Yamaha has affirmed that it has a “verbal agreement” to bring Andrea Dovizioso back into MotoGP competition, with Franco Morbidelli set for an early move to the factory team.
While Fabio Quartararo extended his championship lead at Silverstone with his fifth win of the season, the rest of the broader Yamaha line-up, including satellite team SRT, has been chopping and changing regularly since before the summer break.
In the latest moves, factory test rider Cal Crutchlow rode for Monster Energy Yamaha in place of the now axed Maverick Viñales, meaning Jake Dixon had to be brought up from SRT's Moto2 team to stand in for the injured Morbidelli.
The latter was already in line to replace Viñales next year after the Spaniard had initially been granted a release effect the end of the 2021 campaign, but that meant that SRT was on the hunt for two new riders given Valentino Rossi is retiring.
Soon, however, the Iwata manufacturer and its satellite partner should have more than just a series of stop-gaps, which has seen SRT field five different riders in the last five rounds, including Morbidelli.
Dovizioso, who has been testing with Aprilia in his ‘sabbatical' year, would return to the grid with the Malaysian-owned outfit, freeing Morbidelli to step up to the factory squad as soon as he recovers from knee surgery.
Both would effectively retain those places next year, although Dovizioso would in fact be at whatever new entity replaces SRT in MotoGP.
Yamaha Motor Racing managing director Lin Jarvis cautioned that “Things are not yet signed off” and thus what he is affirming is a “plan” as opposed to an “announcement”, but said that the shuffle was in the works.
“Basically, whenever you have a problem – in life, in business, or whatever – problems need to be solved, but also problems create opportunities for other things, for new things,” he said in a video published on MotoGP's official website.
“In this case, the problem that we have creates an opportunity for ‘Frankie', so Frankie Morbidelli will, ahead of schedule, upgrade into the factory team.
“Obviously, our plan is to have Frankie as a factory rider next year, and now, due to this sudden termination, mid-season, we'll also upgrade Frankie mid-season.
“So, this is yet to be defined, but we have a clear plan, together with him and his management, and we're working towards that right now.”
On the other Italian in the mix for the rest of 2021 and beyond, Jarvis added, “Then, in terms of Dovizioso, again, I can tell you, it's not an announcement per se, because we only announce when contracts are signed.
“But, we have reached verbal agreement with Andrea and his management, so Andrea will join, very soon, probably… the plan is, from Misano, so Andrea will join what is currently the Petronas Sepang Racing Team from Misano onwards and then will ride also next year for that team.”
Misano hosts the San Marino Grand Prix on September 17-19, when Morbidelli is expected to return.
For the three-time MotoGP race winner, the change of team would represent far more than a change of colours.
Morbidelli had been riding the ‘A-Spec' 2019 YZR-M1, meaning he also gets an upgrade of equipment, to that which Viñales would have had.
According to Jarvis, there will be no issue in #21 inheriting #12's engine allocation, despite question marks.
“The technical issue's not a problem,” he declared.
“Obviously we checked [the regulations] off before, so, if you are really a replacement rider – so, you are switching teams, switching programmes – then the rider can assume the motorcycles and the engines of the rider which he replaces.
“Basically, those rules are designed to stop neither a manufacturer or a rider trying to switch out and play to get more engines, and it's to say that, when you start the season, you should finish with your programme, with your quantity of engines and your spec.
“But, if you are a permanent replacement of a new team, you are allowed to assume the motorcycles of that rider, so that solves the problem with Frankie and that allows us to switch out. So, that will happen.”
The FIM's technical regulations state in Article 220.127.116.11 that, “The engines available for the exclusive use of each rider must be marked and sealed by the Technical Director or staff prior to first use,” and furthermore, “Once registered and used for the first time, engines may not be swapped between riders, even within the same team.”
However, to Jarvis's point, that article also states, “Should a rider be replaced for any reason, the replacement rider will be deemed to be the original rider for purposes of engine allocation.”
His comments suggest that Dovizioso will be directly contracted to Yamaha rather than the satellite team, as is the case currently for Rossi.
As yet, there is no word on the second seats at either the factory team or SRT for the Aragon Grand Prix, which takes place on September 10-12.