The 2011 MotoGP season will kick off with just 16 riders on Sunday night, after the Rizla Suzuki team was unable to find a replacement on time for Alvaro Bautista, who broke his left femur in a practice crash on Friday night.
Suzuki team members have spent a hectic 24 hours in their hunt for a replacement, exploring every possible option to put a rider on the grid. The first and obvious option was John Hopkins, but the American - and former Rizla Suzuki MotoGP rider was back in California, having flown out of Qatar a few days earlier. There simply was simply not enough time from Hopkins to travel physically from San Diego to Doha in time to qualify.
The next option that the team explored was taking a rider out of the Moto2 class. The two obvious choices were MZ's Ant West and Aleix Espargaro of the HP Pons team, both men having had recent experience on an 800cc MotoGP machine and with the Bridgestone tires. Espargaro declined the offer, as the Spaniard has title ambitions of his own, and did not feel he could afford to miss the first race of the season. West, on the other hand, was refused permission by MZ's team manager Martin Wimmer to ride, Wimmer claiming that West was needed to develop the bike.
At Jerez, Hopkins will be called in to substitute for the injured Bautista, but the following MotoGP round at Estoril clashes with the 2nd round of the BSB championship at Oulton Park, which Hopkins is due to contest for the Rizla Suzuki's sister Crescent BSB squad. The team is awaiting developments before making any decisions about what to do after Jerez.
Below is the official press release:
Rizla Suzuki statement regarding Bautista and Jerez GP
Publish Date: Saturday, March 19, 2011
Rizla Suzuki will not be able to replace the injured Álvaro Bautista in tomorrow's Qatar Grand Prix, after exhausting all possible scenarios to get the Rizla Suzuki GSV-R on the grid.
The two riders most likely to replace Bautista – who broke his femur yesterday - are both unavailable, with John Hopkins in America and unable to get to Qatar in time and Nobuatsu Aoki in Japan where travel is very difficult due the terrible earthquake and tsunami tragedy that struck his country last week. The Suzuki management also made tentative approaches to several Moto2 riders that have MotoGP experience, but none of these riders were available due to commitments to their respective teams for the first race of the season.
Hopkins will join the team for the next round of the season at Jerez in Spain as a replacement for Bautista - while the Spaniard continues on his road to recovery.
Bautista is comfortable in hospital following the surgery to pin his left femur this morning, he plans to return to Spain early next week to begin his recuperation with a view to being back in MotoGP as soon as possible.
Paul Denning – 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."