Could MotoGP rider market shake-up put Morbidelli’s Yamaha seat at risk?

Franco Morbidelli's poor form on factory Yamaha has been one of the more unexpected developments of the 2022 MotoGP season... could it affect his 2023 deal?

Franco Morbidelli - Yamaha Factory M1


Franco Morbidelli’s rotten run of form during the first-third of the 2022 MotoGP World Championship showed no signs of abating during the French MotoGP as he laboured to a 15th place finish.

The Italian is one of the few riders with a signed and sealed deal for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship, but following Suzuki’s bombshell it will quit MotoGP at the end of the season, paddock speculation is questioning whether the 2020 runner-up could be at risk regardless.

The three-time race winner has cracked the top ten on just one occasion so far this year - a seventh place in Indonesia - but has otherwise achieved just 19 points in seven races. By contrast, his team-mate Fabio Quartararo tops the leaderboard with 102 points.

While Yamaha’s disparate form is demonstrated by Andrea Dovizioso joining Morbidelli towards the back of the field, his comments reflect Quartararo in that the underpowered Yamaha M1 struggles to get forward momentum in racing conditions.

Even so, he admits his lacklustre form means he is unable to petition Yamaha for a greater focus his way in the context of Quartararo’s title bid.

“A difficult race, because I got stuck in the pack and it is tricky to fight with the guys [ahead] and I didn’t have the perfect front feeling so I couldn’t really make a lot of speed in the middle of the corners, so I couldn’t do anything. Things are there, we just need to understand how to put them together, the task is difficult but we can do it.

“I am not in a position to ask Yamaha for anything. I can ask for help with setting up the help, which they are doing, and when I arrive at Fabio’s level I can ask for things.

Could Franco Morbidelli lose his Yamaha MotoGP seat?

Seeing Morbidelli’s name towards the bottom half of the timesheet has become a strangely familiar sight, a slow pace that is in stark contrast to 2019 and 2020 on the Petronas SRT Yamaha when that form ultimately secured him his two-year deal for 2022 and 2023 to replace Maverick Vinales.

It means Morbidelli is out-of-sync with his MotoGP counterparts in terms of contract cycle, which is good news on paper in that he is one of only four riders with a contracted deal for next year.

It seems Yamaha is keen to commit to the Italian and find a solution for his issues, but Morbidelli’s form is a worrying trend stretching back into 2021. Making his debut on the factory M1 during the latter portion of the year when Vinales was prematurely released from his contract, Morbidelli - who sat out a large part of the season with a knee injury - already looked out-of-sorts.

While that was explained away by the arduous recovery from a painful and complicated ailment, Morbidelli has appeared like a shadow of his former self. Moreover, Quartararo out-performing his Yamaha machinery up front is compounding his issue.

As for 2023, Yamaha might have been satisfied to give him another season but the rider market has a very different landscape to that of a few weeks ago.

Depending on when Yamaha solves its first issue in getting Quartararo to sign on the dotted line - a questionable task last month but now seemingly a foregone conclusion - attention may turn to whether it would be worth revising Morbidelli’s deal should a rider like Alex Rins or even Pol Espargaro, who seems likely to lose his Repsol Honda seat to Joan Mir, are still up for grabs.

As previously reported, there could be an option in being shuffled to RNF Racing (formerly Petronas SRT Yamaha) in a deal that would see the Malaysian outfit receive greater factory backing, but a demotion so soon after promotion could be a career-killer.

Even a modest upturn in form would do wonders for Morbidelli in the coming rounds, but if the dye is indeed being cast, it’s going to be a long few months - maybe even two years - for both rider and team.