What motivates a rider? Winning championships, winning races, and making money are three big factors that go into the decision-making process. The news that Toprak Razgatlioglu will leave Yamaha at the end of this season has left more questions than answers about what motivates the Turkish star.
The paddock rumour mill in Catalunya centred on a proposed move to BMW. It’s fairly sure that there will be more than a million reasons why he chose the German manufacturer. Toprak is a unique rider in many ways. His motivation has always been to be a Superbike star, and while he has recently flirted with the prospect of a move to the MotoGP class, the chances of that are limited.
His Yamaha MotoGP test didn’t go as well as he had hoped. Arriving to Jerez to find a bike that, rumour has it, didn’t quite fit his frame left him feeling that the chips were falling against a move to the premier class. That test could have proved crucial to Toprak deciding to leave Yamaha. Having seen that the Japanese manufacturer didn’t back him to the hilt he might have felt slighted. That’s the feeling that led him to leave Kawasaki in 2019 to switch to the blue bikes.
The Suzuka decision
It’s often cited that the decision to move to Yamaha came as a result of Kawasaki choosing not to race him at the Suzuka 8 Hours. The real reason though came earlier than that. He was uncertain about Kawasaki from his first Suzuka test and the feeling that he would never be more than Jonathan Rea’s back-up. It’s for this reason that a return to the green machine is very unlikely.
Switching to Yamaha was a risk. The 2021 WorldSBK title, 31 race victories and 78 podiums proved that Toprak was correct to back his talent above all else. Leaving Yamaha comes with risk. Toprak will back his talent above all else but now the question becomes what does the future hold?
Switching to BMW and the M1000RR leaves Toprak on a bike that has underperformed compared to expectations. The bike has won one race, with Michael van der Mark in a damp Portimão Superpole Race, but it has clear potential. Van der Mark has spoken throughout the winter about improvements that the team has made with the bike. The package is more complete now but braking stability and corner entry has been their biggest weakness in the past. Toprak, the ultimate front end master, would have to adapt the bike to his whims. It’s easy to forget that in 2019 this was a question asked when he signed for Yamaha...
Moving to BMW creates a fork in the road for Razgatlioglu. Has he left Yamaha because he feels that the chances of beating Alvaro Bautista on the Ducati are stacked too far against him? Has he left for money? Has he left for a new challenge to join a select band of five riders to win for at least three different manufacturers?
Now the question shifts to what happens within the garage. Will Toprak bring his crew chief Phil Marron along with him? You’d imagine that BMW will accept almost any demand from Razgatlioglu and given the relationship with Marron it would make sense to bring him over. The duo have been incredibly successful and the engineer will also know how difficult it is to win if you don’t have the right rider. But leaving Yamaha would come with a cost for Marron and it might be a cost he isn’t willing to pay.
Winning won’t be easy. Toprak is arguably the most talented rider in WorldSBK but the depth of field is so strong now that the talent difference between Toprak and Van der Mark and Scott Redding isn’t massive. It will be the persona of Toprak and the need to make the situation work that will lead to success. As a former World Champion he will galvanise the team and the manufacturer, but don’t expect Toprak to be the sole reason if BMW can win consistently; they need to adapt and make changes to their structures.
What next for YME?
Yamaha will face a question mark about what to do going forward. Do they move Dominique Aegerter up to the factory seat? Do they look to the MotoGP paddock and make a splash with a move for Fabio Di Giannantonio - the Italian has been linked with a switch to Ducati in WorldSBK. Or do they look for a rider like Sam Lowes to make the switch having been a Yamaha Supersport champion in the past?
Toprak was always going to the rider that would dictate the moves in the WorldSBK paddock this year. Would it be a move to MotoGP? Would he stay at Yamaha? Would he take a punt and try something different. He’s gone with the last option, and the only certainty is that when he rolls out of a pit garage on a BMW M1000RR all eyes will be on him. Now he has to deliver on the bike, otherwise the gamble is a folly.