Has Johann Zarco rejected Yamaha for shot to replace Lorenzo in 2020?

Valentino Rossi says Johann Zarco is not joining Yamaha for the 2020 MotoGP season, raising speculation he will sign with Honda as a test rider

Johann Zarco - KTM MotoGP

Valentino Rossi has indicated Johann Zarco will not be joining Yamaha in a test rider role for the 2020 MotoGP World Championship season, raising the possibility he is heading for a longer-term position at Honda instead.

The Frenchman, who has been out of a seat since his brief tenure at KTM ended in September, had been tipped to land a position as test rider with Yamaha for the 2020 MotoGP World Championship season in the absence of any available race seats.

However, circumstances appear to have changed following news that Zarco will return to the 2019 grid for the final three rounds of the season at LCR Honda in place of the injured Takaaki Nakagami.

Indeed, while factory Yamaha rider Maverick Vinales spoke freely about the prospect of Zarco joining Yamaha during the Thailand MotoGP earlier in the month, his team-mate Rossi revealed ahead of the Japan MotoGP race that this was in fact not happening.

Moreover, he said Zarco’s decision not to join is a blow to Yamaha given his experience of the M1, which he raced to six podiums and three pole positions during his time with Tech 3 Racing in 2017 and 2018. 

“It's a shame," he told reporters in Motegi, according to Crash.net. "It’s no secret that Yamaha was looking at Zarco for test rider and he would have been important for us.

"Now he's close to Honda and we need to see what he decides to do for 2020, but it looks to me like we will have to find another fast test rider. It will be difficult to find someone like Johann."

Johann Zarco eyeing Honda lifeline at Lorenzo’s expense?

Though Honda has gone to the effort of indicating these three outings for Zarco don’t have a bearing on its race riders for 2020 – Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo on the factory bike and Nakagami and Cal Crutchlow on the satellite LCR bikes – it does indicate it could have a role for him next year.

Indeed, though Zarco will ride a 2018-specification Honda RC213V at LCR, Honda is unlikely to have offered the role if he’d just consume data he could potentially take to Yamaha.

For many, Zarco’s outings on the Honda are seen as an audition for a Repsol Honda switch if Lorenzo’s already frayed relations with the manufacturer don’t improve in the coming races. 

While Lorenzo has reiterated his commitment to seeing out his two seasons at Honda, the fact he was actively looking to jump ship at the beginning of the year and the woeful results he’s been producing all season may see HRC take matters into its own hands.

While this is unlikely to happen before the 2020 MotoGP season – so as not to allow Lorenzo to join another team – it’s entirely possible Zarco would become HRC’s test rider as an effective ‘standby’ while Honda decides what to do with Lorenzo.

The company currently employs Stefan Bradl as its test rider and substitute, but he has reportedly been working on developing the new Honda CBR1000RR Fireblade, which will form the basis of HRC’s much anticipated move into the WorldSBK Championship.

As such, hiring Zarco could well free up a race ride for Bradl alongside Alvaro Bautista to assist with development.