Valentino Rossi has revealed Franco Morbidelli has only the next handful of races to convince Yamaha to retain him for the 2024 MotoGP World Championship.
Morbidelli is one of four proteges advocated by Rossi and his VR46 Academy currently competing in MotoGP, the Italian earning status as the programme’s first World Champion - in 2017 in Moto2 - as well as its first MotoGP race winner.
However, the Italian - who won three races en route to the runners-up spot in the 2020 MotoGP World Championship with Petronas SRT Yamaha - has endured a decline in results since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for much of the 2021 MotoGP season.
Without a podium since the 2021 Spanish MotoGP, though Morbidelli has shown glimmers of stronger form in recent rounds, it coincides with Yamaha’s own performance issues.
As the end of Morbidelli’s contract with Yamaha nears and with no satellite team to fall back on, it is known Morbidelli’s seat alongside Fabio Quartararo is under threat.
With the fabled ‘silly season’ rumours beginning to filter through, Rossi admits Morbidelli needs to prove himself in the next ‘4 or 5 races’.
“It’s a crucial moment for Franco. In these four or five races they will decide if they will keep him in the factory team.
“The only way is to go as fast as Fabio Quartararo. This is the target.
“It’s difficult with Yamaha, at the moment. But he needs to give his maximum to keep his space in the factory team.”
Who could replace Morbidelli at Yamaha for 2024 MotoGP?
While the arranging of a MotoGP test for Yamaha’s WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu triggered speculation the Turk is being assessed for an imminent promotion, it is now expected that he will remain in the production-based series.
However, that doesn’t assure Morbidelli his seat, with persistent rumours that Yamaha is keen to lure Jorge Martin from Ducati.
The Spaniard is known to be looking elsewhere after being snubbed for the factory Ducati seat in favour of Enea Bastianini, though might consider a move to the factory Yamaha team a risk given that - despite his satellite Pramac status - he still rides spec-GP23 machinery.
Other names to be touted include erstwhile championship leader Marco Bezzecchi if he can’t souce a ‘GP24’ from Ducati for 2024, while the lack of availability on KTM’s four bikes could drive its Moto2 championship-leading protege Pedro Acosta into the arms of Yamaha too.