Yamaha MotoGP bosses have admitted exclusively to MCN that VR46 Academy rider Franco Morbidelli is first in line to replace his mentor Valentino Rossi at the factory squad, should the Italian show promise next season with their new satellite Petronas Yamaha team.
The Italian-Brazilian racer, the first world champion and first MotoGP rider to graduate from Rossi’s youth academy program, has had a difficult start to his MotoGP career to date. Riding an uncompetitive and crash-prone Marc VDS Honda, he’s taken a best finish of ninth and remains two points behind Yamaha rider Hafizh Syahrin in the battle for rookie of the year.
But, moving onto an almost factory spec Yamaha for 2019 with the new Petronas team, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MCN that his chances are high of a promotion to the factory team in 2021 if he delivers the goods between now and then.
“He’s the current Moto2 champion, which means he’s already got what it takes. He’s very fast, he’s very serious, and he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and I think he’ll be one of the talented group in the future. That means that we’ve been able to pick him up and put him on a bike is a great opportunity – but there’ll be no pressure on him next year.
“But he’s got a two-year contract with the team and after two years our contracts with Rossi and Viñales expire, so who knows what could happen? There could be opportunities in the factory team, and if he performs well then I don’t see why he won’t be top of the list.”
However, with top spec machinery similar to that of the factory riders next season and under the guidance of Viñales’ current crew chief Roman Forcado, there should be potential for the 23-year-old to do just that.
The linking of Petronas Yamaha into a junior team and supplying them with factory-spec equipment marks a notable shift away from the manufacturer’s previous relationship with the KTM-bound Tech 3 team, whose riders were rarely offered a chance at factory promotion and whose bikes were normally year-old hand-me-downs.
But while Yamaha are building close ties with the new Malaysian squad, Jarvis also confirmed that this doesn’t preclude Rossi bringing his own Team Sky squad to the premier class when he retires, with Jarvis confirming that they’re prepared to expand to six machines.