Franco Morbidelli has been confirmed as switching from Petronas Yamaha to the Factory Monster Yamaha team from this weekend's injury comeback at the Misano MotoGP.

The Italian, sidelined since left knee surgery to repair ligament damage in June, will remain at the Factory team until at least the end of 2023. Morbidelli is thus the official replacement for Maverick Vinales, who split from the team after Austria and has now joined Aprilia.

“First of all, we want to thank Petronas Yamaha SRT for allowing Franky to make his dream come true and letting him step up to the Factory team ahead of schedule," said Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis. "Originally, we had planned for Franky to move up from 2022 on, but following a sudden rider line-up change mid-season, we had the chance to let him upgrade early.

“Secondly, I want to give a warm welcome to Franky. He is an exceptional talent. This was even further highlighted last year when he secured second place in the championship and achieved five podiums and three wins on the satellite Yamaha. It shows the type of rider that he is: committed to extracting the best from the YZR-M1 under all circumstances. 

“Naturally, we‘re thrilled that Franky will be back in the paddock and that he is well enough to start racing again. He will have to find his form gradually, in line with his physical improvements, as he is still recovering. We will be using the remainder of 2021 to get him settled in the team and comfortable on the bike.

“We have already locked down our plans for 2022 and 2023, with Franky receiving full Factory backing from Yamaha Motor Company. We feel certain that a skilled, calm, and experienced rider like Franky will strengthen the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team and will enjoy great success in the future.”

Morbidelli rejoins former Petronas team-mate Fabio Quartararo, whom he rode alongside at SRT in 2019 and 2020.

Quartararo joined the factory team at the start of this season, and currently holds a commanding 53-point world championship lead, while title runner-up Morbidelli remained on the A-Spec bike at Petronas.

While Morbidelli and Quartararo celebrated three wins each during a dream 2020 season, the Italian's 2019-based bike became a clear disadvantage this season and he managed just one podium in eight races prior to the knee surgery.

“I'm very pleased and happy about facing this weekend and this highly anticipated new chapter with the Factory Yamaha team. I've been trying to recover as much as possible for the final stage of this championship. I wanted to make my comeback at a track I know well and have great memories of, like Misano," said Morbidelli, who took his first MotoGP win at Misano last season.

”I'm looking forward to jumping on the bike and starting my journey with the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP Team. Of course, I need and I want to thank all the people who made this happen, starting with Ito-san, Lin, Maio, Sumi-san, the VR46 Riders Academy, and all other people who made this collaboration possible.”

Morbidelli's place at Petronas Yamaha, alongside Valentino Rossi, will be taken by Andrea Dovizioso for the remainder of this season ahead of a full 2022 campaign with the restored satellite Yamaha team.

While Morbidelli will work with Vinales' former crew chief Silvano Galbusera for the remainder of this year, it is not yet clear if the #21's Petronas crew mechanic Ramon Forcada will join him at the factory team next year.

Galbusera returned from the test team to work as crew chief for Vinales from Catalunya, meaning there is now a crew chief void at the test team, Cal Crutchlow recently revealing Galbusera will try and attend tests when possible between the races.

Forcada meanwhile was a factory Yamaha crew chief for Jorge Lorenzo, winning three world titles, and then Vinales, before joining Wilco Zeelenberg in moving to the new Petronas team in 2019.

Why was Morbidelli's mid-season team change allowed?

By moving from Petronas to Monster, Morbidelli will also swap his former A-Spec bike for the 2021 Factory-Spec M1 used by Maverick Vinales and then temporary replacement Cal Crutchlow.

It had not been entirely certain that such an in-season team change would be allowed, due to the engine use regulations. Each MotoGP entry is restricted to five engine changes per season, or seven for Concession manufacturers (Aprilia). Engine use is tied to the bike, not the rider.

The MotoGP rules state: "A replacement rider may not be a rider currently contracted in the Championship, unless approved by the Grand Prix Commission to avoid that such substitution may be motivated by reasons other than sporting or medical (circumventing engine allocation rules, etc.)."

Without any checks on in-season rider movements, if a team's top rider was running low on engines, a penalty could be avoided by swapping his entry with a team-mate that has more engines available. There would be no difference other than the official paperwork.

While Morbidelli's change of entry does not involve staying with the same team, as in the obvious example above, he will be staying with the same manufacturer (and upgrading his bike specification mid-season, not allowed if the entry is unchanged).

Although there is no question of trying to 'circumvent the engine allocation rules', there is also no doubt that Yamaha now has a much better chance of winning the triple crown of riders', teams' and constructors' titles with Morbidelli alongside Quartararo (Crutchlow did not score any points while replacing Vinales).

That's particularly bad news for Ducati, just 8 points ahead of Yamaha in the constructors' standings and 19 behind in the teams' title.

Crash.net has been told that the crucial factor in securing the green light for Morbidelli's in-season team change was that Vinales is no longer employed by Yamaha and therefore Morbidelli's move could not be seen as a 'swap'.

That might also explain why Yamaha, having suspended Vinales after Austria, agreed to cut him free from his contract and allow an immediate switch to Aprilia. If the Spaniard had remained under contract to Yamaha, even if suspended, it may have proven an obstacle to Morbidelli's move.

Nonetheless, some might feel a precedent has been set in which a rider can switch MotoGP between teams' mid-season, even remaining with the same manufacturer and upgrading their machinery, as long as the original seat holder has left the company (one way or another).