Petronas Yamaha has officially confirmed that Cal Crutchlow will join the team as a replacement for the injured Franco Morbidelli at the next three rounds; two in Austria and then his home British Grand Prix.

The Englishman, 35, retired as a full-time MotoGP rider at the end of last season, having won three races for Honda and was promptly snapped up by Yamaha as official test rider.

Crutchlow made his return to the M1, a machine he raced at the start of his grand prix career with Tech3 from 2011-2013, during pre-season testing in Qatar.

Covid restrictions have since hampered some of his planned testing schedule and when Morbidelli injured his knee in a training accident just days before Assen, Crutchlow felt it was too short notice to step in.

Yamaha then hired WorldSBK rider Garrett Gerloff, but the American is unable to ride in Austria 1 due to his Superbike commitments.

Meanwhile, Crutchlow has a hole in his MotoGP testing plans from April until mid-October (not to mention the loss of testing crew chief Silvano Galbusera, called up mid-season to work with Maverick Vinales).

Although Morbidelli's 2019-based A-Spec machine isn't suitable for the testing of new Yamaha parts, which would be designed for use with the latest Factory-spec bikes, by accepting the offer to ride in the upcoming MotoGP rounds Crutchlow will thus stay active on the M1 and be able to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of Yamaha's rivals.

Morbidelli, title runner-up last season, has taken just one podium this season and often struggled to overcome a major top speed deficit.

Crutchlow won't be the only big name returning to the grid in Austria with former Honda colleague Dani Pedrosa, now a KTM test rider, making his return as a wild-card.

"It’s great to be back riding with Yamaha this year as the official test rider and to be able to step in when needed is good for all parties," said Crutchlow, a 19-time MotoGP podium finisher.

"I’m looking forward to riding for Petronas Yamaha SRT in the three Grands Prix. Obviously it’s not in the best circumstances and I wish Franco a good recovery, I hope he comes back strongly after the knee surgery. I’m sure he will because he’s been riding fantastically over the last two years.

"I think it’s difficult to set targets for these three races and it will be more about understanding the bike, as I’ve had limited riding days this year. The good thing will be that I can compare the bikes and I should be able to gather a lot of data for Yamaha.

"It’s a bit like being thrown in the deep end, as it’s a very competitive MotoGP class, but I’m really looking forward to it and it’s going to be good to be back on the grid.

"I’m looking forward to meeting the team in Austria, although there will be some familiar faces for me because Wilco Zeelenberg was my Team Manager in Supersport in 2009 and I actually raced against Johan Stigefelt some years ago, so it’s going to be a pleasure to be back with them."

Razlan Razali, Team Principal of Petronas Yamaha, added:  "After looking at all the options, it was a collective decision between Yamaha and ourselves to ask Cal Crutchlow to fill in for Franco, while he recovers from surgery.

"Cal is a credible and experienced rider, who is currently a test rider for Yamaha. As an independent team, this is where we can really step up to help Yamaha. Cal will be able to rack up some good mileage on our M1, which should aid him with his testing and development work for Yamaha.

"Cal will replace Franco for the next three races and we have no real targets for him in terms of results. We will do all we can to help support him and make him feel comfortable in the team. He’s already familiar with some of the key people in the team, which helps, and I’m sure he’s up for the challenge."

Petronas Yamaha previously announced that Morbidelli is not expected to return until Misano in mid-September. However that is four races from now, meaning its unclear who will ride in Morbidelli's place at Aragon on September 10-12...