The news that MotoGP fans have been waiting for for so long has finally been made public: Today, the Fiat Yamaha Team issued a press release announcing the replacement for Valentino Rossi. Contrary to the hopes and expectations of the fans, it is not going to be someone from the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team, nor a rider from Yamaha's World Superbike team. Instead, Yamaha - like Honda with Hiroshi Aoyama - have elected to put a test rider on the bike, and fill the vacancy with Wataru Yoshikawa until the start of the summer break.
The choice of Yoshikawa underlines the difficulties which MotoGP teams face in finding replacement riders. With testing severely limited, the Bridgestone spec tires requiring experience to get the best from them, and a limited number of engines to last the season, the risks of putting an untested rider on the bike have started to outweigh the benefits of any experience gained.
Below is the text of the official Fiat Yamaha press release:
YOSHIKAWA TO JOIN FIAT YAMAHA TEAM IN ROSSI'S ABSENCE
Yamaha Motor Racing is pleased to announce that Wataru Yoshikawa, their experienced Japanese test rider, will join the Fiat Yamaha Team from the Barcelona round of the MotoGP World Championship. The two-time Japanese Superbike Champion will ride in the place of the injured Valentino Rossi, with Rossi's team and the YZR-M1, until the Italian is back to full fitness following his broken leg.
It is expected that Yoshikawa will be with the Fiat Yamaha Team for at least three races, after which more should be known about Rossi's expected return date.
Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing Srl, said "we have considered many different scenarios and candidate riders to fill the temporary vacant seat in the Fiat Yamaha Team. We had always planned to use a rider from within the Yamaha Motor & Tech 3 family but for each rider we considered who is in active competition, their move to the Fiat Yamaha Team would have created another problem for their own racing program or for the teams in which they are engaged. Finally, after a great deal of consideration, we have selected Wataru Yoshikawa, our Japanese YZR-M1 Test rider, to join us as our substitute rider. We provisionally plan for three races (Catalunya, Sachsenring and Laguna Seca) but we will adjust the plan accordingly when we know more about Valentino's expected date of return.
"The benefit of Wataru's presence in our team will be threefold. Firstly he brings with him a wealth of experience riding the YZR-M1. Secondly his presence allows us to fulfill our contractual obligations and to join the team's quest to accumulate points for the Team Championship. Thirdly he will gain valuable first hand MotoGP race experience in three challenging circuits which will surely be very useful to assist him and Yamaha with the future development of the YMR-M1.
"We look forward to welcoming Wataru into our team while we wait for Valentino's return to full fitness."
Wataru Yoshikawa added "I'm happy to have this chance to stand-in for Valentino while he is recovering and to compete in MotoGP again for the first time since 2002, when I raced at Motegi. Looking at the Fiat Yamaha Team results with the 2010 YZR-M1, I can see that the winter developments were correct and now I am looking forward to having the chance to gather some ‘real racing' data, which will be very helpful for the future development of the M1."
WATARU YOSHIKAWA RACING BIOGRAPHY
Born: 26th September 1968, Tokyo
Wataru Yoshikawa won the Japanese Superbike Championship for Yamaha in 1994 and 1999. Between 1992 and 2002 he made many wild-card appearances in the World Superbike Championship for Yamaha and in 1996 completed a full season, finishing 9th. He raced as a wild card once in MotoGP in 2002, finishing 12th. Since then he has been heavily involved as a test rider for the Yamaha MotoGP programme, giving him an in-depth knowledge of the YZR-M1.