Bradley Smith is 'almost certain' to leave the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team at the end of this season.
In a blog for the official MotoGP website, published on the eve of this weekend's Qatar season-opener, the Englishman wrote:
“This is the first time I've started the season in a situation where it looks almost certain I will be switching teams next year. I've been with the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team for five years, two in Moto2 and three in MotoGP and after this year, my fourth with them in MotoGP it looks like it's time to move on for both parties.
“I've had an absolutely brilliant time with them but team boss Herve Poncharal has made it clear he will not be renewing next year, however well I do. Tech 3 is used by Yamaha to bring on young talent and I'm going to be 26 by the end of this season and much as I'd like to be, I'm no longer considered a fast young talent.
“It's a scary situation, but it's the way of the MotoGP paddock and gives me even more motivation, not that I needed it. It's such an exciting situation because of my performance last season. I'm in a very strong position, which gives me so much confidence and self-belief. I slowly figured out what I needed to ride fast, although this year a few spanners have been thrown into the works with the new tyres and electronics.”
Smith, who finished sixth and the top satellite rider in last year's world championship, has made clear he is targeting a full factory ride for 2017, with almost all the official seats up for grabs.
Meanwhile, Moto2 stars Alex Rins and Jonas Folger have long been linked with a MotoGP debut for Tech 3, with Smith's team-mate Pol Espargaro (contracted directly to Yamaha) also far from certain to continue at the French team in 2017.