Michael Ruben Rinaldi and Andrea Locatelli, or rather, two top SBK riders for 2021. Why this definition? Because they are both strong young title-winners riding factory bikes.

“Rino” topped the Independent classification aboard his Go Eleven Panigale V4 R, while "Loka" won the Supersport championship, scoring a record number of wins with the Evan Bros R6.

Numbers 21 and 55 will both compete for factory teams, namely Aruba Ducati and Crescent Yamaha. Their respective steeds will benefit from every last update provided by the manufacturers and, if need be, the pair can even put in special requests.

This is the first time they will both benefit from such status. So what will they achieve next year? Or rather, what kind of results will they score and which of the two will do best? It’s impossible to predict, but let’s look at the pros and cons in each case.

The expert and the newbie

Although Rino is still very young, he’s already considered an SBK expert. Not a veteran, but he does possess significant experience. The 2017 Superstock champion knows the production-derived paddock well, having been a part of it since 2014. No small thing, as knowing how the wind blows and feeling at home is always an advantage for any sportsperson, especially a rider. Michael Ruben will therefore know how to approach the various phases of the weekend, particularly the more complicated moments.

Loka will tackle his second season, but is now aboard a 1000, better prepped than a Supersport 600 machine. Andrea will have to learn everything, from how to manage the power and adjust the electronics, to tyre behaviour, the three-race format, and the consistency of his rivals. Finding the settings for his R1 M will be the first thing to do and, if he can find the right feeling, he can then try to attack. But he’ll need two things, or rather talent and time. The first is clear to see, the second is a variable.

Pressure and freedom

It’s one thing to race for a private team, but it’s quite another to wear factory colours. And Michael Ruben will have realised this, strong during his 2018 debut season and then in some difficulty the following year before exploding during the 2020 championship. In testing with the factory team at Estoril, the 25-year old was surrounded by technicians and engineers, all attentive to Rino’s feedback as the new factory Aruba rider.

When there is little you can change, you ride and that’s that. More or less. But when you need to steer development, you need to have clear ideas or you’ll waste time and lose confidence. Being part of a factory team involves twisting the throttle - something Rinaldi knows how to do – but also telling the racing department where to intervene – a more difficult and yet verifiable task. And while fourth place as an Independent rider can be considered an excellent result, as a factory rider it’s as good as a defeat.

Andrea is hungry and wants to do as well as possible. Rightly so. Nevertheless, he himself expects a sort of apprenticeship period. Yamaha is also aware of this, and Loka will be put under what is a good kind of pressure for a rookie, advised not to overdo it but not to do too little either. Locatelli is more likely to adhere to the first option, twisting the throttle in the right way at the right time. Using his head, as he always has throughout his career.

Tough but correct team-mates

Redding and Razgatlioglu, bulldogs that never let up. We know there are other rivals on track too - a certain Johnny Rea for example - but your team-mate is always your most direct reference. In practice, Scott and Toprak will be Rino and Loka’s main rivals. The Brit and the Turk are aggressive on track, but correct and clean. In the garage too, although they favour quiet and a more solitary work method.

Redding hoped that Davies would remain with Aruba for another year, and that means something. Exactly what, we will soon see, because Michael Ruben will have no intention of playing the part of second rider, not least because he’s Italian, as are the team and bike. Pride and passion.

Razgatlioglu, on the other hand, doesn’t worry too much about who’s on the other side of the garage. He has a particular mentality and, the greater his competition, the more competitive he becomes. For number 54, wearing the same shirt as Locatelli is like wearing the same shirt as his 2020 team-mate Van Der Mark. Soguoglu’s prodigy goes his own way and but will Andrea appreciate this, having been the sole Evan Bros flagbearer in Supersport?

Translated by Heather Watson

WorldSBK, the 2021 Kawasaki-Ducati battle to commence with testing at Jerez