With Cal Crutchlow’s signing out of the way, a few more pieces of MotoGP’s 2014 puzzle are starting to fall into place. The next domino to fall was Stefan Bradl, the German having his contract at LCR Honda extended for the 2014 season as expected. Bradl wil now stay with the team for another season as a factory-supported rider, with direct backing from HRC.
The news that Cal Crutchlow has signed a two-year deal with Ducati led to howls of despair from MotoGP fans, especially among those in the UK. Why, they asked, would Crutchlow willingly leave the Tech 3 Yamaha team and the as-near-factory-as-possible M1 to take on the miserable task of taming the Ducati?
Why throw away another year on a bike which he knows he can score podiums, and perhaps even wins on, in exchange for riding a bike which has been a proven failure since Casey Stoner last climbed off it and headed next door to the Repsol Honda garage?
If Valentino Rossi, the biggest name and most politically powerful rider in motorcycle racing couldn’t make the bike competitive, what chance does Crutchlow stand?
Though only Crutchlow himself fully understands the motives behind his choice, he has left plenty of evidence offering some insight into why he has signed for Ducati. Though fans around the world have tried to point to a single reason – usually either money or having a factory bike – the decision-making process is far, far more complex than that.
It is a case study of the complex thought process that lies behind the decisions a rider must make when steering his career. With so little time spent at their peak, and so many factors outside of their control, the decisions a rider makes are not as clear-cut and simple as the fans would like them to be.
With the 2013 MotoGP season at its halfway mark, now is a good time to take a look back and examine the engine usage for the teams and riders.
In 2012, with the engine durability regulations in their third full season, the factories appeared to have the situation pretty much under control. The only excitement arose when something unexpected happened, such as Jorge Lorenzo have an engine lunch itself after he was taken out by Alvaro Bautista at Assen last year.
For 2013, the engine allocation was reduced from six to five engines per season. Each rider now has five engines to last the entire season, for use in all timed practice sessions during each race weekend. With three seasons already under their belt, no real drama was expected, yet that is not quite how it has turned out.
With Cal Crutchlow now confirmed to go to Ducati Corse (the team’s press release came in this morning), Pol Espargaro is now free to replace the Briton at the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 satellite MotoGP team.
Signing a two-year contract with Yamaha Racing, Espargaro will move up from Moto2 into the premier-class, and will campaign a Yamaha YZR-M1 alongside former Moto2 rider Bradley Smith.
Investing in the 22-year-old, the contract with Espargaro marks a clear signal from Yamaha Racing to develop young talent in the MotoGP series through the Tech 3 satellite team, and to have an ongoing chain of top riders on its factory teams for the considerable future.
The news also deals an end to the speculation about the Tech 3 team’s rider line-up, as Crutchlow, Smith, and Espargaro have been engaged in a game of musical chairs thru media reports. The terse announcement from Yamaha Racing is after the jump, along with the more lengthy press release from Tech 3.
After months of intrigue as to where the British rider would land for the 2014 MotoGP Championship, Cal Crutchlow has reportedly signed a two-year deal with Ducati Corse.
Taking the seat of the departing Nicky Hayden, Cal Crutchlow has finally bagged the factory position that he has been adamant about for the past season and a half. The official announcement is expected Friday of this week.
The Sachsenring is a key point on the MotoGP calendar. For the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, it is the last race before the summer break, while the MotoGP men have one more race, at Laguna Seca, before heading off for an all too brief summer hiatus.
A good result in Moto2 and Moto3 is crucial, as it determines the momentum you carry into the summer: you either spend the next five weeks brooding over what could have been, or on a high and wishing the next race was the next weekend. Momentum is not quite such an issue for the MotoGP riders, but a bad result puts them on the back foot ahead of Laguna Seca, and their own summer break.
As it is often also contract time, especially in MotoGP, the pressure is on to perform and secure a seat for next season. Good results and championship points are vital, as this race can help determine the course of the remainder of the season.
The significance of the Sachsenring was visible in all three races on Sunday, for wildly different reasons and with wildly differing outcomes. In Moto3, the top 3 riders merely underlined once again that they are a cut above the rest – or at least the rest of those who are also riding a KTM.
In Moto2, Pol Espargaro gained important momentum in his title challenge, but failed to drive home his advantage, swinging the balance of power slowly back his way, but not as fast or as powerfully as he had hoped, while Scott Redding struggled badly, salvaging points only thanks to Espargaro’s finish.
As for MotoGP, the absence of the two championship leaders has blown the title race wide open again, allowing Marc Marquez to take the lead, and both Cal Crutchlow and Valentino Rossi got closer to being back in contention again.
How quickly things change. Yesterday, it looked like Jorge Lorenzo had handed the 2013 MotoGP championship to Dani Pedrosa on a plate, by crashing unnecessarily at Turn 10, and bending the titanium plate he had fitted to his collarbone after breaking it at Assen.
Today, Pedrosa did his best to level the playing field again, by pushing a little too hard on a cold tire at Turn 1, and being catapulted out of the saddle in a cold tire, closed throttle highside. He flew a long way, and hit the ground hard, coming up rubbing his collarbone much as Jorge Lorenzo had done.
He was forced to miss qualifying, and for most of the afternoon, it looked like he too could be forced to miss the Sachsenring race, and possibly also Laguna Seca.
At the end of the afternoon, the medical intervention team – a group of experienced Spanish emergency doctors who spend their free weekends hooning around race tracks in hot-rodded BMW M550d medical cars – gave a press conference to explain Pedrosa’s medical situation, and what had happened that afternoon.
Dr. Charte and Dr. Caceres told the media that Pedrosa had a huge crash, had walked away feeling dizzy, and had been rushed to the medical center. There, he had one X-ray on his collarbone, but just as he was about to have a second X-ray, his blood pressure dropped dramatically. The second X-ray was immediately aborted as the medical staff intervened to stabilize Pedrosa.
He was then flown to a local hospital, where he had a cranial MRI scan and a CT scan of his upper body, which showed that he had sustained no major injuries, apart from a partially fractured collarbone.
A neurological test turned up no signs of concussion, and the drop in blood pressure was probably just due to the force of the impact, a typical symptom of shock. He returned to the track, where he was examined again, and nothing abnormal showed up in that exam.
Will Pedrosa race tomorrow? That will be decided in the morning, firstly by Pedrosa himself, who must decide whether he wants to undergo a medical test, and then by the doctors performing the fairly full medical test, including an extensive neurological exam, aimed at ruling out any signs of concussion or nerve problems.
With the start of the summer break coming up in ten days’ time, contract negotiations are starting to heat up for the 2013 MotoGP rider market. The two race weekends at the Sachsenring and then Laguna Seca will see a frenzy of meetings, horse trading and secret talks as the few open MotoGP seats for 2014 get closer to be being filled.
The biggest problem facing riders looking to upgrade their seat is the scarcity of good seats available, both for 2014 and beyond. The Repsol Honda and Factory Yamaha teams are fully booked through the 2014 season, and even after that, it is hard to see them changing personnel.
Jorge Lorenzo has shown that he has the potential to win multiple championships for Yamaha, and Marc Marquez looks like doing much the same at Honda. Neither man is showing any intention of going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Dani Pedrosa is looking stronger than ever, and has to be getting closer to his first ever MotoGP title. Though he considered retiring early after a couple of difficult years with injury, the Spaniard has rediscovered his passion for racing, and is also likely to extend his contract with Honda again once it comes up for renewal at the end of next year.
The only possible candidate to vacate his seat at the end of 2014 is Valentino Rossi. By then, the Italian will be nearly 36, the age at which most Grand Prix racers are in full decline. There had been some speculation that Rossi’s run of mediocre (for a nine-times world champion) results was the first sign of Rossi’s decline, but his convincing victory at Assen seems to have put a stop to such chatter.
More importantly, it appears to have revitalized the Italian and restored the fire of his ambition, which had sometimes seemed to be dying down. There is no doubt that Rossi will complete both years of his two-year deal with the Yamaha factory team, and the odds of him extending beyond that are looking better and better.
That leaves Cal Crutchlow, in particular, with no place to go. The Englishman had been pressuring Yamaha to sign a two-year deal, with a guarantee of a seat in the factory team in the second year of his contract. The problem is, either Lorenzo or Rossi would have to go. Given Lorenzo’s current form, it would be foolish to drop Lorenzo for Crutchlow, as strong as Crutchlow may have proved himself to be.
And dropping Rossi in favor of Crutchlow – no matter how good Crutchlow’s results – simply makes no business sense, as Rossi remains the top draw in the sport, and Yamaha’s biggest sales ace-in-the-hole around the world.
Crutchlow told the venerable British publication MCN that Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis had refused to guarantee him a seat in the factory team for 2015, leaving him to choose between remaining with Tech 3 for the next two years, and fighting on second string equipment, or taking his chances elsewhere.
However, “elsewhere” is a very limited selection of slots indeed. For the LCR Honda seat is taken, with Stefan Bradl set to stay on for another year – though HRC have made it clear that they expect better results from the German, if his pre-contract is to turn into an actual contract.
Alvaro Bautista has a contract with Gresini for 2014, though Bautista’s position is far from certain, given his disappointing results. In a report on Motocuatro, Fausto Gresini expressed his discontent with the results of the Spaniard, and emphasized that Bautista needs to realize just how much effort was going in to ensuring that he had an RC213V at his disposal for 2014.
Even the Tech 3 squad appears to be already full. Bradley Smith has a contract for 2014 with Herve Poncharal, while rumors persist that Yamaha has already signed either a contract or a letter of intent with Pol Espargaro to take the second seat at Tech 3. Even if Cal Crutchlow wanted to stay with the Tech 3 team, it could get very complicated.
And so Ducati finds itself with riders lining up almost around the block. With the Bologna factory the only manufacturer with seats open, there has been a lot of interest expressed in slotting in alongside Andrea Dovizioso, the only factory Ducati rider certain of his seat for 2014.
There are four candidates to take the second Ducati seat, and the places in the satellite team could also be up for grabs, in some combination or other.