A picture that the fans have to get used to – Van der Mark in leather and in front of the truck of the BMW works team. After a disastrous 2020 season, will his commitment bring the blue-whites around? (© BMW Motorrad WSBK).

Michael van der Mark on BMW and the new season

Recently the first scribes came to the realization that the tests in Portugal in a week could be tight. In the meantime, the last of them have woken up from their hibernation and have understood what we had warned about last year: The races and tests that FIM and Dorna had planned for the 2nd Corona season was hardly worth the paper for what it was printed. The revised version of MotoGP and WorldSBK is also a very questionable construct. It will therefore probably take even longer before “Magic Michael” will sit on the M-1000RR under racing conditions for the first time. A good opportunity to hear Michael van der Mark’s opinion on the change from BMW and the new season.

“Magic Michael” van der Mark photographed by us on the Pata Yamaha before the start in Aragon. After 2 years for Honda, the Dutchman was part of the Yamaha factory team from 2017 to 2020. It was rumored that the Japanese brand had made him an offer for a contract extension that was not attractive enough. Now he is switching to BMW and has never sat on his new work device in racing conditions since October 2020.

Van der Mark on the motivation for leaving Yamaha

I think the main reason I came to BMW is the new M 1000 RR. It was a tough decision, but that made it a little easier. The project with the evolution of the S 1000 RR looks very promising, and I think the motorcycle has a lot of potential for the future. The S 1000 RR definitely had a lot of potential, but with the M model there should be another significant improvement. This is the reason why I decided to switch manufacturers. It’s been a strange season because you usually talk to different teams on race weekends. I spoke to BMW when we were all in lockdown. It was a bit strange, but in the end it wasn’t a really difficult decision for me. Usually you watch the races, you look at the results of other drivers, and you talk to them a bit on race weekends. But we were just stuck at home back then”.

The man from Gouda in the Netherlands on his first ride on the evolutionary model of the M 1000 RR, which he was never allowed to ride before due to lack of opportunity. On the BMW test track in southern France in the middle of December, however, it was not possible to ride to the limit, which would of course have been unthinkable due to the temperatures alone (© BMW Motorrad WSBK).

What do you think about the two additional teams?

Michael: „It’s good to have two more BMWs at the start, especially for development. I think it’s advantageous to have two really fast drivers with Eugene Laverty and Jonas Folger. Two guys with a lot of experience. It’s good for the championship to have them and to have two more BMWs is good for the whole project to develop the bike and take steps faster“.

WSBK 2011 – Eugene Laverty chasing BMW team-mate Marco Melandri in Monza. Van der Mark’s new brand colleague was already on the road with a Yamaha before this and was quite successful at the same time, as his two victories and fourth place in the world championship impressively demonstrate. For more about the earlier years of the Superbike World Championship, see our constantly growing and richly illustrated history and the current series of articles on this (© WorldSBK).
From left: Jonas Folger and Eugene Laverty – the two new brand colleagues who would like to leave “Magic Michael” together with Tom Sykes behind as regularly as possible in order to become the best rider for the German brand (© BMW Motorrad WSBK).

The man from Gouda on the differences between BMW and Yamaha

Van der Mark spoke about his riding style and the difference between the two machines: “First of all, consistently. I think that’s my driving style. I can drive very aggressively, but can also be really gentle. From my point of view, as a driver, I’m a bit of a mixture of both. For me, one thing is that the bike has to be superb at braking. Because I brake hard and usually late, but the bike has to help me with that too. When it does, I feel pretty good. The Yamaha stops very well, which we still have to improve on the BMW. On the other hand, the BMW is very good at turning compared to the Yamaha. Both have better and worse parts, so with the new bike we have to put it together like pieces of a puzzle”.

Michael van der Mark (left in the picture) with his Yamaha colleagues Franco Morbidelli and Hafizh Syahrin at the EWC endurance event at the end of 2019 in Sepang. Unsurprisingly, the three of them were a dream team straight away and impressed with sensational times from the first minute (© FIM-EWC).

The test calendar wobbles tremendously

Even the first version of the FIM and Dorna planning for MotoGP and WSBK was more like a fair weather or wish program than a realistic calendar. Several tests have already been canceled and postponed and now the next WSBK test date is already shaky due to the pandemic. For BMW, the first outing at the Autodromo do Algarve would have been planned on March 4th and 5th. After the team surprisingly foregone the November 2020 tests in Jerez, things could slowly get tight with the development of the new M-1000RR. A global corporation like Bavaria is unlikely to send its people to the pandemic high-risk area of Portugal at the beginning of March. Below is the provisional test calendar until spring:

Portimao test: 4th – 5th March – 1st test planned by BMW
Jerez test: 9th – 10th March (Honda only)
Misano test: 15th – 16th March
Estoril test: 24th – 25th March
Barcelona test: March 31st – 1st April
MotorLand Aragon test: April 12th – 13th

When Sykes (left) was still on the same team with Rea – photographed by us in Brno in June 2018, with van der Mark on the right after 3rd place in the first race on the Pata Yamaha. The next day there was a lot of trouble between the two drivers to his left when Sykes had brought the Northern Irish down with a dangerous maneuver. The new teammate achieved something similar in 2020 in Phillip Island with Rea and later in Aragon with Leandro Mercado, who was seriously injured in the process.

The WorldSBK question mark calendar for 2021

Even after the first revision, there can be no question of correct and credible planning. FIM and Dorna devised a calendar that raises more questions than it answers. In addition to two events that have been questioned since the first version, the overseas races are of course completely unthinkable at the moment (and this was already foreseeable in November 2020). With the postponement of Assen from April to July, it became at least clear that the main motivation was the hope of permission for spectators along the route.

The game of hide-and-seek
As was to be expected, the Dorna plays with completely hidden cards when it comes to MotoGP and WorldSBK planning. Instead of openly announcing which events are only possible with spectators, they prefer to turn it into a game of hide-and-seek. With a lack of information, the gentlemen from Madrid open the door to speculation. The only thing that is certain at the moment is that there will be many more changes.

Photographed by us at the WorldSBK event in September 2019 at the Autodromo do Algarve in Portugal – inside the huge main grandstand only a fraction of the food stalls were open. Currently, such images are the horror of all authorities when it comes to permission for events. Despite the corona pandemic, however, they could be seen daily in front of ski lifts in the Alps, for example.