Suzuki has confirmed that John Hopkins will make his MotoGP comeback at Jerez in place of the injured Alvaro Bautista, though the team will sit out Qatar.
Hopkins, who rode for Suzuki in MotoGP from 2003 to 2007, was lined up as an unofficial reserve for the team this year following the reduction of its MotoGP program to a single bike for Bautista. The American first tried the 2011 Suzuki in a filming run at Losail last weekend. He was unable to get back from his homeland to step in for Bautista at Losail after the Spaniard broke his left leg in a practice crash last night, but will race at Jerez in a fortnight.
Team boss Paul Denning said: "John isn't happy with what happened to Alvaro, but I know he will do a solid job for us in Jerez, and we are hoping to arrange a shakedown test beforehand."
Denning explained that Suzuki had looked at getting either Hopkins or factory test rider Nobuatsu Aoki to Losail in time for today's qualifying session but this proved logistically impossible. It also pondered putting a Moto2 rider on its bike to ensure Suzuki was represented in the Qatar Grand Prix, before ruling this out.
"We really wanted to find a suitable rider and have the Rizla Suzuki on the grid tomorrow but the logistics for John or Nobu simply didn't allow it," said Denning. "Also, the Moto2 teams who have riders with MotoGP experience, that we discussed the option with, were understandably reluctant to release a rider at the first round of the championship.
"Our reason to explore these options was simply to support the championship, Rizla and all our partners, but ultimately it is a huge ask to expect any rider to jump for only qualifying and the race and expect too much - safety and common sense have to play their part as well and we fully respect those decisions."
Bautista underwent surgery on his injury in Doha earlier today, and Denning said the team's thoughts were with the young Spaniard.
"The 2011 season hasn't yet started and to have this huge disappointment already is very difficult to deal with," he said. "The winter tests have been consistent and competitive, especially bearing in mind Alvaro's 'race-day' mentality and his love of fighting with the other guys rather than just riding - we always expect more from him in the races than in the tests, so everything was looking good.
"The reason for the crash was quite simple -- pushing too hard in this section without enough temperature in the new tire -- very similar to [Valentino] Rossi's accident in Mugello last year.
"But the real reasons behind that -- maybe feeling some pressure after losing track time on Thursday night with the arm pump, wanting to get back into the top group of lap-times as soon as possible -- are more complex and unfortunately Alvaro paid a heavy price. This sport is very extreme, and the edge between success and disaster is very small.
"We are all disappointed, but he is the poor guy in hospital with a pin in his femur and a tough recuperation ahead. He has the strength of character and determination to come back from this, and on his behalf we'd like to thank everybody for their kind wishes and support, especially the doctors and staff of the Clinica Mobile who came to the hospital at 2:00 a.m. last night to check on the situation and lend their valuable advice and assistance."
Hopkins is currently only confirmed for Jerez, as the following races at Le Mans and Estoril clash with his commitments for Crescent Suzuki in the British Superbike Championship.
"Alvaro's comeback timing isn't clear, and John has BSB commitments that clash with Estoril and Le Mans, so we need to wait a while before any decisions for those races are made," said Denning.
Jerez will be Hopkins' first MotoGP appearance since he raced for Kawasaki in 2008. After that team's sudden withdrawal, he turned to World and AMA Superbikes for the next two seasons but was hampered by injuries, before signing for the British series this year.