2. Leon Haslam
Leon Haslam's return to the World Superbike Championship in 2009 certainly went a long way to confound critics who felt he should have stayed in the British series and sealed that anticipated – and much expected – first title.
Indeed, a career-defining season on the Stiggy Honda made Haslam a prime candidate for factory interest in 2010, but while he got his wish with a move to Suzuki, he certainly wasn't tipped as a lead contender. Race wins, yes, but a title challenge…?
While that somewhat cynical conclusion may have had more to do with the Suzuki element of the pairing following its dismal 2009 season, educated guesses would still have placed him adrift of Noriyuki Haga and Jonathan Rea et al.
Nonetheless, Haslam hinted throughout testing that he could be more than a race win contender and when he stormed to a maiden WSBK triumph at Phillip Island, the betting slips were torn up.
Developing an immediate affinity with the GSX-R1000, Haslam was close to faultless during the 2010 season. Trouble was, Max Biaggi was in comparison completely faultless…
Indeed, it is easy to forget that Haslam led the standings at the mid-way point in the season following further wins at Valencia and Kyalami, while a series of podium finishes negated Biaggi's better victory ratio.
However, that first retirement in the USA – caused by Haslam himself – proved the costly error that he would never recover from. Coinciding with Suzuki's desire to reign in spending and limit development on the bike, Haslam ultimately faded as the year reached its latter stages and he didn't win again.
Satisfying performances at Nurburgring, when he overcame a hand injury to finish third, and at Magny-Cours, when he snatched second from Biaggi on the final corner, served to confirm a much deserved runners-up spot in the standings, though the eventual 75 point margin to his title rival is indicative of the second-half struggle.
Even so, if Haslam's 2009 season silenced the critics, then his 2010 efforts should have bound and gagged them, if for nothing more than his dogged determination right to the end of the season.
Of course, 2011 brings new challenges with a slightly reluctant switch to BMW, Haslam going with his head rather than his heart by leaving Suzuki, meaning it's hard to say whether we could see him going one better next year.
Either way, he's earned the right to be called a 'champion in waiting' on the back of his 2010 performance.
1st (Phillip Island, Valencia, Kyalami)
Crash.net's WSBK Top 10
2. Leon Haslam
3. Carlos Checa
4. Cal Crutchlow
5. Jonathan Rea
6. Leon Camier
7. Tom Sykes
8. Troy Corser
9. Noriyuki Haga
10. Sylvain Guintoli