All Eyes on Cal Crutchlow
Yamaha Tech 3's main rider Cal Crutchlow is the man of the moment. He is not leading the provisional standings and he hasn't even won a GP race this season; yet, he is the man of the moment for several very good reasons.
One of these reasons is that Crutchlow has showed that a satellite bike can beat its factory siblings. Some might add that Lorenzo had problems, and Rossi is still not 100 per cent "back there" on his M1… and be right. However, in the end it's the result that matters, and that result showed Cal beating the works Yamaha machines fair and square. So it's possible, if one rides well.
We're also paying attention to the Brit because he's becoming better and better, race by race. In his case, it's more than Marquez' talent: it's hard work (just like pretty much any responsible rider puts in) and a granite-hard determination.
Is he looking for a victory in 2013? We simply won't be surprised at all to hear the British anthem after one of this year's rounds… because Crutchlow showed that beating the factory machines on a satellite bike is possible.
Would his Tech 3 ride beat the Hondas? In normal conditions, I'd say it would not, but with Cal riding as hard as he does now, making no mistakes and with a bit of luck he definitely could squeeze in front of them, by all means.
While we're only 5 rounds into the 2013 calendar, one thing is impossible to forget: Crutchlow's contract with Tech 3 ends at the end of the season and "what next?" is a question all those interested are asking today, hoping for a good answer before the final round in Valencia.
As far as what things look like right now, Cal Crutchlow has three roads ahead, and which one will he tread remains to be seen. To put things bluntly, it seems like these paths are named Suzuki, Ducati or Tech 3, which is the least likely, given the present order of things.
I tend to rule Tech 3 out because it's a satellite team and Crutchlow was rather explicit as he mentioned he was looking to ride a factory bike in 2014. Now, it may be that the 2014 MotoGP will no longer be a works vs. CRT business (details here) so adding the MSMA tag to Tech 3 could possibly calm things down a bit.
With Yamaha planning to lease their M1 engine to the CRT teams, the bikes using it will have a better shot at glory, though everybody knows they will not be THE M1 machines. And this looks like it won't be enough for Crutchlow. Or maybe they can find an offer too good for him to refuse…
The Brit is as close to the technical limits of his Tech 3 machine and it's little he, or the team, could do to make it better. Again, with just a tad of luck, he’s proved that he is good enough to beat the factory riders, remember that.
On the other hand, there have been some discussions between Yamaha officials and Aleix Espargaro's brother Pol. With Rossi in the last straight line of his career, the Tuning Forks should be ready for the change, but what this change will be is a question to which only Yamaha's boss Lin Jarvis seems to have an answer.
Will they go for young blood and hope Pol will be the next Marc Marquez, or will they prefer a very good, prove rider to be Lorenzo's next teammate? I dare not say. Talking to Autosport about Yamaha and Pol Espargaro, Crutchlow is quite blunt: ”Everybody thinks the next guy up is going to be as good as Marquez, but Marquez is like Valentino was 15 years ago; he is unbelievable. Pol is not going to beat Marquez. Would he [Espargaro] beat me? No." No need for too much psychology to sense Crutchlow's (normal, I daresay) irritation.
Crutchlow leaving Yamaha is not nice, from a sponsor's perspective: he has a deal with Monster and Monster loves him, because he is truly an emblematic presence: fast, joyful, witty and charming, but at the same time, a ticking time-bomb.
Crutchlow has that special edge which, we must all admit, has little to do with the corporate, politically-correct BS sometimes: he is all about racing and less about playing Ken's (remember Barbie dolls?) role.
And just to prove I am right, here are his words via Moto Matters: "[Yamaha] have signed Pol, as far as I am aware. It's none of my business and I don’t really care, but one thing is for sure, I won’t ride under Pol Espargaro in my team. So I will be leaving, that’s clear. I won't ride there if he has a factory contract and I don't."
So, I am really open to any suggestions: what could Yamaha do if they want to keep Crutchlow? Will they find a way to offer Cal an offer he can't refuse?
Nicky Hayden is also becoming "free" at the end of the 2013 season, as his one-year deal with Ducati comes to be fulfilled, and this could mean seeing Crutchlow riding again with Andrea Dovizioso, his former teammate.
Could such a move be a good one? By all means, yes, as Cal gets a factory ride and he also gets to play an important role in the development of the machine. As for Ducati, things could also work out just great, as they'd have a skilled rider helping them build the new GP bike alongside Michele Pirro, thus increasing the speed of their comeback.
Ducati made a huge progress since winter, when even their fans started to be so mad as to start petitioning them to leave the MotoGP and I was wondering whether their fate was indeed sealed.
With Herr Gobmeier as the new Ducati Corse boss and Audi backing, the Borgo Panigale factory managed to steer well outside the path of ridicule and disgrace they seemed bent for and things are looking well once more. Of course, there is still a lot to do, but the wind is now favorable, and with Crutchlow in the team (and possibly with some Monster money, too), 2014 could be the first of the rest of the good years…
With the Yamaha MotoGP machinery being obviously tuned to Lorenzo's riding style, we see Crutchlow trying to emulate the Spaniard's way of riding, in order to make the bike work for him, instead of battling it. And this means adaptability while retaining high-class racing quality and results… two more aces the Englishman has up his sleeve.
With Ducati, he could tailor the bike (already suitable for his aggressive style) to his preference and this may be a winning combo. Ducati seems to have great potential once more, and upping it with a rider of Crutchlow's class would certainly be a thing quite interesting to watch (for us) and… profitable.
The third way leads to Suzuki. First rumored to come back to MotoGP and now awaiting for the official “go”, the Suzuki factory team are bringing a new engine to the game.
They ditched the V4 and their new in-line machine is said to become better with each passing test. Randy de Puniet went to Motegi this week and rode it, and I can't wait to see how will it fare in the first official tests.
Though no official timings came from these tests, it looks like the new Suzuki is somewhere between 1.5 and 2 seconds slower than the fastest Motegi laps… pretty much where Ducati were 5 months ago. Given Ducati's example, it's obvious that Suzuki could reduce the gap as they've been in racing for such a long time now. Question is if they can really afford the price of this…
MotoGP racing is expensive and developing a really competitive bike is eating up much of the money pouring in. Suzuki is not exactly in their best period now, after their US automotive division bankruptcy, and not even the best intentions and dedication from engineers, riders and pilots alike could compensate for the needed dough.
Ducati has had a fair share of frustration not being able to bring the factory riders to the COTA… and in case Suzuki is not able to cope with the top-level racing expenses (engineering, development, testing and all the upgrades), we might just see them “hi-bye” once more.
Just as I’ve written recently, this almost looks like a soap opera, with so many possibilities and options, things we don't know, scheming and various moves which are out of sight and out of mind, even.
However, there is one major difference between MotoGP and soap operas: while one could easily stretch the story across thousands of episodes (remember The Young and the Restless?), the 2013 MotoGP season ends in Valencia on November 10. And things must be settled by then.
Until then, it's just "Go Cal!" for this Sunday.
By Florin Tibu