According to The Race’s sources in the MotoGP paddock, three-time runner-up Andrea Dovizioso will make his return to the series at next month’s San Marino Grand Prix, as he joins the Petronas Yamaha team in place of Franco Morbidelli.
Morbidelli will in turn step up to the factory Yamaha squad immediately upon his return from knee surgery.
All of this comes as a consequence of Yamaha’s extraordinary decision to drop Maverick Vinales following his attempt to blow up the engine of his bike during the Styrian Grand Prix.
With Dovizioso a key target of new title sponsor WithU as the Petronas team undergoes a radical reshaping for 2022, it’s believed by The Race’s contacts that the Italian will receive A-spec Yamaha machinery next year rather than the older B-spec bike originally offered to the team, as part of a considerable investment from Yamaha.
The Malaysian-based satellite team, which will be taken over directly next year by team principal Razlan Razali and team director Johan Stigefelt, is believed to have been unhappy with Yamaha’s decision to promote Morbidelli to the factory team, and the increased support to help secure Dovizioso is a ‘thank you’ to the team for accommodating the swap.
The former Ducati racer has repeatedly stressed that he would only consider a return to racing in 2021 if it opened up a path to a full-time return in 2022, leading him to initially dabble in a testing role with Aprilia.
However, with that team’s seat now filled by Vinales, who could also make a return to racing as soon as Misano, it seems that Dovi’s only remaining option is to link up with the Petronas team.
The only thing that could potentially alter the plans is how Morbidelli’s recovery from his knee ligament repair goes – but should he be unfit to ride in factory colours at his home race, it seems likely that test rider Cal Crutchlow will continue to deputise for him in that seat.
Dovizioso’s team-mate for next year is now set to be Darryn Binder, with official confirmation expected at the Misano race of the team’s 2022 line-up given it is a home round for Italian energy provider WithU.
South African Binder has found himself in a somewhat lucky position to secure a MotoGP seat for next year directly from the Moto3 class, by signing a contract with the team to join its Moto2 set-up only to have the deal dissolved under him – but to be left contracted to ride for the outfit next year.
It’s been speculated in recent days that the decision by current title sponsor Petronas to withdraw from the team at the end of the 2021 season might not be based on the team’s results – which comes as no surprise after the outfit won six races and finished second in the teams’ championship last year.
Rather, ongoing political change in Malaysia may have also played a role in the decision, following the ousting of prime minister Muhyiddin Yassin last week. Both oil giant Petronas and the Sepang International Circuit, the current owner of the Petronas Yamaha team, are state-owned, and key figures within the team have links to senior members of the government.