WorldSBK

Who will partner Toprak Razgatlioglu at Yamaha in 2021 WorldSBK?

The 2021 WorldSBK silly season is in full swing and no seat is going to be as hotly contested as Michael van der Mark's vacated Yamaha WorldSBK ride

We may have only had three rounds of the 2020 WorldSBK Championship take place so far, but the conclusion of this weekend’s Motorland Aragon round will still mark the half-way point in this strangest of seasons.

Nonetheless, seeing as we’re very close to September now, that means rumour and intrigue is steadily filling the paddock as those with a nose for scoop consider who goes where for the 2021 WorldSBK Championship season. 

As it stands though, there is one big seat that will certainly need to be filled following the slightly unexpected – in terms of timing at least – announcement Michael van der Mark is departing Yamaha in favour of BMW next season. 

It leaves a very competitive position alongside Toprak Razgatlioglu on a Yamaha R1 that in its latest guise is arguably proving its most competitive since the Pata Crescent Racing took on the factory effort with latest generation model. So who is in the running for a plum 2021 WorldSBK spot?

Promotion from within

Perhaps the most obvious candidate the vacated seat is Loris Baz, who is at best already an arm’s length team-mate and at worst a thorn in the factory team’s side on the sister Ten Kate Racing machine. 

While the professionalism of the Dutch based squad means any move for Baz would be a diagonal step rather than a promotion per se, you wonder whether he’d lose more than he’d gain by swapping to the next door garage and cede that sole focus Ten Kate – with its different take on electronics – gives him.

Meanwhile, Garrett Gerloff and Federico Caricasulo wait in the wings at GRT, which was renamed as the Yamaha Junior team in a clear indication of the firm’s plans to nurture from within. Trouble is, this short season with minimal preparation has made it difficult for them to learn quickly, even if it’s fair to say of the two it is Gerloff – perhaps unexpectedly – who comes out on top of the two.

If Yamaha wanted to promote its motorsport ladder it would pick Caricasulo, but if it wants to harness marketing potential it is the exciting American that stands out.

The headline-grabber

Yamaha clearly has a good plan when it comes to developing its young riders but the sheer success of Andrea Locatelli in the WorldSSP class threatens to leave it both out of sync and at risk of losing what could become a huge asset.

With five – crushingly dominant – wins from five on the BARDAHL Evan Bros. Yamaha R6, while one could ponder over the competition depth in WorldSSP compared with Moto2 where Locatelli was a mid-fielder at best, you can’t ignore his current stats.

Naturally, Yamaha wants to hold onto the youngster but according to GPOne.com he wants the factory seat or nothing. Trouble is, promoting Locatelli over the heads of its Junior team entries would invalidate its efforts, potentially opening the door for another manufacturer (Ducati?) to make a swoop.

Failing that, BMW has reportedly opened talks with BARDAHL Evans Bros. about taking on its 2021 WorldSBK satellite effort, so if it comes off that’s where he may head.

The outsiders and wildcards

With a handful of riders needing to hotfoot it in the coming races if they want to keep their seats, there are a handful of names that could be entering the fray.

Chief amongst these is surely Chaz Davies, statistically one of the most successful WorldSBK racers of all time with 30 victories to his name now, whose inability to find his groove consistently on the Ducati Panigale V4 R makes his Aruba.it seat look very questionable right now.

Fortunately for him, the Welshman’s wildly varying form shows he has lost none of his ability and his struggles are routed in finding a setting that works at each circuit. As such, a switch to the more consistent Yamaha R1 looks like perfect solution for both parties and would be our (totally non-committal) pick.

Beyond that, one rider will make way for van der Mark at BMW and on performance alone that seems likely to be Eugene Laverty, who enjoyed some of his best seasons with Yamaha but some years ago. However, if Tom Sykes feels the BMW project isn’t coming along swiftly enough and van der Mark threatens his team leader status, it’s possible the former champion may pop himself on the market. [EDIT: And just like that it seems BMW were reading this because Tom Sykes is confirmed to be staying with BMW in 2021]

Elsewhere, Leon Haslam has matched Alvaro Bautista on the new Honda but is more likely to make way for a big name signing like Cal Crutchlow. A former Suzuki, Aprilia, Kawasaki and now Honda rider, the Yamaha would complete the set for him.

Crutchlow himself might also be an interesting target for Yamaha if he’s moved enough to consider WorldSBK, while ex-MotoGP rider Jonas Folger will be using his upcoming wildcard in Spain as a clear audition for an international call up.
 

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