The Colombian rider Yonny Hernandez is to replace Jonas Folger in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team at the Sepang test. The move had been widely anticipated, though officially denied. Hernandez has recent MotoGP experience, having spent five years in the class between 2012 and 2016, most of those years on a Ducati. He returned to Moto2 in 2017, and had decided to make the switch to WorldSBK for 2018.
In the press release, Poncharal states that Hernandez is one of the possible candidates to replace Jonas Folger full time for the 2018 MotoGP season. That would be complicated, as Hernandez already has a contract with the Pedercini Kawasaki team to race in WorldSBK in 2018. However, team boss Lucio Pedercini told GPOne at the team launch that he would be open to releasing Hernandez from his contract. "It's true that the contract made between Yonny and the team doesn't foresee [Hernandez going to MotoGP], but anyway, I don't think it would be problem if he decides to test it or even return to MotoGP." Pedercini said he had a possible replacement already lined up if Hernandez does leave.
The test may be an audition for Hernandez, but it is far from a foregone conclusion that the Colombian rider will get the seat for 2018. Poncharal has a number of meetings lined up with managers at Sepang, and will not make a decision before the end of the test. He told MotoMatters.com in an interview that he intends to have a permanent replacement in place before the Buriram test in Thailand, which takes place from 16th-18th February.
The press release from Tech 3 announcing Hernandez appears below:
Yonny Hernandez set to step in at Sepang test
The Columbian Yonny Hernandez will replace Jonas Folger at Monster Yamaha Tech3 for the first MotoGP pre-season test at the Sepang International Circuit, kicking off this week. Following the announcement that Folger has to sit out the entire 2018 campaign due to his continuous recovery, the 29-year old Hernandez takes over his Yamaha YZR-M1 for the three days of testing at the Malaysian venue, bringing five years of MotoGP experience. The Monster Yamaha Tech3 team intends to reveal a permanent replacement ahead of the second test in Thailand, mid-February.
"First of all, I have to say, that I’m sorry for Jonas Folger. I hope he gets well very soon and back on track again, as he is an incredible fast and talented rider and I want to wish him all the best. At the same time, I’m obviously happy for myself to get such a fantastic opportunity riding a MotoGP bike again. I’m delighted I can do the test and work with a very good team and machine. I’m truly curious to ride a Yamaha bike, because in all my career I was sitting on a Ducati. I want to thank the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team and especially Herve Poncharal for giving me this unique chance."
“Before starting to talk about who will be on our second bike in Sepang, I would like to express one more time how sorry and sad I am, not having Jonas Folger with us in 2018. Having said that, we have to try to overcome this situation the best way we can and everybody knows it’s not easy. On the 20th of January, almost everyone with the required level is already under contract, therefore I am very happy to have found out that Yonny Hernandez was so far without a contract. I know, that he has got some plans and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr. Pedercini letting Yonny test with us and give him the opportunity to show what he can do on a Yamaha M1 MotoGP bike. I am pleased to give him this possibility to test for three days and with it giving him the chance to show his potential to both, Yamaha Motor Corporation and the Monster Yamaha Tech3 team. Yet, no permanent decision will be taken before we fly back from Sepang. For sure, we will analyze in detail how Yonny performs during this test and obviously, he is one of the riders on our short list for 2018.”