK. More like the fact that with Suzuki, of all things, the brand was far behind, which had brought the legendary GSX-R750, the Japanese’s first real superbike, onto the market in 1985. Before that, the chassis of the sporty bikes from the Far East were, to put it mildly, an impertinence.

Exactly for the reason mentioned last, the success of the Italian brand Bimota was founded in the70s and 80s, which at that time started with the 5-valve four-cylinder in-line engine from Yamaha. But the Japanese learned quickly and legendary chassis designers such as Bimota, Egli (Switzerland) and Harris (England) got more and more problems as a result.
Ducati with 16 victories by 1990 – in the third year of WorldSBK, Roche and Falappa, who only contested a third of the races due to injuries in 1990, marked the first upswing of the Borgo Panigale brand. The racing version of their model 851 already had 888cc, while the Japanese 4-cylinders were limited to 750cc displacement until 2003.
The basis for the success of the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer was the legendary VFR750 RC 30 model, with which Fred Merkel won the first two WorldSBK World Championship titles. As AMA Superbike Champion from 1984 to 1986, he had won victories over drivers such as Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson and Kevin Schwantz in the national series. All of them would later make history as 500 cc world champions, while the Californian did so in the WSBK.
Actually, the people at Kawasaki could sit back with only 5 wins back then, had they known what a jewel with Jonathan Rea would later help them to an indescribable reputation and honor. As the first Japanese manufacturer to bring a production bike with over 750cc onto the market with the Z1 900 model in 1972, the brand soon became a legend for big bike enthusiasts.
In the first few years, Suzuki was not seriously involved as a plant in the WorldSBK – exactly the parallel to today. Even their MotoGP victory in the first Corona year 2020 does not comfort fans of the brand. From the golden 90s onwards they took part seriously and in 2005 Troy Corser won a drivers’ title after all, before Suzuki withdrew from the factory.
Many people know the Yamaha YZF-R1 not only because of its sporting successes. Today almost only older people know that the Japanese brand produced an absolute cream of the crop from the power unit with the 5-valve 4-cylinder in-line engine. The author of this article was even asked by a customs officer on the border from Slovakia to the Czech Republic in 1990 to produce a burn-out with it. Parking without a crowd was just impossible there, the same as a short time before with a Wankel Suzuki RE-5 somewhere in Europe. It’s a shame, it wasn’t enough for a title several times back then.

And today – where are the differences and where are the parallels?

Instead of Bimota those time, BMW is now part of the game, since their return as a works team for the 2019 season. Suzuki is far from a comeback and today we have a balance that is reminiscent of the first years of WorldSBK. Although Pirelli standard tires, the rubbers are one of the most important factors along with the increase in displacement and performance compared to then. Some ghosts argue about electronic driving aids. After his crash in Imola 2019, Eugene Laverty is probably one of the most ardent advocates, as he broke both wrists when they were switched off. Valentino Rossi learned to master the poisonous 500-series two-stroke as the last still active MotoGP rider without any electronics helpers. Except BMW, they have been at eye level in WorldSBK since last year. Let’s hope that the M-1000 RR will close the tiny gap for 2021. But every top driver is definitely capable of winning on any of the bikes next season.

Michael Ruben Rinaldi (GoEleven Ducati Panigale V4R) photographed by us on March 1, 2020 in Phillip Island (Australia) in front of Maximilian Scheib, Sandro Cortese (both Kawasaki ZX-10RR) and Leon Haslam (HRC Honda CBR-1000RR-R) in turn 4 (called Honda Corner). As a privateer, the young Italian was one of 7 different winners in 2020. Nobody will deny that his team successor Chaz Davies will have what it takes for further successes in the coming season. Conclusion: Today we have achieved the balance of the past, which also applies to MotoGP and which was not the case for a long time in the meantime.