With Rossi potentially set to miss at least two races and with the MotoGP rule books saying that while his team can sit out the first race this weekend at the San Marino Grand Prix they need a replacement for the second (and with the team keen to get the bike out on track for sponsorship reasons), the debate has already started about who will step in to replace the nine-time world champion in his absence.
But with a number of contenders for the seat, it isn’t yet apparent who the Japanese manufacturer will elect to promote to the factory bike. One case being made is for Monster Yamaha Tech 3 rookie Johann Zarco, currently enjoying a strong season on the satellite machine and sure to be able to go fast if he’s given the chance of a factory ride.
But traditionally satellite riders don’t get promoted at Yamaha the way that other manufacturers do, with neither Ben Spies or James Toseland being given the chance to ride Rossi’s bike at the Brit’s home race in Silverstone.
Adding to that is Zarco’s close battle with Cal Crutchlow for top independent, an important prize for the Tech 3 team and one that Herve Poncharal has suggested will take priority over Zarco taking on the factory machine.
Another contender for the spot could well be another Brit, however, with Alex Lowes’s standing at the Japanese manufacturer only growing and growing after yet another Suzuka 8 Hour win for them off. He also has recent Yamaha MotoGP experience, after a series of highly successful wildcard appearances last season deputising for Bradley Smith on the Tech 3 machine.
However, the most likely candidate to take over from Rossi is likely Japanese test rider Katsuyuki Nakasuga, a man well experienced with the M1 machine thanks to his role in its development and who Yamaha would probably benefit from gaining some race experience on 2018-specification parts.
He has previous form, too, taking over from the injured Ben Spies on the factory bike for the final race of 2012, taking an impressive podium finish at Valencia on the machine. He’s also a regular wildcard at the Japanese rounds of the championship, and will be on the grid either way come Motegi in mid-October.
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