It's official: Rising MotoGP star Maverick Vinales will move from Suzuki to Yamaha next season, in place of departing world champion Jorge Lorenzo.

Suzuki fought hard to try and retain the 21-year-old, who was signed from Moto2 for the factory's 2015 MotoGP return.

Twelfth overall during his rookie season, Vinales turned the tables on experienced team-mate Aleix Espargaro in the early part of 2016, culminating in a debut podium last time at Le Mans - the first ever rostrum for the GSX-RR.

But the lure of taking over the reigning world champion's machine, and riding alongside nine-time title winner Valentino Rossi, proved too great to resist. Like Rossi, Vinales has agreed a two-year deal with Movistar Yamaha.

"It is with great pleasure that Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd announces the signing of Maverick Vi?ales to ride for the Movistar Yamaha MotoGP team for 2017 and 2018," said a brief statement from Yamaha.

"Vi?ales, who is presently 5th in the MotoGP(TM) Championship standings, will partner 9-time World Champion Valentino Rossi, whose contract renewal was already announced in March this year.

"Maverick Vi?ales, born in Figueres (Spain) on 12th January 1995, made his World Championship debut in 2011 in the 125cc Class. His racing career highlights include the victory of the Moto3(TM) World Championship in 2013 as well as 3 'Rookie of the Year' awards in 2011 (125cc), 2014 (Moto2) and 2015 (MotoGP)."

While Yamaha have admitted there is no-one who could instantly replace Lorenzo in terms of results, Vinales is the leading light of MotoGP's next generation.

Impressive enough to be tipped as a future star during his rookie season, the Spaniard continued his upward trajectory by leading the Phillip Island test, qualifying on the front row in Qatar and claiming his first premier-class podium in France.

Vinales is thus tipped to become MotoGP's first new winner since Marquez in 2013, the big question is whether he can do so in his remaining races for Suzuki or will be forced to wait until the Yamaha era.

A win would make him the first rider other than Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Casey Stoner to stand on the top step of a MotoGP podium since Assen 2011, when Ben Spies took his only grand prix victory.

Either way, Vinales will have the ideal mix of youth and experience to assume leadership of the factory Yamaha team if, as seems likely, Rossi retires at the end of 2018.

Suzuki is tipped to respond to the loss of Vinales by signing Andrea Iannone, the Italian losing his Ducati seat after the factory selected team-mate Andrea Dovizioso to continue alongside Lorenzo in 2017.

By Peter McLaren


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