Bradley Smith admits he was surprised to already be told there will probably be no place for him at the Tech 3 MotoGP team next season.
The Englishman delivered his best-yet MotoGP campaign with sixth and top satellite rider in last year's world championship, but found out in February that his seat will 'almost certainly' go to some fresh talent.
With Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo tipped to sign new two-year deals at the factory team, Yamaha appears to be seeking new young stars to develop as potential replacements should (as seems likely) one or both of their official riders leave at the end of 2018. Names such as Moto2 race winners Alex Rins and Jonas Folger have been linked with such a move.
Speaking while sheltering from rain in the Qatar paddock on Wednesday, ahead of this weekend's season-opener, Smith explained: “It's a bizarre situation to be in, but something I've known since February. Herve [Poncharal] sat me down and explained it to me in a meeting. It's good that he was straight up and honest and gave me plenty of time to look at other options.
“It's not an ideal situation! Tech 3's a fantastic team, I've enjoyed the five years I've done so far [two years in Moto2 before MotoGP] and I'm sure the sixth will be just as good if not better. It's a bit frustrating from my point of view, but I can also understand Tech 3 and Herve's positon and also Yamaha's in terms of looking at the future.
“Their [factory] riders look to be going on [beyond this season], especially even Valentino going on for another period of time. They have to be ready for when those guys decide to retire, so they have the young guys coming through.
“Maybe I missed my window,” Smith reflected. “There just wasn't a spot for me [at the factory Yamaha team]. It is what it is.”
It is suspected that team-mate Pol Espargaro may have been given the same news as Smith, with the Spaniard politely evading questions on his Yamaha future: "I don't know. Everything can change in three races". While Smith is contracted to Tech 3, Espargaro signed directly with Yamaha.
“I will have done four years inside this team. Pol has done his period as well," Smith continued. "I can understand it's difficult to continue with a rider in the same team for five years in a row, especially when the dynamic of Tech 3 in recent years as a 'Yamaha Junior team'. At 26 years old I thought I was still junior, I'm obviously not junior enough!
“It was nice to know from February so there is no surprise or awkwardness during the season. Everything is open and out there. I can focus on doing my job 100% this year.”
Although somewhat rocked by the news there will no Tech 3 option, Smith had already set his sights on securing a factory ride with one of the six manufacturers (including KTM) for 2017.
“The ball got rolling a long time ago, in terms of speaking about the interest and availability,” Smith said of his other options. “But at the moment, as expected, nothing is clear.
“I want to at least start the season, gets things rolling, get some results and then see what's about.”
Opening practice in Qatar takes place on Thursday.
"I'm excited. At this point as a rider you are fed up of talking about it. You just want to get on the bike and get down to work. I feel a little unprepared due to the lack of riding time in Phillip Island and tyres at the Qatar test, but we've done an extensive plan and everything is moving forward.
"We're on the right track just a couple of days behind where we want to be. Now we've got three nights to make sure we are on pace for the race and confident we can pull it together."
Smith doesn't expect too many surprises this weekend due to the recent test, but beyond Qatar will be a step into the unknown.
"Qatar should be quite straight-forward in terms of having done a test and race simulation here, but then at places like Austin and Argentina we'll really be into the unknown."