Rumours from the Australian Grand Prix suggest that Alex Barros' heroic performances this season may have done enough for him to get the works Yamaha ride for next season alongside Carlos Checa.

While offering no names, MYT has confirmed to Crash.Net that they plan to make an announcement regarding who will replace Max Biaggi - and title sponsor Marlboro - at the season ending Valencia Grand Prix.

There, it could be revealed that Barros will ride a Fortuna liveried M1 in 2003.

Although Carlos Checa has long been confirmed, with Biaggi moving to a Pramac sponsored Honda RCV next season, one of the most sought after seats in MotoGP remains vacant.

Initially AMA Suberbike ace Nicky Hayden looked like the main contender, but a desperate late deal by HRC to keep the American on their machinery saw him chose an RCV ride instead. Fellow American, Colin Edwards, had also looked like being a possibility, but he later announced that talks between himself and Yamaha had broken down and that he would sign for Aprilia - which he did just days later.

Another name linked to the ride is 250cc Aprilia star Marco Melandri, who would fit MYT's alleged 'young gun' desire and having now won 125 and 250cc World Championships a move to MotoGP next year looks likely.

With Edwards signed to ride a Cube, and current riders Regis Laconi/Noriyuki Haga yet to be confirmed in a series, the Italian teenager looks like having little choice but to leave the Noale based team if he wants to break into the premier class next season.

Melandri, undoubtedly a future star, may yet find a seat with Yamaha in the Privateer Tech 3 team alongside either Olivier Jacque or Shinya Nakano; this would appeal to both, as it would put him on a competitive machine and within the Japanese marques structure, as he learnt his four-stroke MotoGP trade.

However, newest, and most hotly tipped name to be thrown into the hat is that of Alex Barros, the West Honda Pons rider is known to have a firm offer from Kawasaki to tempt him away from Sito Pons' team, but his recent eyebrow raising performances on an RCV have meant that the MotoGP veteran is now one of the most desired riders in the paddock.

He would appeal to Yamaha in two main ways:

Firstly, since getting an RCV at Motegi three races ago he's outperformed everyone, including all existing factory Honda riders - Valentino Rossi, Tohru Ukawa and Daijiro Kato - on equal machinery. Barros won on his RCV debut, set pole position in Sepang, then took second at Sunday's Australian Grand Prix - but was by far and away the only man to match Rossi's pace, and could have beaten the Italian superstar had it not been for late race clutch problems, and a brace but overoptimistic braking manoeuvre, on the last lap.

Secondly, with long term title sponsor Marlboro moving to the new Ducati MotoGP team next year, Yamaha also needs to secure funding for its racing team. With Telefonica leaving Suzuki - and strongly rumoured to be sponsoring the Gresini team next year - a brace of Fortuna livered M1's may well be on the grid in 2003.

The Tobacco company will want wins for their increased budget, something they haven't had this year from Gresini (either in 250s, with Rolfo and Alzamora or MotoGP with Kato). With Checa not exactly setting the world alight in recent races, they may well want a proven winner like Barros, rather than a rising star, to sit alongside the Yorkshire based Spaniard.

The attraction for Barros is a combination of push and pull...

On the 'push' side, the Brazilian isn't a contracted Honda rider and so unlikely to get the latest RCV parts and developments next year - and could well to be left on year old machinery.

Also a worry for Barros will be the rumoured demise of present title sponsor West, leaving Sito Pons to search elsewhere for the millions needed to run HRC's four strokes, and meaning that he may have to accept riders with sponsorship attached.

On the 'pull' side, Yamaha have rapidly developed their M1 from uncompetitive at the start of the season, into the only challenge to Honda's pride and joy - Biaggi has already taken two victories this season on the machine and numerous pole positions. Barros would also be the number one rider and with the full support of the Yamaha factory behind him.

MYT looks like having a straight choice between the proven race winner and the potential of Melandri.

Meanwhile, an outside chance for the ride is Norick Abe, who's got an M1 for the final two races to prove what he can do - unfortunately for the Japanese ace he's a two-stroke rider through and through, and needs time to adjust to four stroke machinery, his heavy crash (that ruled him out of the race) at Phillip Island, following a downshift error on the unfamiliar M1 won't have done his confidence any good either.

Should Barros be signed, Abe and countryman Nakano could well find themselves in competition for an M1 seat, with a privateer team, next year.

But all will be revealed shortly...

"We hope to be able to make an announcement about both sponsor and rider at the Valencia GP in two weeks time," an MYT source told Crash.Net over the Australian Grand Prix weekend.

Vote for where you think Barros will ride next season on the Crash.Net poll...



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