Another year, another all-new rider line-up for Yamaha – the third in succession – as it looks to recreate the form that took it to title glory in 2009.
The occasionally troublesome R1 was a tricky beast to tame at times in 2010, but Cal Crutchlow was beginning to show consistently good pace towards the end of the season.
It is form WSBK rookies Marco Melandri and Eugene Laverty are determined to replicate. Arguably, the most interesting pairing on the grid, Melandri and Laverty meet in the middle after tenures in MotoGP and World Supersport respectively, both having never raced a Superbike before.
Melandri's arrival is a significant boost for both team and series, while early indications suggest that – shoulder injury permitting – he will be a competitive addition. The success of Max Biaggi
and Carlos Checa
will no doubt provide a marker from which Melandri will be judged.
Lining up alongside Melandri will be Laverty, who offers an interesting alternative having impressed with his speed in Supersports.
Of course, Supersport success doesn't directly translate to Superbke success – think Kenan Sofuoglu
– but given he has no experience on a 1000cc machine, he has been mightly impressive in testing.
Targets are naturally high, and while the 'rookie' element may have leave the pair just short of the title fight, they are likely to be up there from the beginning.
After controversially sacrificing its title-winning World Supersport operation in 2010, Yamaha will make a welcome return to the series this year after a surprise deal with BE1 Racing.
While it stops short of a full factory effort, Yamaha will offer some technical support to the outfit to get it back on terms with the Hondas and Kawasakis.