No sooner did news of Álvaro Bautista’s broken femur hit the MotoGP paddock did speculation begin as to whom would/could replace the unfortunately injured Spanish rider. The list of racers capable of piloting a MotoGP machine is short and distinguished, and the majority of speculation turned to whether John Hopkins would have another go at the Suzuki GSV-R in Qatar. The other option banded-about, although with much less fervor, were MotoGP-turned-Moto2 riders Ant West, Alex de Angelis, & Aleix Espargaró.
With the 15+ hour flight from California to Qatar likely too large of a hurdle for John Hopkins to come out to Losail, Rizla Suzuki has been unable to line-up a rider for this weekend, after being unable to come to terms with the teams of other riders. While the growing consensus is that Bautista’s injury will likely take at least until the French GP to heal, who will ride for Rizla Suzuki at the Jerez & Estoril rounds has become the question.
With West currently attached to the MZ Racing team, drawing the short-end of the stick of actually having the ride the MZ package while teammate Max Neukirchner rides on the FTR chassis, it seemed to big of an ask for Suzuki to rip the Australian from his team as he helps try and improve the MZ.
Aleix Espargaró was seemingly the next-best choice, as the Spanish rider finished his second season of MotoGP last year, ending up in the Pons Moto2 team for 2011. Aleix Espargaró has been doing well in the Moto2 class so far in the 2011 season, sitting 14th fastest in the class after the conclusion of Free Practice 3. Unfortunately for Espargaró a deal couldn’t materialize, and the same can be said of Alex de Angelis.
Unable to find a free rider on such short notice, Rizla Suzuki has been forced to sit out the weekend in Qatar, relegating the MotoGP grid to 16 bikes. John Hopkins at Jerez? Only time will tell.
Statement from Paul Denning, Rizla Suzuki Team Manager:
The 2011 season hasn’t yet started and to have this huge disappointment already is very difficult to deal with. The winter tests have been consistent and competitive, especially bearing in mind Álvaro’s ‘race-day’ mentality and his love of fighting with the other guys rather than just riding – we always expect more from him in the races than in the tests, so everything was looking good. The reason for the crash was quite simple – pushing too hard in this section without enough temperature in the new tyre – very similar to Rossi’s accident in Mugello last year. But the real reasons behind that – maybe feeling some pressure after losing track time on Thursday night with the arm pump, wanting to get back into the top group of lap-times as soon as possible – are more complex and unfortunately Álvaro paid a heavy price. This sport is very extreme, and the edge between success and disaster is very small. We are all disappointed, but he is the poor guy in hospital with a pin in his femur and a tough recuperation ahead. He has the strength of character and determination to come back from this, and on his behalf we’d like to thank everybody for their kind wishes and support, especially the doctors and staff of the Clinica Mobile who came to the hospital at 2.00am last night to check on the situation and lend their valuable advice and assistance.
With regard to the Qatar GP, we really wanted to find a suitable rider and have the Rizla Suzuki on the grid tomorrow but the logistics for John or Nobu simply didn’t allow it. Also, the Moto2 teams who have riders with MotoGP experience, that we discussed the option with, were understandably reluctant to release a rider at the first round of the championship. Our reason to explore these options was simply to support the Championship, Rizla and all our partners, but ultimately it is a huge ask to expect any rider to jump for only qualifying and the race and expect too much – safety and common sense have to play their part as well and we fully respect those decisions.
John isn’t happy with what happened to Álvaro, but I know he will do a solid job for us in Jerez, and we are hoping to arrange a shakedown test beforehand. Álvaro’s comeback timing isn’t clear, and John has BSB commitments that clash with Estoril and Le Mans, so we need to wait a while before any decisions for those races are made.
Thanks to all Álvaro’s and the team’s well-wishers, we greatly appreciate it and we will do everything we can to recover quickly from this situation.