The old guard of MotoGP are making something of a comeback after the summer break. Two familiar names and now test riders are to make a brief return to racing, in Austria and beyond. Only one of those riders - Dani Pedrosa - has been officially confirmed as a wildcard at the first race at the Red Bull Ring - but Cal Crutchlow is widely expected to replace Franco Morbidelli for the next three rounds.
The news that Dani Pedrosa is to make a wildcard appearance at the Red Bull Ring at the Styrian Grand Prix had been widely rumored, but still comes as something of a surprise. There had been much talk early in the year that Pedrosa would race for KTM as a wildcard, but the Spaniard's aversion to media appearances and general lack of interest in racing made that seem unlikely.
It appears that there has been some pressure on Pedrosa to race, however. The last time Pedrosa actually competed in a MotoGP race was at the final round of 2018 at Valencia. Though Pedrosa's input has been invaluable in helping to develop the KTM RC16 into a competitive machine, there was talk that the Spaniard was starting to lose his ability to push right at the very razor's edge of performance. Putting Pedrosa back into a racing situation will sharpen his reflexes, it is thought, and help him be even more productive.
This is a lesson learned from Ducati, who have encouranged test rider Michele Pirro to keep racing in the Italian CIV Superbike championship, for this very reason. Racing boosts the ambition, and hones the senses, giving them a better understanding of just how much risk can be taken on a race bike, and giving them a better feeling for where the limit actually lies.
While Dani Pedrosa has been confirmed officially as a wildcard, Franco Morbidelli's replacement has not. What has been officially announced by Petronas Yamaha boss Razlan Razali is that Morbidelli is to miss the next three races - two rounds in Austria and the British Grand Prix in Silverstone - while he recovers from surgery to fix a torn ACL. Unofficially, however, it seems that Yamaha test rider Cal Crutchlow is to take Morbidelli's place in the Petronas squad.
That is something of a mixed blessing for Crutchlow. The Englishman gets to ride the slowest bike on the grid at the fastest track on the calendar not once but twice, a track with the 2019 Yamaha M1 does not prosper. However, he also gets to race his home Grand Prix at Silverstone on the M1, a track at which the Yamaha has excelled in the past.
An appearance by Crutchlow is still not offcially confirmed, however. We will only know for certain whether he is racing once official confirmation arrives.
The press release from KTM appears below:
Pedrosa confirmed to make Red Bull KTM MotoGP™ wildcard appearance in Austria
Red Bull KTM Factory Racing test rider Dani Pedrosa will make a debut competitive outing with the KTM RC16 by entering the tenth round of the 2021 MotoGP series: the Michelin Grand Prix of Styria at the Red Bull Ring, Austria on August 6-8.
The 35-year-old MotoGP Legend retired from full time racing with 31 victories and 112 podium results from 13 seasons in the premier class between 2006 and 2018. Since 2019 he has been an integral part of KTM’s development program for MotoGP and with the KTM RC16 that made its debut at the 2016 Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana and then joined the grid on a permanent basis in 2017.
Pedrosa finished in the top five of the MotoGP championship 11 times from 13 campaigns and was a three-time runner-up. The Spaniard’s last Grand Prix was almost a thousand days ago with the 2018 event at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia where he classified 5th. He has since shared a race track with the current MotoGP field at both IRTA and private test days. Red Bull Ring will represent his first race with KTM.
The long-term Red Bull athlete will steer an adapted development version of the KTM RC16 to gain further valuable data in Grand Prix conditions.
“It’s been super-interesting to be part of this project from the beginning with KTM in MotoGP and being able to share my experience with them. Step-by-step we did the best we could and now it’s interesting again to go into a race because it gives you a different perspective compared to a normal test. It has been a long time since my last race and, of course, the mentality for a GP is very different to a test. My focus for the GP is to try to test the things we have on the bike in a race situation. I wish to understand the requests riders might have for different sessions and technical features. Watching from home I can sense the improvements in the bikes and the racing but in order to understand more about MotoGP now, the new technologies and how to race and use strategies against the others we’ll make this wildcard. It’s difficult to talk about my expectations after being so long away from competition. It might all click into a racing mentality or it might not but we’ll try to enjoy the weekend as much as we can.”
Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager:
“It will be curious to see Dani in MotoGP again. He has been away from racing for quite a long time but it will be valuable to have him in garage at Red Bull Ring to analyze the strong and not-so-strong parts of our KTM RC16 package in GP conditions and it will give him a good indication for his testing work. Dani has had a big influence in our MotoGP project thanks to all of his experience. The company was working and pushing hard to follow his requests, along with Mika’s [Kallio]. Dani was a good reference as he retired at the end of 2018 while still at the top of the sport and we can see some of his influence in the current success of the KTM RC16. He will have a mixture of the current race bike and some small upgrades and he will have some testing to do during the weekend but we also don’t want to overload him. We want him to enjoy the Grand Prix! There are a lot of young, strong riders in MotoGP at the moment, so he will be busy but this is a good way for him to learn more and feel the current benchmark in the sport and this will help us for future testing.”