The troubled waters through which Cal Crutchlow has found himself sailing with Yamaha have been calmed a little. The Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider and his manager Bob Moore held their first face-to-face meeting with Yamaha bosses Lin Jarvis and Masahiko Nakajima on the Sunday night after the Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, to discuss the options for extending their relationship for next year.
Also present at the meeting was Monster Tech 3 Yamaha boss Hervé Poncharal, who has been very vocal in his desire to retain the British rider. Crutchlow’s results have been a real boon for the French team, and his outspoken and impish personality have helped attract a large amount of media attention.
Poncharal has been mediating between Yamaha and Crutchlow, and is trying to secure an extension of Crutchlow’s contract with the team for 2014. He judged the meeting a positive step forward, with all parties involved getting a chance to express their views in person.
“It was good to clear the air,” Poncharal said of the meeting, something which was necessary after Crutchlow’s indignant and very public response to rumors that Yamaha were intending to put Pol Espargaro on Crutchlow’s seat in the Tech 3 garage.
Rumors of an imminent departure for the new factory Suzuki team continue to surround Crutchlow, despite Crutchlow’s continuing protestations that his first objective is to remain with Yamaha.
Qualifying doesn’t tell you the whole story. Which is a good thing, as otherwise they could just hand out the trophies after qualifying and be done with it. A lot of things change in the 24 hours between qualifying and the race – weather, temperature, set up – but most of all, qualifying is just a couple of laps, while the race means spending a long time on the track. Mugello turned out to be a perfect example of this.
Dani Pedrosa had been getting faster every session, especially as the temperatures rose and the grip of the track improved. The Repsol Honda man blasted to pole, just pipping Jorge Lorenzo at the end of qualifying and setting a new lap record in the process. With race day looking warmer, and the track cleaning up every session, Pedrosa looked the hot favorite to dominate at the Italian track.
Mugello is a spectacular setting. Even when it absolutely pours down, so badly that a river starts running through the Mugello paddock, the setting remains spectacular. It makes navigating the paddock without a life vest fairly treacherous, but at least the view is stunning. The rain looks set to stay for the duration, though the forecast appears to be improving day by day, but the riders need not fear a lack of wet track time.
As always, the riders waxed eloquent on the circuit, almost universal in their praise. Most entertaining simile of the day was from Bradley Smith, who compared Mugello to a motocross track: all undulating surfaces, blind crests and banked corners. He is right, of course, but it is not the first comparison that springs to mind when describing a track as physically large and magnificent as Mugello.
With the recent leaked news of Suzuki’s MotoGP test and Honda’s press release discussing the test of their new Production Racer MotoGP machine, the first speculation of silly season is starting to appear.
With so many seats already tied up – all four Honda seats, three Yamaha seats, and one seat at Ducati – speculation is limited, though the imminent return of Suzuki to the fold opens up more seats for consideration.
One name is on everyone’s lips, however. Cal Crutchlow is the current hot ticket in MotoGP, and rightly so. The best of the riders available, and the only rider so far to get anywhere near the current four MotoGP aliens, with a podium at Le Mans to go with two fifth places and a fourth.
If there is one rider looking capable of breaking the hegemony on wins currently held by the front four, it is surely Cal Crutchlow. So where will Crutchlow be riding in 2014?
So far, so good. That seems to be the story from the first day of practice at Le Mans. A full day of dry weather – except for the last few minutes of FP2 for the Moto3 class, where the rain turned briefly to hail, only to blow out again as quickly as it came – means that everyone had a chance to work on their race set up.
With the top four separated by just 0.166 seconds, the top five are within a quarter of a second, and Alvaro Bautista, the man in ninth, is just over seven tenths from the fastest man Dani Pedrosa.
A good day too for the Hondas. Dani Pedrosa was immediately up to speed, as expected. Marc Marquez was also quick in the afternoon, which was less expected. Unlike Jerez and Austin, this was the first time he rode a MotoGP machine at Le Mans, and getting used to hauling a 260 hp, 160kg bike around the tight layout of the French track is a different proposition to riding a Moto2 bike with half the horsepower here.
He took a morning to get used to the track, asked for a few changes to the base set up inherited from Casey Stoner, and then went and blitzed to second in the afternoon, 0.134 seconds off his teammate.
More important than Marquez’s speed is his consistency, however. In the afternoon, he posted seven laps of 1’34, which looks to be the pace to expect for a dry race. Only two men did more, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo having posted nine laps at that pace, with both men also consistently a tenth or two quicker than the Spanish rookie.
Three races into the 2013 MotoGP season, and the Yamaha Factory Racing team have been forced to tear up the script they had written for themselves after pre-season testing. Their original goals were for Jorge Lorenzo to win as often as possible in the early part of the season, building a lead at the tracks at which Yamaha is supposed to be strong, then defend that lead in the second half of the year. Valentino Rossi, meanwhile, was to finish adapting to the Yamaha once again, and get on the podium ahead of the Hondas as much as possible, to help build out Lorenzo’s lead in the championship.
The plan worked perfectly at Qatar. Lorenzo was untouchable in the race, and won easily. Rossi showed he still had it by getting on the podium and taking second, while the first Honda was Marc Marquez in third. This worked out even better than expected, as although Marquez is clearly an exceptional talent, the real title threat, Yamaha believed, would come from Dani Pedrosa.
At the post-race press conference, as he fielded question after question of his last-corner clash with Marc Marquez, and refused to give an answer, Jorge Lorenzo eventually came out with the slightly exasperated quip: “Now a lot of questions to me, and when I won in Qatar, no questions for me. It’s a little bit strange.”
It is a common occurrence in sporting journalism, and makes clear that while the athletes believe they are involved in a purely sporting endeavor, the media understands that what they are involved is actually show business. The big story of the weekend is not necessarily who stands on the top step of the podium.
Which is a shame, as Dani Pedrosa’s victory at Jerez was both well-deserved and deeply impressive. The Hondas had come to the track with a disadvantage from testing, and were expected to struggle against the mighty Yamahas.
It did not quite turn out that way, the Hondas – and especially Pedrosa and his crew chief Mike Leitner – found the grip they needed to beat Jorge Lorenzo and the rampaging Yamaha hordes, despite the horribly greasy conditions of the hot Jerez track.