Timing is everything in motor racing. The sport’s top performers pay near-obsessive attention to it, whether they are studying lap times or simply trying to beat their team-mate back to the hotel.
Britain’s MotoGP star Cal Crutchlow has taken this a step further. Earlier this month, the Coventry-born rider displayed impeccable timing when he confirmed he will leave the factory Ducati squad after a single season. The news was revealed on August 2nd – exactly one year after Crutchlow announced he would join the Italian manufacturer for 2014.
It has been a bruising few months for Cal since making his Ducati debut in Qatar. The physical wounds are plain to see: a crash at round two in Austin left him with a hand injury, ruling him out of the following race in Argentina, and he underwent surgery on both arms during the summer break.
“I don’t do things by halves,” he joked about the operation. Few would disagree with that. Crutchlow is a committed character who thrives on giving his all, particularly in the saddle of a motorcycle. Failing to make a success of the Ducati ride will leave Cal with a few psychological bruises, too.
The change in fortunes has been dramatic. 2013 was Crutchlow’s breakout year with four podiums, as well as two pole positions, helping him to finish fifth in the standings. The only men ahead of him were the factory Honda and Yamaha riders.
But his future at the Tech 3 Yamaha squad was in serious doubt, with Pol Espargaro earmarked for the ride before Cal had even departed. That prompted him to accept the Ducati gig, which has become something of a poisoned chalice: only Casey Stoner, who won the 2007 World Championship for the team, proved capable of taming the Italian bike.
Many others have tried, but few have enjoyed any success. 2006 World Champion Nicky Hayden could never get to grips with the Ducati, scoring just three podiums in five seasons. Meanwhile Marco Melandri had a single disastrous campaign at the team in 2008 which saw the Italian finish a lowly 17th in the World Championship – the worst placing of his career.
Even seven-time World Champion Valentino Rossi could not get his head around the bike, scoring just three podiums in two seasons. Some suggested Rossi was a spent force, but in a year and a half back at Yamaha he has already claimed 11 rostrums and a race win.
With his adjustment to a notoriously tricky machine stymied by the Austin shunt, Crutchlow was playing catch up from the start.
His current team-mate, Andrea Dovizioso, has shown well in his second season with Ducati, albeit after a less disastrous maiden campaign than Cal has endured. Dovi finished eighth in last year’s standings, often looking solid but rarely stellar. 2014 has been much better for the Italian. He bagged his maiden Ducati podium in Austin, was runner up at Assen, and almost beat the all-conquering Marc Marquez to pole at Indianapolis. Impressive stuff, but it’s taken until year two for his work to bear fruit.
Which leaves you feeling that Crutchlow’s Austin accident was the defining moment in his short Ducati career. As such he should have no regrets: Cal displayed the ambition to race for a factory squad, and is now showing humility by admitting it hasn’t worked out.
And what was to be gained by remaining on a satellite Yamaha? A year ago there was the possibility that Rossi might call it quits or Jorge Lorenzo would switch to Honda, creating a vacancy at the factory team. However, Yamaha have since extended both riders’ contracts through 2016. Crutchlow is too old to have waited until then to get his break.
His next challenge will be to adapt to a third manufacturer in three seasons when he joins satellite Honda squad LCR in 2015. That’s not a bad gig. It’s unlikely to lead him to the senior Honda team – and even if it did, what chance does anyone stand against the unstoppable Marquez – but he will have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation as a persistent thorn in the side of the factory riders.
Before that he has seven more rounds with Ducati, the next on home turf when MotoGP travels to Silverstone for the British Grand Prix. There is little doubt that Crutchlow will be more determined than ever to show his home fans he belongs at the sharp end of the MotoGP grid. After all, he doesn’t do things by halves.