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.

So why did Crutchlow go to Ducati? There is no easy answer to that question. Crutchlow had a number of options on the table, but not all led to the same goal. His objective, Crutchlow has made it clear on numerous occasions, is to win races and challenge for the title.

Winning races requires a competitive bike, and there is no argument that the satellite Yamaha he currently rides is capable of doing just that.

Challenging for a title is more difficult – beyond the argument that the current level of competition makes it virtually impossible in the first place. The priority of every manufacturer is their own factory team, which means the factory team gets all the resources at the factory’s disposal. The new parts go to the factory riders first, the factory teams get the best engines, the most support, have the most engineers.

When a factory rider has a problem, he becomes that manufacturer’s highest priority. When a satellite rider has a problem, that is looked at once the factory engineers are done with the factory riders. Beyond that, there is good reason to believe that manufacturers do not want satellite riders beating their factory riders – above all, it would not impress the factory team’s sponsors in the slightest. Just how actively the factories enforce their superiority is up for debate, however.

So if a rider believes he is good enough to win a championship – and the truth is, every single rider on the grid believes that; if they don’t, they cannot justify the enormous personal sacrifice they have to make to compete in any form of elite sport – then they want to be in a factory team. Satellite teams are useful as a way station en route to a factory team, or as a substitute when factories are willing to give cast iron guarantees of support. But a ride in a factory team remains the ultimate goal, and any other team is just a stepping stone along the way.

That meant there was no future at Yamaha for Crutchlow. The Japanese factory already has Jorge Lorenzo, arguably the best rider of the moment (at least until Marc Marquez gets up to speed), and their best hope of a MotoGP title. At 26 years of age, Lorenzo has plenty of racing left in him, and shows no sign of retiring until he is into his thirties. He will remain Yamaha’s main title challenger for the medium term, until they find another youngster capable of taking his place, just as Lorenzo was drafted in to take Rossi’s place.

Yamaha also have Valentino Rossi, clearly still competitive and an icon of the sport. Rossi can still win races, and he can surely still sell bikes, and will continue to be a hugely important marketing asset for Yamaha once he finally decides to retire.

In a recent interview with the German website Speedweek, Rossi said he hoped to sign on for another two years after his contract expires at the end of 2014, and it goes without saying that Yamaha will be happy to offer him such a deal.

The Yamaha factory team is full for the foreseeable future, or at least until 2017. By then, Crutchlow would be 31, the age at which most motorcycle racers have their best years behind rather than ahead of them.

Crutchlow also had an offer from HRC, with Honda team principal Livio Suppo showing great interest in the British rider. Talks took place on Crutchlow replacing Stefan Bradl at LCR Honda, riding the factory-supported RC213V fielded by Lucio Cecchinello’s team.

But while Crutchlow could have expected more support at LCR than he could have at Tech 3 – Yamaha’s stated policy is to have two factory bikes and two satellite bikes, while Honda has much stronger factory backing for riders in satellite teams – he still would have been playing second fiddle to the Repsol Hondas.

A move into the factory Honda team is almost as hard as making the jump into the factory Yamaha team. At 20 years of age, Marc Marquez has proved to everyone that he is the future, not just for Honda, but for the sport of motorcycle racing as well. He is having a stellar rookie season, and will remain in the factory Honda team for as long as he desires.

Dani Pedrosa, too, has a strong foothold at Repsol Honda, despite having so far failed to win a title for the factory. He came very close in 2012, and is probably favorite for the title this year, with MotoGP about to hit the tracks at which Pedrosa did so well at the end of last year. Pedrosa is the rider most likely to retire earlier rather than later, but it seems unlikely he will call it a day at the end of his contract. Just as at Yamaha, there is no room at the Repsol Honda inn for Crutchlow either.

So if Crutchlow wants a factory ride any time soon, his best bet is to go to Ducati. There is a seat available, after the Italian factory decided not to renew Nicky Hayden’s contract. Ducati are desperate to get the best talent they can on the Desmosedici, and as his podiums demonstrate, Crutchlow is one of the best in the world.

But a factory Ducati has proven to be a very long way from being competitive, with the factory’s last win coming in 2010 in the hands of Casey Stoner, the only man capable of riding round the Desmosedici’s frailties. Since Stoner left even podiums have only come in exceptional circumstances, when a wet track or chronic lack of practice time has shaken up the established order. The bike is clearly badly flawed, and in its current incarnation, Cal Crutchlow is unlikely to get so much as a whiff of the podium without the weather gods taking pity on his plight.

Crutchlow’s hope is that the bike will improve enough next year for him to be closer to the front. But given the dismal history of the past couple of years, and the bike’s long decline since Casey Stoner won the 2007 championship back when Bridgestone could build a tire specifically suited to the Desmosedici, any hope of improvement at Ducati seems optimistic to the point of naivety.

After all, if Ducati wouldn’t change for Valentino Rossi, why would they change for Crutchlow? Rossi had the power to badly damage Ducati’s brand when he spoke out against their inactivity – a power he used very sparingly, and very strategically – because of the status Rossi has.

106 victories, 80 in the premier class, and a total of 9 world titles means that his riding ability is beyond doubt. It was clear the problem was with the bike, and yet Ducati were still incapable of making the changes necessary to turn the Desmosedici into a competitive MotoGP machine. Why would Crutchlow be successful where the most famous motorcycle racer on the face of the planet had failed?

Hopelessly naive? Not necessarily. There are reasons to believe that the situation at Ducati is now very different to the one faced by Valentino Rossi. Very different, in large part precisely because of Rossi’s failure at the firm. The fact that Rossi and his crew, led by the experienced Jeremy Burgess, failed to make the bike competitive was proof, if any were needed, that the problem really was the bike.

Rossi arrived at Ducati thinking that the bike only needed a little work to turn it from winning races occasionally in the hands of Casey Stoner to being a genuinely competitive racing machine. After all, if Stoner was capable of regular podiums on the bike, then he, Valentino Rossi, should be able to match those results and lead development in the right direction.

Rossi was rudely disabused of any notion of being competitive on the bike the very first time he rode it. It was much, much worse than he thought it was, and he understood that he had underestimated just how much of the Ducati’s success was down to Stoner’s freakish ability to ride around problems.

That just left the problem of bike development. At Qatar, in an informal chat, a member of Rossi’s crew suggested that the state of the Desmosedici was a measure of Casey Stoner’s inability to lead bike development properly. Having listened to Stoner at his race weekend media debriefs for the past three years, I was skeptical. I knew that Stoner had been pushing for changes that had simply not been delivered.

The bike you start the season with was the bike you ended the season with, he had said repeatedly. This impression was underlined when I was taken aside by a Ducati spokesperson, who had emphasized to me just how much Ducati were doing for Stoner. They had brought a set of triple clamps, I was told, with modified flexibility.

Compared to the four or more chassis iterations which the Japanese factories were used to throwing at their riders every season, I was unconvinced by Ducati’s arguments.

By the time Valentino Rossi and his crew left Ducati, they too were unconvinced. Much had changed, more than ever before in the history of the factory, including the abandoning of the frameless chassis concept, but it had been directionless change, all sound and fury but no motion. Ducati was running furiously, while it also remained firmly rooted to the spot.

In the meantime, however, real change had started to happen. Halfway through what would be Rossi’s final year at Ducati, the company was bought by Audi. Though the deal was viewed by most automotive industry insiders as a vanity purchase by Audi boss Ferdinand Piech, there was no doubt that Audi was serious about making a success of the Italian bike manufacturer it had just bought.

It took six months for Audi’s management to analyze the company, at which point they started to make changes to the organization. Filippo Preziosi, the likable and brilliant engineer who had led Ducati Corse since 1999, was moved aside to make way for Bernhard Gobmeier, a German who had previously been responsible for chassis development at BMW. Alessandro Cicognani was relieved of his role of MotoGP project director, replaced by Ducati’s former WSBK chief Paolo Ciabatti.

Less visibly, Audi started to make internal changes at Ducati, focusing on changing working processes and shortening communication lines. That process continues today, despite considerable internal resistance from Ducati Corse’s engineering staff who face a radical shake up in their way of working. The rigid hierarchy is slowly making way for a more flexible approach, flattening the organization to make it more efficient.

Ducati Corse was known for its technical brilliance and its incredible work ethic, but not for its effectiveness as an organization. That is where Audi is focusing their efforts, but such organizational changes take time. The best case scenario is that it can be done within a year; a more realistic appraisal says it will be two years before Ducati Corse is fully up to speed.

Cal Crutchlow joins Ducati a year after Audi first started making serious changes to the company. He will once again be sharing a garage with his former teammate Andrea Dovizioso, who left Tech 3 at the end of 2012 to become a factory Ducati rider.

In a way, Crutchlow’s timing is more favorable than Dovizioso’s, as the Italian joined just as the organizational changes were starting, while Crutchlow moves to Ducati as they are in full swing. Dovizioso has seen little practical progress, but he has been the victim of his decision to move earlier rather than later. Ducati Corse may have been very busy changing, but the focus has been on the organization rather than the bike.

The new engineering and testing process started at the beginning of the season has seen some changes come to the bike – the new chassis Dovizioso debuted at the Sachenring is the first major step to come out of this process – and there are several more to come.

More changes will come after Misano, but the underlying problem – a weight distribution problem caused by a poorly packaged engine and gearbox – will have to wait until next year at the earliest. Ducati Corse is now shifting its focus from organizational changes back to engineering, and only now will the design and production of new parts start to speed up.

There are signs everywhere of Ducati’s intention to change. Warren Willing, the man who helped Kenny Roberts Jr win the 2000 500cc title, and who has been involved in many extremely successful racing projects, has been brought in to advise Ducati on their MotoGP project.

Ducati is rumored to be looking to hire more top talent, courting Aprilia engineer Gigi Dall’Igna (though probably unsuccesfully) as well as former Ducati World Superbike chief Davide Tardozzi. The old guard has been swept away almost completely, and a group of highly competent leaders with proven records are being brought in.

Ducati clearly wants to win, but just as clearly, wanting to win is not enough. The Italian factory has put all of the right pieces in place to drastically improve its chances, and is finally going through the painful process of taking a long and critical look at its internal organization and working practices. If ever there was a time when Ducati was on the right path, this is it.

The trouble is, of course, that while Ducati are busy turning their ship around, Honda and Yamaha are steaming ahead, long comfortable with their technology, and with their engineering process long since settled. Even once Ducati get going in the right direction, they still have an awful lot of catching up to do.

And so Cal Crutchlow has taken a gamble, one of the biggest in his career. Bigger than his leap from BSB to the World Supersport class, and perhaps as big as his move from a factory World Superbike ride to a satellite team in MotoGP. He is gambling that Ducati will be better once he arrives, and will make enough progress in his time at the factory for him to be back with a shout at the championship, or at least regularly winning races.

If he succeeds, he will stamp his name firmly on the series, and cement his position among MotoGP’s ‘aliens’. He will strengthen both his own and Ducati’s brand, following in the footsteps of Carl Fogarty, who led the Italian factory to so much success in the World Superbike championship.

But what if his gamble doesn’t pay off? What if the hoped-for progress fails to materialize? Isn’t Crutchlow stuck at Ducati for two painful years, just as Valentino Rossi was before him? Not necessarily. While Crutchlow is the victim of unfortunate timing this year, as the only major rider to be out of contract, at the end of 2014 almost everyone’s contract is up for renewal. He has another shot for 2015, especially with Suzuki set to join the series, opening up two more factory seats in MotoGP.

But wait, I hear you say, Crutchlow has a two-year deal with Ducati, and is stuck there until the end of 2015. Surely he won’t be in the frame for all of the factory rides which will be open for the 2015 season? Hasn’t he shot himself in the foot by signing up for two seasons?

Maybe. If Crutchlow is smart – and after spending a considerable amount of time talking to the British rider, he certainly is that, much more than he likes to let on in public – he will have instructed his manager Bob Moore to insert a get-out clause in the Ducati contract, giving him the option to quit after just a single year.

Anyone signing for Ducati will want to have an option to leave early, and if Ducati want top riders, then they will have to grant them such an option to get them to sign in the first place. If there are no signs of progress by the middle of the 2014 season, Crutchlow will surely be making it clear to any factories who wish to pursue him that he is available for the right price.

At first glance, Crutchlow’s decision to go to Ducati looks foolish, either stupidly naive in the hope of progress from the Italian factory, or nakedly greedy in his pursuit of cash. Yet while Crutchlow will be handsomely paid – rumors bandied around suggest he will receive a base salary of 2.5 million euros a season, over eight times his basic pay of 300,000 euros at Tech 3 – his decision is neither as naive nor as cynical as it may seem.

His pursuit of a factory ride may seem quixotic, given the current level of the Ducati, but there are real grounds for hope that the Italian factory has managed to turn itself around. That will be good for Crutchlow, but most of all, it will be good for MotoGP. The two-horse race between Yamaha and Honda is simply too limiting to make the championship meaningful. Having Ducati competitive will add prestige to the championship, and will put Crutchlow back at the forefront of MotoGP.

Cal Crutchlow’s move to Ducati is a calculated gamble, and like all gambles, it requires some bets to be hedged. The Englishman is betting that Ducati will have changed enough to be competitive, and he will have ensured an escape route should that turn out not to be the case.

Yes, he is taking a big risk by moving to the one factory in MotoGP which has so vary publicly failed to build a competitive bike. But given what has changed already, and what Ducati must surely have told Crutchlow about their plans for the future, it may not quite be the leap in the dark which so many of his fans believe it is.

It might just work out, but if it doesn’t, Cal Crutchlow had better have a parachute to hand.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • Norm G.

    Q: “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?”

    A: while the odds of winning between the 2 bikes differ immensely, the odds of DEATH are basically equal.

    re: “The trouble is, of course, that while Ducati are busy turning their ship around, Honda and Yamaha are steaming ahead…”

    …like so much nuclear powered submarines.

  • JW

    I never doubted for a moment that this was a good move for Cal. 8 times salary..

  • JD

    Ride your damn balls off Cal! Kick that shit right in its ass!! Just like Casey did. Vale was a bit timid in that thing..

  • Gutterslob

    RE: “Stoner won the 2007 championship back when Bridgestone could build a tire specifically suited to the Desmosedici”

    Going off on a tangent here, but I’ve always been curious on how much the regular-average-idiot (meaning myself) tends to underestimate tyre science. I’m no engineer, but I can sort of grasp how certain data gets applied to various parts of a bike like suspension and chassis stiffness/flex and whatnot. But the idea of taking whatever data the bike makers have and building a tyre around it is utterly gobsmacking to my simpleton self. Just trying to think about the various variables alone would scare the sh*t out of me. Crazy awesome science!!

  • Motogpdr

    As much as I like Cal, he is being made out by the media to potentially be an “alien” yet he’s never won a motogp race in his life. I think he’s brilliant to accept that big paycheck. He can’t win now on a near factory top machine, so might as well get rich losing

  • smiler

    Neysayers and doomsday mungers.
    Personally I agree with Jonesy and have said as much for the past 6 months.
    Ducati started in MotoGP with a CRT bike and one they also needed to sell and use to bring on tech into the other bikes in the range. Hence the DR16 and all the tech now available on the 1199 and Multi.
    They did well and 990 suited Ducati and the middling riders they had.
    They get hold of Stoner and he riders the nuts of it. Does much better than the others.
    But at the end of 07 he asked for a new frame because the scaffolding was not consistent. Ducati had only ever made scaffolding frames and went to Ferrari. Add to that the control tyre from Bridgestone and both changes seeled the fate of the Ducati. Stoner 2 *4th and inexplicable off’s, he gets off and goes to Honda leaving the mess behind him.
    Since then 2 capacity changes as well, too much development for a small outfit like Ducati.
    Now Audi have taken over and lets be honest when they entered WRC what happened and when they entered Le Mans, what happened. They also have a good reputation in DTM.
    Since 07 Ducati have new bikes in all categories and some new bikes. Sales are up. So this also diluted the effort they could apply to racing.
    Audi can ensure they can get on and build a protoype that does not need to be sold or used as a tech development bike. So they would have no issue changing the L to a V because they do not need to use the engine elsewhere or derive it from an existing one.
    Audi said this year they would sort, management, processes and organisation. So far so good. And when a German says he is going from A to B. Firstly he will get there and secondly he will not end up at C.
    Cal has moved at a good time. He needs factory experience and will get it there. At Tech 3 he has no chance to win ever. Not in Bradl’s seat either. Next yr will be good experience and if he does well factories will still be inclined to take him. More salary, experience and a chance. Couldn’t be better.

  • nerve

    I’m with you motogpdr, Cal is an Anglo American obsession . It’s like the World Series, but the Real World doesn’t have a clue. Har har har.

    Now that I have the mike… I wish I could ride like Colin Edwards. The way he cranes his neck in a corner..he rides a bike in total elegance. I’ll forget Bautista easily, but Colin ..he’s the man, awesome guy, don’t get me started on his wife’s hair…

    Marquez was cherrypicked when Cal was around, okay ?

  • Paul McM

    I normally love to read David Emmett’s reports, but honestly this 3,233-word treatise really tells us very little that matters (or is more than mere speculation). David must have been paid by the word on this effort. More truth (and insight) in the following 8 words :

    Crutchlow takes big money to ride slow bike.

  • Shinigami

    Well written article, based completely on pillars of sand. Far too many assumptions make it seem like whistling past the graveyard.

  • JLo

    absolutely agreed. the article doesn’t state anything that have been speculated before.

    nothing wrong with crutchlow did a money grab and run with it when the opportunity presents. Dovi beat Crutchlow on the same bike before and dovi is struggling, so I sort of expect dovi to beat him again on the duc. hope Cal can prove me wrong.

    well atleast now I don’t have to read about Cal’s whining anymore. I got tired with his constant whining. maybe his whining is the reason why the Yamaha and Honda didn’t want to do anything with him. the Japanese doesn’t like any riders to criticize their bikes in public. Look at what happened to Biaggi.

    [I normally love to read David Emmett’s reports, but honestly this 3,233-word treatise really tells us very little that matters (or is more than mere speculation). David must have been paid by the word on this effort. More truth (and insight) in the following 8 words :

    Crutchlow takes big money to ride slow bike.]

  • You are assuming that I am assuming.

  • Shinigami

    Your repeated references to “gamble” “risk” “perhaps” and “maybe” are hardly grounds to assume otherwise. But again, thank you for a well written and interesting article.

  • Mariano

    Wow, that was a really long article………with plenty of information that we all knew.

    Come on! you’re, supposedly, writing for an audience that follows motogp. We all know about Ducati’s woes, Rossi’s time in Ducati, Casey, contracts, etc etc etc……

    I kept reading, waiting to be illuminated, but instead I got bored and annoyed.

    How about skipping through the general knowledge, and going straight to the ” case study”?

  • Norm G.

    re: “Cal Crutchlow’s move to Ducati is a calculated gamble”

    Crutchlow’s move is the equivalent of winning the sweepstakes… $cha-ching$…!!! (luck of the draw)

    if circumstances were such that nicky was still early in his ducati career…? and the bike was performing half decent…? we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  • Damo

    If I had a choice between three bikes that could all maybe get an occasional podium, but never win a championship, I would ride the one that paid out the most money.

    Better to retire a second tier rider flush with cash.

  • TexusTim

    I wish cal would have jumped on the honda offer…the support there would be better than yamaha and the bike is better too….I guess there is allways the fear of “winning” to much and having the factory choose if you should beat there superstar of the moment or relegate to runner up…at ducati he does not have to worry about that.

  • jet

    Yamaha/Honda sucks,Cal will tame the RED BEAST and shut all you haters…..Oh by the way he will make millions doing,lol.

  • taikebo

    Stoner…. the most talented rider. The only man that can tame the red beast. No one else.

    Stoner rides Ducati = fighting for podium
    Stoner rides Honda = leaving the competitors far far away behind, out of sight.

    Rossi rides Yamaha = fighting for podium
    Rossi rides Ducati = fighting with Karel Abraham & CRTs

    Cal? Good luck to you.

  • Excellent article = what is an editorial without some speculation and insightful opinion. / I doubt that like all the readers / scribers on this blog the motivation for Cal Cruchlow is mere money ..
    All these MotoGP riders are artists driven by one goal – to be the champion – that is what makes them dream at night and bounce out of bed in the morning .. & how much does anyone really need to survive ..??..

    I really enjoyed the read – inspiring and insightful – thank you.

  • Westward

    Too many people are saddling Ducati with past attributes to their future endeavours when the circumstnces have completely changed. Audi spent over a billion euros, I seriously doubt they plan to fail. If Stoner and Rossi had shared vision with Audi, I would have much rather watched them sort out Ducati’s new direction.

    I feel Audi/Ducati are moving in a calculating, purposefu,l and determined manner. I also think they will succeed. As for the naysayers, they just like to see how clever they can be with their quips…

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    What pressure does Crutchlow have? to beat Dovi head-to-head on the same bike like he was tasked to do when Dovi was at Tech3? Crutchlow should be able to pull that off most weekends. Dovi 9th, Cal 10th…next race Cal 10th, Dovi 11th, etc etc. That will be what Cal’s in for. Where’s the pressure in that?

    Cal can take a 10th place. Take a big paycheck, bitch about the bike. What pressure is there in that? Or he could work his ass off to get a 3rd place for a much smaller paycheck.

    Who knows what Audi is doing with Ducati? I think it’s pretty pressumptuous to think Audi has some plausible master plan to make Ducati’s motoGP program competitive. “Ducati shall become competitive again because we are Audi!” “here’s money, and some engineers, go forth now and become competitive!”

  • neil

    So, Cal will get (besides all the money) proper assistance from Audi that Hayden/Dovi aren’t getting and
    Rossi never got? Seems fair…..Then throw away Hayden, bad move all around…

  • paulus

    Audi didn’t buy Ducati for the sole purpose of winning MotoGP
    It may be on the list, but for sure it is not the number 1 priority.

  • Damo

    “Stoner…. the most talented rider. The only man that can tame the red beast. No one else.

    Stoner rides Ducati = fighting for podium
    Stoner rides Honda = leaving the competitors far far away behind, out of sight.”

    Stoner rides Honda = Still loses the championship to Lorenzo

    Stoner…. the most talented rider. The only man that can tame the red beast. No one else. = trellis frame era Desmo with specialty tires, Nicky Hayden also consistantly on the podium during this time frame.

    It is like you people don’t actually watch racing and just look up race results on wikipedia.

  • Westward

    Ducati prior to Audi was a boutique racing and motorcycle maker. Now with Audi they have the resources to compete on a more level playing field. Previously Honda and Yamaha had the advantage for development and implementation, that gap should be closer now for Ducati.

    Audi is methodically reshaping Ducati Corsa, they started with management. The next step I imagine is speeding up the process of transforming engineering ideas into practical applications and real materials…

    I doubt the bike they started with in the beginning of season will be the same one at the end as in previous seasons.

    “I think it’s pretty pressumptuous to think Audi does not have some plausible master plan to make Ducati’s motoGP program competitive, after spending a billion euros.”

    Motogp may not be their sole purpose for purchasing Ducati, but they sure didn’t think they were going to sell billions of euros worth of Monsters and Panigales in a year either…

  • Devon Sowell

    Race to win, now. Not gonna happen on a Ducati next 2 years.

  • mak lampir

    ducati needs younger, high motivate rider like marquez,lorenzo,casey to get back WC.whatever it takes, duc need to do that