9. Noriyuki Haga
Second overall in 2009, the big favourite to win the World Superbike title in 2010 in the absence of Ben Spies… What happened to Noriyuki Haga this season?
Looking at the statistics, sixth place overall with two race wins is respectable on paper, but in reality this was a dismal season on so many levels for the WSBK legend.
Sticking with the same Ducati Xerox team for 2010, few deviated from the script when asked who they thought would win the title this season, but when things got off to an unspectacular start over the opening races, some questions began to be raised.
A somewhat confusing aggregate victory at Valencia steadied some nerves, but a run of poor form directly after that quickly ruled Haga out of title contention just weeks after he was being lined up as the odds-on favourite.
It's difficult to fathom exactly what went wrong for Haga. Some say it was the lingering effects of his bitter defeat at the final round to Spies last season, others the departure of Davide Tardozzi that seemingly unsettled the Ducati Xerox team as a whole, while many claimed he simply said he lacked the motivation when it became clear he wasn't going to secure that long-awaited title win.
Whatever it was, Haga's renowned rides to the front from perilous grid positions were put to the test on several occasions in 2010 as he struggled greatly with qualifying, the Japanese rider simply unable to perform heroics every weekend.
As it happens, his form picked up just as Ducati confirmed it would withdraw at the end of the season, his win at the Nurburgring proving Haga hasn't quite given up on World Superbikes just yet. It is that solid end to the year that sneaks him a top ten finish overall in our countdown of the top riders of 2010, but really he should be higher – maybe even on top…
Retirement was mooted, but Haga will forge on for another season, though this time he'll be back on privateer machinery at PATA Racing. The beginning of the end, or simply the start of the return? Meet you back here in twelve months time…
1st (Valencia, Nurburgring)
Crash.net's WSBK Top 10
9. Noriyuki Haga
10. Sylvain Guintoli