It looks set to be a quieter year on the rider market for WorldSBK with the leading seats already filled for 2018 but there will still be some significant deals announced in the coming weeks and months.
Jonathan Rea, Tom Sykes, Chaz Davies and Marco Melandri are all secure in their seats for next year but Sykes had been linked with a move away from Kawasaki earlier this summer. Prior to winning two races before the summer break the 2013 World Champion had been touted as a potential target of Yamaha but with wins in the bag it looks highly unlikely that he will make a switch.
For Ducati there is little reason to change their status quo and the only change in their ranks could be the addition of a second bike to the Barni squad. The Italian entry has thrived with Xavi Fores in the last year and came close to adding a second machine for this year. If there is a fourth Ducati on the grid it will likely have a rider bringing money to the table for Barni.
With the top seats all likely to remain the same there could be changes in store for teams running Yamaha, Honda, Aprilia, BMW and MV Agusta machinery. Yamaha has made big strides this year with Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark. The Dutch rider is under contract for 2018 and will remain in place but who will be his teammate?
The most likely scenario is that Lowes will remain with Big Blue but the two time podium finisher in 2017 is not certain to be retained. The former British champion has made plenty of progress during this campaign to iron out the mistakes that marred his earlier seasons in WorldSBK. This year he has matured into a more consistent rider and he has been the best of the rest more times than not.
Starting the season by fighting for the rostrum in Australia was a good sign but overall the progress made by Yamaha has been very impressive. Last year Leon Camier was in play for a return to the Crescent run operation and along with World Supersport championship leader, Lucas Mahias, they would likely be the prime candidates to replace Lowes should the 26 year old leave.
If Lowes were to leave one of the biggest questions for 2018 could be answered in a heartbeat; who will ride for Honda? Having won his British title racing for Honda there is a past link to the Japanese machine and while the Fireblade has struggled this year riders are sure to see the long term potential of the bike.
From the outset of winter testing it was clear that Honda would face a challenging season. Stefan Bradl has struggled on the bike and the team’s patience has shown signs of shortening of late. The German has spent the year trying to adapt to WorldSBK and his performance at the Suzuka 8 Hours could be crucial for his future.
Jake Gagne’s performance for the Ten Kate Honda squad at Laguna Seca certainly seemed to kick his teammate into gear and Bradl will need to maintain that at his home round. Gagne is certainly in play for a full-time ride in 2018. The American had a positive debut in the class and was savvy in his media dealings.
Ten Kate will know that Bradl was key to acquiring Red Bull sponsorship and to drop the German could be to court losing their sponsor. However, if they can add a rider like Lowes or Camier it could certainly go some way to righting the ship. Both British riders have shown that they have what it takes to be leading riders in the class and an ability to develop their bikes over the last number of years.
Last year Camier was the left standing when the music stopped and he had to sign a one year deal with MV Agusta. This year he has once again been able to impress and as a former Suzuki, Aprilia and BMW rider he would bring with him a wealth of experience. That experience could also be of great value to the Althea squad who would surely be interested in partnering Jordi Torres with Camier.
The Italian team has good resources to hand and has made steady progress with the BMW this year. With Torres having been consistently the leading BMW rider over the last 18 months signing Camier could be a big step towards both Althea bikes being competitive. The team was linked with a move to the British Superbike championship last month but that is most likely to have been posturing for the ongoing negotiations over regulations.
One piece of the puzzle that looks almost certain to be announced in the coming rounds will be that Toprak Razgatlioglu will be promoted to an SBK machine by the Puccetti squad in place of Randy Krummenacher. The Turkish rider is contending for the STK1000 crown this year but has been able to win races and over the last 12 months he has been very impressive.
There is still a rumor that Puccetti will expand to a two bike team for 2018, and Manuel Puccetti has admitted publicly that the team are talking with Leon Haslam about returning to WorldSBK. Partnering the raw Razgatlioglu with the experienced Haslam would certainly be a potent rider lineup.
While Puccetti look set to feature plenty of changes for next year it is unlikely that there will be any change for Aprilia. Eugene Laverty is under contract and after a stronger showing at Laguna Seca the Irishman finally feels that progress has been made. Lorenzo Savadori is thought of very highly in the Italian manufacturer and unless he is moved back to the IODA squad, alongside the impressive Tati Mercado, it would be a surprise to see rider changes for Aprilia.
If Savadori returns to IODA and there is an opening at Milwaukee it would not be surprising to see it filled by a MotoGP rider. There are sure to be some riders left on the sidelines from the Grand Prix paddock that would be looking for rides. Scott Redding, Loris Baz and Hector Barbera would be all touted as candidates for the Aprilia seat.
Baz would be an attractive rider for WorldSBK teams with the Frenchman having won races for Kawasaki before moving to MotoGP. For the British based SMR team Redding would be a clear target. He has flashed potential on occasion in MotoGP but has been too inconsistent to get the most from himself or a variety of machinery.
The WorldSBK team may feel that the Englishman is a raw diamond that can be polished but having seen Gresini, Marc VDS and Pramac all move on from him in recent years it’s clear that there is a lot of work to be done by Redding.