Marco Melandri is the latest rider to be linked to the still vacant seat alongside Carlos Checa at the factory Yamaha squad next year.

Melandri currently rides for the MS Aprilia team, but with the 250cc crown almost in his grasp the Italian teenager is looking to step up to MotoGP next year. Should he chose to stay within the Aprilia banner that would leave him to pilot the unfancied RS Cube that Regis Laconi has been battling with all year.

Aprilia are also rumoured to be facing funding problems, with Laconi still to be confirmed for next year and the marques MotoGP and WSBK plans also unannounced - forcing Melandri to consider his options elsewhere.

The current Marlboro Yamaha team, which will lose its Marlboro title sponsorship to Ducati next year, had been close to signing AMA Suberbike champion Nicky Hayden, but a last minute move by Honda saw the American get an RCV seat for 2003. Melandri, would be a good match for Yamaha if they were looking to secure a young charger - such as Hayden - to ride alongside the experienced Checa.

Should Aprilia lose Melandri it would be a bitter blow for the marque that also lost Valentino Rossi to Honda when he made his MotoGP move after several world championship winning seasons for Aprilia.

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