The headache of replacing Valentino Rossi

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Valentino Rossi’s crash at the Mugello MotoGP race earlier this month caused more than one major headache for Yamaha.

As well as ending Rossi’s 2010 world title hopes and throwing major doubt over next year’s rider market and who the Italian will ride for in 2011, his broken right leg also created a major conundrum on who Yamaha would get to ride his vacant factory YZR-M1 machine. 

Yamaha immediately turned its attention to veteran American Colin Edwards.

He was seen as the ideal candidate given his previous experience in the factory team alongside Rossi between 2005 and ’07.  

He could have also helped Yamaha’s technical staff with vital feedback and input at a time when thoughts will already be turning to the development of next year’s factory YZR-M1.

But by moving Edwards from the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 Team for at least three races (Catalunya, Sachsenring and Laguna Seca), such a transfer then created an issue for Herve Poncharal.

Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MCN: “Our most likely choice was Colin. But our biggest problem was the domino affect of contracts. When you take somebody out of one team you create a problem there. To fill that problem you create another. We didn’t want to create problems for each other.”

Yamaha had offered British rider Cal Crutchlow his big MotoGP chance to cover for Edwards.

But the reigning World Supersport champion declined based on the hectic schedule of racing in MotoGP and World Superbikes on six successive weekends.

There was also the added complication of Crutchlow’s lack of experience of an 800cc MotoGP machine, carbon brakes and Bridgestone tyres.

Had he accepted Yamaha’s offer then he would have made his debut in Catalunya next weekend but without any testing or chance to familiarise himself with the YZR-M1.

Jarvis added: “We consider Cal to be one of us so pretty much it was an internal discussion. If we moved a rider to the factory team then we would need to have another top quality rider Tech 3.

"We talked with Herve and Yamaha Europe and we had their consensus to discuss with Cal. As we got deeper into the discussions, both parties saw issues. In theory the races don’t clash with each other but in reality, six races in six weeks and two World Superbike tests, I think there were so many differences between the classes and such a hectic schedule it wouldn’t have been good for Cal.

"His main mission is the World Superbike championship, so he flagged up some issues. We talked about them in detail and decided together it was worth investigating but not worth going ahead.”

Crutchlow’s refusal though didn’t pave the way for a dramatic return to MotoGP for current factory Yamaha WSB team-mate James Toseland.

Axed at the end of last season by the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 squad, Toseland was desperate to be given another premier class chance.

But Yamaha never made him an offer to return and Jarvis said: “On paper James was a more likely candidate (than Crutchlow) and he had experience of those tracks and the tyre. But the other issues remain the same like the busy schedule and the changing of bikes.

"James is our leading rider in World Superbikes at the moment so we didn’t want to disturb that programme. The interesting thing for us with Cal is that he’s a bit on an unknown and he’s younger than James, so it would have been an additional interest for us to see how Cal would have got on with a MotoGP bike.”

One option never seriously considered was the transfer of Silverstone podium finisher Ben Spies to join Jorge Lorenzo. Spies was effectively banned from moving by the rookie rule that prevents a new rider from appearing in a factory team in the first season.

But given the exceptional circumstances, it is understood Yamaha would have been given clearance for Spies to move until Rossi was fully recovered from his broken tibia.

So why wasn’t Spies given a chance in the factory team?

Jarvis said: “I’m sure Ben would have been able to handle it. If he’s three-times American champion and World Superbike champion then we know he can handle the pressure. However, I was not really supporting that option. Ben’s mission this year is to learn and we didn’t want to change that mission. He’s had an up and down season and right now he needs some stability. In my opinion it is better for Ben’s future for him to stay where he is.”

Yamaha confirmed today in Assen that long-serving test rider Wataru Yoshikawa will substitute for Rossi.

The Italian has targeted a return to action in Brno on August 15.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt