Silly Season Speculation: Quo Vadis, Cal Crutchlow?

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?

The Englishman has made no secret of his desire to be aboard a factory machine. If he is to have a shot at winning races, and even a championship, he must have a factory ride, Crutchlow believes. He came close to one last year, but his dealings with Ducati fell short over a lack of communication. After Crutchlow gave a verbal commitment to the Italian factory, a contract never appeared for Crutchlow to sign, with Andrea Dovizioso finally picking up the ride. For 2014, he has two more shots at a factory ride, but the question is, will that be his best option for next season?

Crutchlow's name has already been penciled in for the ride with Suzuki, with new team manager Davide Brivio believed to have the Englishman at the top of his contract list. A ride with Suzuki would give Crutchlow one part of what he wants - a full factory ride, and a hand in development - but given Suzuki's checkered past in the series, it remains a risky move. Suzuki's R&D budget has always been severely limited, and the question is whether that will be any different this time around. Suzuki's last world championship came from Kenny Roberts Jr, a title he won on consistency and on outstanding performances in the many wet races in 2000. In the dry, Roberts Jr found it much harder to compete, in no small part because of the limited resources available from the factory.

It is clear that the new Suzuki will need a lot of development. If the times quoted by the German website Speedweek are correctly, test rider Randy de Puniet was 2 seconds off the pole time, and 1.4 seconds off the fastest lap in the race. Those 2 seconds are very expensive to overcome, the cost rising exponentially as the gap gets smaller. The first second may cost several millions to close, the second could take many tens of millions, as Ducati is currently showing. Does Suzuki have the experience and engineering ability to close the gap? Almost certainly. Do they have the funds to be able to dedicate those skills to actually achieving that? That is where the doubt lies.

The second option for Crutchlow could be an opening at Ducati, and to be honest, 2014 would be a good year to join the Italian factory. Ducati's new owners, and the new management team which has been installed, are pushing the development program forward aggressively and methodically, with progress being made painstakingly towards getting closer to the leaders. One major update is expected at the Barcelona test, the second towards the end of the year, possibly at the Misano test in September. The first update improves braking and corner entry, the second is aimed at fixing the understeer which continues to plague the bike. If both work as expected, they could solve a large part of Ducati's woes.

So with Nicky Hayden on a one-year contract, there could be a space for Crutchlow to fit into the factory Ducati team, alongside his former teammate Andrea Dovizioso. Crutchlow's style would be a good fit at Ducati, his more aggressive approach more suited to the Italian bike, whereas at the moment, he is having to rein himself in constantly to duplicate the smooth and flowing style used by Jorge Lorenzo. Lorenzo's style has been the leading factor in development of the Yamaha, but there is a case to be made that the bike has reached the point where it is getting harder to ride for people who cannot ride like Lorenzo does. Ben Spies struggled to adapt his late-braking style to the flowing Yamaha, and left the factory team at the end of last year.

But Yamaha also remains an option for Crutchlow. Though Yamaha first approached Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal at Qatar over signing Moto2 prodigy Pol Espargaro, the Spaniard has had a very mediocre season since winning that first race. Espargaro is in danger of falling out of favor with Yamaha, who may look elsewhere to fill the seat which will fall empty when Crutchlow's contract runs out at the end of the year. Poncharal is very keen to retain his star rider, Crutchlow bringing the team both success on the track and exposure off the track, thanks to his outgoing personality. The Englishman is a big favorite with Dorna, who see him as raising the profile of the sport in the UK, as well as with Tech 3 title sponsor Monster. In a recent interview with the Belgian site GP Inside, Poncharal said that Monster boss Rodney Sacks was very keen to retain the services of Crutchlow. "He told me and he told Cal that he was 200% behind Cal," Poncharal said. It was his team, and now that he had a competitive rider in it, the Monster boss had no desire to lose him to another team.

That Crutchlow can ride the Yamaha is quite clear, and at the moment, the bike looks like being his best chance of winning a race. Crutchlow keeps pointing to the structure which HRC uses for its satellite riders, providing Stefan Bradl and Alvaro Bautista with factory bikes and support in return for helping develop brakes and suspension. A similar role would suit Crutchlow down to the ground, and with both Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez looking set to dominate MotoGP for Honda this year and in the future, backing Crutchlow could be a way forward. However, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis will not have been impressed with Crutchlow telling the press that the factory was talking to Espargaro, and that breach will be difficult to heal.

All parties will be present at Mugello, and no doubt there will be much to be discussed. Italy is home base for all three factories chasing Crutchlow's signature, and his manager is likely to be a very busy man this weekend. Perhaps by Sunday, we will know a little more.

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Ducati will want to keep at least one American on a factory bike. Given Yamaha's unwillingness to field a 3rd pukka factory effort, Cal may aswell look at the other options. The ideal situation would be for Ducati to do a Honda 2011 and run 3 Marlboro bikes with Dovi,Cal and Nick or Ben. Is Ben going to be on board this weekend? I hope so and hope his rotten run of fortune turns the corner.
The Suzuki option? Romantic past. Successes with #7 immediately spring to mind. Great Brit on an RG500.
An evening of pizza and vino with Loris post Mugello,and Cal will be under no illusions as to what he can expect from such a signing. Alvaro's 2 cents worth will surely emphasise the point.

Ben tweeted he had a 45 minute delay landing in London, so I'm hoping and assuming he is on his way to Italy. All the reports from a few weeks ago said he would return at Mugello. I just hope he's 100% or very close to it physically.

"Ducati will want to keep at least one American on a factory bike"

Why? Do Volkswagen Audi Group really need to worry about the exposure?

Ducat need a rider who can win, and as much as I like NH he's unfortunately unlikely to be that rider in 2014 / 2015 (assuming whoever is on the factory Ducati next year is on a two year deal).

The harsh reality is NH could sell as many Ducati's in North America riding a Panigale in WSB or AMA.

In fact possibly more units would be shifted if Ducati USA has glorious pictures of Nicky riding a Panigale within an inch of its life on every dealerships walls demonstrating how to spend your hard earned $ on gorgeous red machines from Italy. Race it on Sunday,ride to work on Monday has always had a bike impact on sports bike sales.

Let's be honest, the Panigale isn't really doing much in WSBK. Hayden is a great superbike rider for sure, but so is Checa and looks whats happened.

I never understand why people hate on WSBK so much. I realize that Motogp is the pinnacle blah blah blah. Wsbk guys are flying on those bikes, the racing is great and the competition is great too. I prefer to watch WSBK tbh.

Checa is also 40 years old (and I know, Biaggi is about the same age and he still won last year [stealing it by half a point]) and Hayden is almost a decade younger.

And unless I'm missing key facts in the story about the reason why, the fact that Checa pulled out of race 2 last sunday speaks volumes about his commitment and drive. That said, I hope NH goes to WSBK on anything but the lame Duc.

I definitely agree about WSBK being much more entertaining than MotoGP, especially for the last couple of years. Much closer and more passionate racing, at half the handbags drama.

The ducati is doing fine 1000 Superstock so something between the superstock kit and Sbk formulation is problematic. Resounding theme from this weekend's racing was limited air intakes. That they over-restricted an unproven bike and now it is too down on power. Hopefully they fix this and sounds as if they are going to ease up on restrictions.
Also Checa is a hurting pup with injury - granted, he is no spring chicken but he knows how to ride.
Agree with statements on NH. I just don't think he's the guy anymore to get it done. Understand what he's been on last few years and that he occasionally beat his teammate last year, but even on Honda factory kit he had, what, 5 wins?
Ducati sells a ton of bikes in America because they are great at product placement in movies and every kid grew up wanting a Ducati because they've defined motorcycles for a generation

I'm confused by Cal's logic. In an interview on the Beeb earlier this year, Parish asked Cal if he was relieved at not taking the Ducati ride after Dovi had seemingly suffered the same fate as Rossi, Hayden, Melandri, Capirossi and many others before him.

Cal's response... "Yes, but "I" didn't ride it so I don't know!" This implies that Cal feels he has something special that perhaps all the former champions (apart from Casey) doesn't have. No criticism in that, of course he feels he is something special as that's what drives his ambition. But this obsession with "Factory" machinery, I don't understand fully.

It has been explained by Herve and a few others that the Tech 3 Yamaha bike is as close to the "Factory" team as you can get, plus as Neil Spalding so frankly said last race; just because the Factory Team gets new parts before the satellite teams, doesn't mean they are necessarily better! At the last race they seemed to affect Lorenzo and Rossi worse.

Cal is doing great this year, a real Pitbull racer. But it seems that he feels he is at a disadvantage being with Tech 3 on a "satellite" bike. This is where confidence and arrogance get blurred.

Hope he keeps his pie-hole closed and just races hard. He is very impressive on-track but so far not so much off-track.

Good luck Cal... Just because Suzuki are a "Factory" team shouldn't sway your decision so much. Still, when they left they were pretty good, I reckon they just lacked the right rider...

Good luck to #35 this year and next.

These riders are literally among the best riders in the world. If they are not actually one of the best riders in the world, they likely are one of the best from their country/region. They are all winners in other classes, at at least national level. Very many of them have won races at world level. Many have won world championships.

They couldn't have gotten there without having self-confidence. :)

I don't see that as arrogance, I see that as honesty, and I am not a Cal fanatic really. He realizes that he can't know the potential of a bike until he has actually rode it, because at that level the tiny intricacies of each riders style are magnified 10 fold due to the precision that is demanded of the racers.

Cal is no new kid on the block knocking on the door of a factory GP ride within the next 3 or 4 years and he knows it. His situation is pretty much parrallel to that of De Puniet. Lets put it this way. Were I in Cal's boots I would go for the best ride/exposure I could possibly get while I am capable of mixing it up with the front runners. That is a full factory ride. That is Marlboro Ducati.Period. He is not going to replace Lorenzo nor Rossi. There exists a swarm of Moto2 bees buzzing at GP's door aside of Pol Espargaro that look perfectly capable of emulating Bradl(LCR) as rookie of the year at Tech 3 next year. Cal has to think factory and income.
Like Spies and De Puniet he has to make hay while the sun shines and he knows it. Who knows? Maybe he can pin the Ducati. The beast has certainly responded well in the past to a heavy handed approach. Capirex at Cal's age wrung its neck pretty handily with great and consistent results. mmm...CC riders...Capirossi/Crutchlow. His comments and attitude. Love it.

I think Cal's been a bit Whiney this year about the Yamaha... The Yamaha is definite the best satelite bike both this year and last... even according to Cal the engine is the same as the factory's- I would assume, even if it's out of his own pocket again this year that he's also got the latest brimbo's...

Rossi has tested the 2013 frame at least twice and rejected it both times... to me, other than perhaps electronics, the tech3 bike has got to be pretty dang close to Rossi's? (or am i missing something).

I think moving to Suzuki would be a mistake in the first year... I don't think they'll be that competitve out of the gate..

It will be interesting to see what happen's to Cal next year... but I wish he'd quit knocking the bike... what you get with Cal and n'owt wrong wiyit either.

I remember a certain "whiney" Australian getting plenty of praise from certain quarters for being straight-up and speaking his mind?

Call it a breath of fresh air in these bland Politically Correct times if you like. A drop of good old fashioned character.

Sure, he's carped on about his bike a bit, anything new there? A bit like a dog ragging his favourite bone..that's all.

You can't blame the lad for stating a case. He will be the prime market player if his results continue and while there's little doubt he wants success on track, he must also make sure he earns enough for a rainy day. Cal wasn't born to money.

Bearing in mind this position, what's the rush?

He can afford to wait..see what improvements Ducati bring, if any. Have a good look at the Suzuki up close in testing, continue a dialogue with Herve and Jarvis..even have a chat with Nakamoto San about where Bautista's bike is going if Aspar run a Hamamatsu backed entry.

If Cal carries on getting results like he is, they'll come to him..and he can negotiate in his own time from a better informed position, playing prospective suitors off against eachother to get the best deal.

Slowly slowly catches the monkey..head down for the moment and onwards and upwards.

Good on the kid I say.

Don't hold your breath for Suzuki success and don't imagine that if Cal goes there he'll make it a success. Its more likely Vale will go there with Davide if he doesn't enjoy any success this year, he can take the money and Cal will do better on the Yam. It will be a PR plus for Suzuki and they'll get some cash. Its the same guys in the team as before, and you have to assume that the engine will not be much better than the old engine was in reality. If its like the old engine then 3 engines a weekend will severely hamper their efforts.
(Would Vale go without Jez, and would Suzuki take a new engineering team?? Unlikely on both counts.)

Suzuki had real quality control problems before, valve springs in particular. Cals a trier and could end up like John did, all beat up and that is not the right thing. Vale might get more respect and input. Since Itoh-san left its been journeymen in the racing team management spot, not racers. Top crew, top frame, shit engine ask Bautista, ride it like you stole works now and again but usually ends up in the kitty litter.
Development by Nobu who was usually never better than 4th - 20 years ago means that the bike is being designed to be two seconds off the pace, how long will that take to get right, ..... a long time. Maybe if Nobu is the racing manager, then there could be a better chance of success, who knows?
By the way, a certain Mr. Redding would be a better long term bet for any of the teams looking for a young successful British rider, would can move to Motogp, probably as Moto2 champion. I hope so, there will be a queue a mile long for his signature towards the end of the season.

after the nightmare that was DUCATI, Valentino will finish his contract with Yamaha for 2013 and 2014.

first off, he did not leave DUC after 1 yr, which you are proposing he's going to do.
second, he would never leave the team/factory after making that mistake once.
third, since suzuki is not even in motoGP at the moment, there is no way to truly gauge their competitiveness.

Rossi is going to finish out his career on the Yamaha, whether that means winning races or not.

Lastly, there are too many viable candidates that would die for a factory ride. Crutchlow, Spies, Esparago (both of them), Randy De Puniet all of whom could risk it all at a shot on the Suzuki.

Cal seems to be adopting the Max Biaggi MotoGP career strategy of badmouthing the factory to try and shame them into getting better parts. Like Biaggi, Cal may find himself out of MotoGP simply because no team wants to put up with his BS. Even Herve is getting fed up with some of his BS. How can someone of his talent level and results on a satellite be rumored to not even be in MotoGP next year? He needs to realize he has a chance of torpedoing his career if he keeps it up.

Cal says whatever he can to further himself, even if it means speaking out of both sides of his mouth. When he wants the factory Ducati seat he says his style is just like Casey's so he'd be a perfect fit. When he wants the factory Yamaha seat he says his style is just like Jorge's so he'd be a perfect fit. Which one is it Cal? There couldn't be two riders with more opposite styles.

Just because somebody speaks loudly, doesn't mean they speak the truth. I was no Stoner fan, but at least when Casey was whining it came from a genuine place. Cal just spews BS.

Lorenzo has two championships in the premier class and many,many race wins. I'd say he's earned the right to say the bike isn't the best and needs work.

Just punt Bradl, Bautista or Lorenzo's team mate and install Crutchlow on either of their rides. Forget the Suzuki all together. Bad deal there.............unless he's paid over say, 5 million bucks a yr on a two year contract minimum.

Cal has had one good race this year. That was at LeMans. The rest were filled with mistakes that cost him dearly. If he can continue to ride with a level head and the racecraft he showed in France, he will be on the box more this season. If he falls back into his form from the first three races. He's going to end up in the gravel more times than on the box. He's headed in the right direction, he just needs to understand the politics of the sport a bit more.

So far I'm under the impression that the new Suzuki will be more or less something like the Honda "production racer" and the Yamaha "engine lease", which means well below factory motoGP standards and clearly above today's CRT lap times, running under CRT rules (24 lts, 12 engines).
Is it the kind of offer that can lure Cal, a bike probably slower than his Tech 3 ride?
Ducati looks like the way to go if he wants a factory ride.
It's high time the Italians resurfaced and the enforced German input is probably what it takes to iron out Ducati's real problem, its marketing dept. This is indeed the best opportunity for Cal to join Ducati and I'd bet his riding style suits the D16 better than anyone who has ridden it since Stoner.
The American rider will be a serious problem though, because the US market remains the most important in Ducati's planning, yet is it more urgent than a return to frequent podiums? Perhaps a three rider scheme would be the best option, but may be far too expensive given the current situation with Italy's economy.

Anyway, if I were to bet on Cal's future I'd say Yamaha on an "almost factory Tech 3 M1". The reason is Monster: That "200% behind Cal" statement speaks volumes to a suit's ears...

(Rossi has another year on his contract. If 2013 continues with him unable to match "alien" times, could 2014 be his last MotoGP season? That'd open a really hot factory seat for Cal.)

Yamaha Tech 3 is still Crutchlows best bet. All the noise from Cal is to pressure Jarvis into giving him equal kit to the factory team like HRC do with LCR. Together with Monster support this may well swing it. The only question mark is Ducati, will they become competitive, and would they choose Cal over Nicky? Suzuki is only an option if it comes with a massive paycheck and multi year deal, but Cal just really wants to be on a proven bike he knows can win races and championships.

Espargaro is no longer looking like a certainty he was after Qatar. He's certainly no Marquez and if Yamaha do still want him what is to stop Tech 3 leasing another M1 engine and putting it in their own chassis for Espargaro to learn on, and Cal can then enjoy works supported status in Tech 3 then move up to the factory team in 2015 when or if Rossi retires. Or, move teams then if other works rides become available, but in racing terms those two years are an eternity. Given his age can you really blame him for pushing for the best ride possible right now?

Maybe, just maybe, Cal really wants to get a decent paycheck more than he wants to win. He has devoted a big chunk of life to racing motorcycles and it's not as though he has a career in stock-broking to fall back on when he retires in a few years... and he does hurt himself a lot. I wouldn't blame him at all for that.

If Lyn Jarvis is going to block him because he leaked Yamaha's negotiations... then my opinion of Jarvis would drop yet further. Cal has never bad-mouthed the product, but maybe some people in management confuse their egos with the good of Yamaha.

I don't think it's fair to say, at this stage, that Suzuki is 2 seconds off pace. This was Randy de Puniet, on one of his first outings on a completely new bike, during a test day.

Lorenzo's time was during QP, where he shaved 1.6 seconds of from FP1 by the way. That didn't cost millions, rather a few days of work in the pit and some laps at 100%. Just to put things in perspective. It was also on a bike that he had ridden almost a full season on, where Yamaha had massive amounts of data regarding electronics, chassies and Bridgestones.

I'm not stating that the Suzuki is faster than it's shown, just saying we're comparing separate things here...

Remember, that the last time anyone ran the Suzuki in public, was two days after the last race at Valencia in 2011. When Randy de Puniet (who had been riding a Ducati all season) was 4'th fastest. He was their rider for the 2012 season, but the following day Suzuki pulled out. I think that RdP has been on their mind ever since, and it's not easy to find a rider who's available, who would be allowed to test a different manufacturers prototype during season, and who has the experience of three different brands in MotoGP. Yes, he crashes alot. I guess you could say, that's the sign of a rider always wanting to go faster. Not necessarily a bad thing (Stoner '06).