Each round, the points gap is changing in WorldSBK; but in 2019, it is more extreme than normal. How did a 61 point lead for Bautista end up being an 81 point deficit?
The first part of the 2019 MOTUL FIM Superbike World Championship has been a tale of two very different halves, with Alvaro Bautista (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) and Jonathan Rea (Kawasaki Racing Team WorldSBK) going head-to-head for SBK® supremacy. With a staggering 23 wins between them in the first 25 races of the year, it is time to look back at how the gap has ebbed and flowed throughout the 2019 season, and just why it has changed so dramatically in the space of just two rounds in the UK and the USA.
The opening three races went the way of Bautista, as the rookie rampaged his way to nine dominant, morale-crushing victories in Australia, Thailand and at home in Spain. Then, not even the snow could halt the 34-year-old as he took two more wins in The Netherlands, sporting a 55-point lead as the championship headed for Imola. Whilst Bautista had dominated, Rea had been in a strong second in the first 10 races, before dropping to third in Race 2 at Assen as home-hero Michael van der Mark (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) took second.
But the tide looked to ever so slightly change at Imola, albeit a track where Rea was expected to excel over his championship rival. Two wins for Rea in Race 1 and the Tissot Superpole Race before the cancellation of Race 2, the gap was down to 43 points and suddenly, Jonathan Rea looked like he had hope. Jerez however was a disaster for Rea, as he copped a back of the grid penalty for knocking Alex Lowes (Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team) off on the final corner of Race 1, before managing to come back and finish fourth in the Tissot Superpole Race – the gap standing at a mesmerising 61 points.
However, things then started to unravel for Bautista as he suffered his first crash of the season in the opening stages of Race 2. Rea was only able to finish second, but the gap was now down to 41 points – the lowest it had been since before Assen. Bautista’s crash in Race 2 marked the start of a wretched four rounds for the Spaniard, with each round featuring a crash from the diminutive Spaniard. Rea took hold of the championship lead with a hat-trick of wins at home at Donington Park, but then at Laguna Seca, he left with a stunning 81-point advantage after a hat-trick of point-less race for Bautista.
In all, it is a point swing of 142, an incredible and almost unthinkable achievement from the four-time World Superbike Champion in just 10 races. It is the biggest points swing in the history of WorldSBK and usually, an 81-point lead would look enough for a title win at this stage of the season – but with three races per round and the sheer unpredictability of the championship in 2019, who knows?
And it is not just the gap between the top two either, as the battle for third place in the championship has really exploded into life. From a high of 94 points covering third to eighth in the championship after Race 2 at Jerez, the gap is now 50 – with those in sixth, seventh and eighth all achieving podiums at Laguna Seca: Toprak Razgatlioglu (Turkish Puccetti Racing), Chaz Davies (ARUBA.IT Racing – Ducati) and Tom Sykes (BMW Motorrad WorldSBK Team). What is more compelling is that four different manufacturers are involved, with third and fourth in the standings occupied by Pata Yamaha WorldSBK Team duo, Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark.
With battles right the way through the field, who knows how the gaps will oscillate throughout the remaining rounds. Will the battle for third impact on the championship battle out front, or could someone potentially bridge the gap between first and third – currently at 213? So many questions beg answers in what is an enthralling WorldSBK season.
Watch more of the 2019 story unfold with the comprehensive, MUST-HAVE WorldSBK VideoPass!