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.
Poncharal 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.
The meeting had been an opportunity for both sides to express their commitment to each other. "Cal understands more and more the world he is in," Poncharal said, "And he knows he needs to be a bit more careful. But Yamaha also understand Cal's potential." It had been an opportunity for Crutchlow to make it very clear to Yamaha that what he wants most is to remain with Yamaha. He had spoken with some passion about his commitment, and that had convinced Yamaha bosses of his sincerity. "Nakajima was quite touched by what Cal said about Yamaha," Poncharal said.
Though both Yamaha and Crutchlow set out their positions during the meeting, no conclusions had been drawn. Both Yamaha and Crutchlow need to study their options, and what they could offer each other before any contracts could be signed. The situation was should be close to being settled by the end of June. "Things will be much clearer by Assen," Poncharal said.
Crutchlow is still keen to have a factory contract, but his situation is complicated by the fact that the only rides in factory teams available next year are with Ducati and the new Suzuki team. Both moves would be a gamble, Ducati showing clear signs of improvement, but still behind the Honda and the Yamaha, while Suzuki is an unknown quantity at the moment. Remaining in Yamaha would probably be Crutchlow's best option, especially if he can persuade the factory to give him more direct support. That would require a change in Yamaha policy, which is not something they have been prepared to do so far. The prospect of losing Crutchlow - at fourth in the championship, and with two podiums, Crutchlow is the second best Yamaha rider at the moment, 24 points ahead of second Factory Yamaha rider Valentino Rossi - may be sufficient to persuade Yamaha to do just that.
The issue of Crutchlow could become moot if Valentino Rossi decides to retire early, of course. Rossi came back to Yamaha with the stated objective of fighting for wins and podiums, but so far, he has failed to make the impact he had hoped for. That is in part due to the time he has needed to adapt to a changed Yamaha M1, but also due to misfortune, of his own and others' making. Rossi has had two crashes so far this season, falling at Le Mans after making a mistake in the wet, and then being involved in a clash with Alvaro Bautista at Mugello. If Rossi cannot manage to start scoring regular podiums, there is a possibility that he could decide to retire from MotoGP before the end of his two-year contract. If he did call it a day at the end of this year, that would open up a seat in the factory Yamaha team. Given his current run of form, Crutchlow would be the perfect candidate to take that seat. That would solve the problem for Yamaha and Crutchlow, but it would leave Hervé Poncharal with empty hands.