7. Tom Sykes

Tom Sykes's first season in the World Superbike Championship raised more questions than it did answers.

While he failed to secure a podium finish at any stage, Sykes showed consistent form aboard the Yamaha R1 in what was his maiden season on the international stage. Then again, his team-mate was dominating on the same bike in what was also his first season...

But did Sykes really underperform, or was it that Spies was just that good...?

Twelve months later and those answers have all but been answered, with Spies starring on the Tech 3 Yamaha in MotoGP, while Sykes has revived his reputation after a mighty performance on the unfancied - and unloved - Kawasaki ZX-10R in 2010.

Saved from the indignity of trudging back to the British Superbike Championship, Sykes reunited with Paul Bird for a shot on the factory Kawasaki. While the operation - which was focusing its attentions mostly on 2011 and the much anticipated new machine - certainly wasn't tipped to help Sykes get the podium he should have achieved with Yamaha, remarkably it is almost exactly what he did.

Given another strong benchmark in Chris Vermeulen, while we never got a proper chance to see how Sykes would fare against the MotoGP race winner, he nonetheless revelled in his elevated team leader status.

In a competitive field of both factory and privateer machinery, Sykes produced a consistent run of points before achieving a breakthrough result at Monza when a second row grid position engineered a top five finish, including a cheeky last lap pass on Noriyuki Haga.

While it didn't immediately spur him on to anything more than solid points' finishes from there, it was Sykes's end to the season that really earned him a chance to feature in our top ten list.

Finishing fifth and seventh at the Nurburgring for Kawasaki's best combined results on the world stage in more than three years, Sykes went on to shock the WSBK paddock with a run to pole position at Imola.

Though weather assisted, Sykes proved he had the mettle to challenge up front as he led both races confidently before eventually being overhauled. Cruelly denied the podium finish he ultimately deserved, sixth and fourth place finishes were still way and above Kawasaki's pre-season expectations for a bike that, after several years of underachievement, was seemingly peaking in its penultimate event.

Undoubtedly earning the right to stay with the manufacturer - which is tipped to show great improvements with a new bike in 2011 -, Sykes still had a nervous wait before being confirmed alongside the contractually-obligated Chris Vermeulen and Joan Lascorz. Indeed, Kawasaki should be applauded for putting in the investment to accommodate Sykes rather than opting for the more financially friendly two-rider team.

Already leading development on the new ZX-10R - and setting some impressive times too -, Sykes looks set to progress from underdog to dark horse next season...

Statistics:

Team: Kawasaki SRT Bike: Kawasaki ZX-10R

Championship position: 14th Points: 106

Race starts: 26 Pole positions: 1 Victories: 0 Podiums: 0 Best results: 4th (Imola) Points finishes: 18

Crash.net's WSBK Top 10

7. Tom Sykes
8. Troy Corser
9. Noriyuki Haga
10. Sylvain Guintoli

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