STM: Crutchlow at Ducati – Why the Surprise?

August 7, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Cal Crutchlows move to to Ducati for 2014 came as no surprise considering the variety of circumstances pointing to such a decision.
Cal Crutchlow’s move to to Ducati for 2014 came as no surprise considering the variety of circumstances pointing to such a decision.

The only surprising thing about the news that Cal Crutchlow is currently shopping for a pair of nice, new, red leathers is that anyone is surprised.

In the May edition of Single Track Mind I predicted that this would occur and it did because of the crushing inevitability of circumstances. Here’s what happened and why.

First, Cal isn’t getting any younger. In October he will be 28 years old – and at the absolute physical, mental and emotional peak of his riding ability.

However, four seasons from now he will be 32 years old and time will tell. He might well be winning – or he might be badly injured or war weary or there might be a contracted GP series with much less money available to pay riders.

So far in his career, Cal has earned good money by the standards of ordinary people – but not a lot if one wants to live well and avoid having a real job after racing!

The only riders earning seriously good money are the six factory riders in MotoGP. These are Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso.

In fact, the situation is slightly more complex than this. The really serious money goes to Pedrosa, Dovizioso and, most of all, Lorenzo. Nicky will not be in the top bracket because, lovely though he is, the amiable American will never win a World Championship unless an outbreak of Ebola virus sweeps the paddock and the Kentucky Kid is the only one spared.

Andrea Dovizioso makes a reported  3 million a year with Ducati  a fact that makes a strong monetary case for Crutchlows move to the team in 2014.
Andrea Dovizioso makes a reported $3 million a year with Ducati, a fact that makes a strong monetary case for Crutchlow’s move to the team in 2014 should a similar paycheck be in store for the British rider.

Dovi got the money Cal was supposed to have got last year – the wrinkly gossip grapevine has this at around $3 million a year – but Andrea will never win a World Championship either. Podiums yes. The occasional win – okay, but rarely. Champion du Monde: no chance.

As a rookie, Marc came at a discount this year – but wasn’t cheap – and Valentino, as I have discussed before, had literally no choice where he went. He either rode for Yamaha at a bargain basement price – or didn’t ride in MotoGP at all.

Honda put $15 million on the table for the blessed Saint Casey to ride for them in 2014 and, if the Australian MotoGod had taken the money then Dani would have been riding for a satellite team because, good as Pedrosa is, he will not win a World Championship.

Yes, on the right day he is supremely talented but to become World Champion the rider needs to be brilliant week in, week out – in the rain, dry, cold and heat, injured or fit. Dani has had the best bikes in the world for a long time and just can’t manage the last few yards to the summit.

This brings us to Lorenzo who is currently earning the top money in MotoGP and for a very good reason: he is the best rider. Not only is he a gifted racer but the team works well around him. In every way, he meets the criteria of a rider who will win for you at every race.

Jorge and Cal get on very well but this was not going to help Crutchlow get the ride he wanted, and needed, which was a well-paid slot in a good factory team with fully competitive machinery.

The wrinkly gossip suggests that Cal’s first choice was a full factory Yamaha ride – but in Tech 3 colors. The Tech 3 team has been well supported by Yamaha factory staff this year as Cal’s increasingly good results have piled up. The Japanese factory also opened their corporate racing wallet – albeit not very far – to top up Cal’s wages from Tech 3. However, even with the top up the final package was not top shelf.

Having lots of Yamaha technicians in your garage is not the same as a full factory ride.
Having lots of Yamaha technicians in your garage is not the same as a full factory ride.

There was another problem. Having lots of Yamaha technicians in your garage is not the same as a full factory ride. It’s not far off – but Cal isn’t far off winning every GP in which he rides.

Just how fine the difference is needs to be understood. If Dovizioso had been a fraction over one second a lap faster at Laguna Seca he would have won instead of finishing 9th. No wonder then that Cal has been chasing a full, no holds barred, factory ride.

The problem he faced was that Yamaha had all the bases covered. Jorge is currently World Champion – and has the potential to win many more World titles.

In terms of a marketing icon, Vale is still biggest fish in the pond. It is absolute nonsense to suggest that Rossi will ever win another World MotoGP Championship but in terms of brand recognition he is the best there is.

Across in the Tech 3 garage, rookie Bradley Smith has a watertight two-year contract, so it was going to cost a lot of money to move him down the pit lane to a CRT team. For some bizarre reason, Yamaha have got the real hot and heavies for Pol Espargaro who is seen by them as the MkII Marquez: except that he isn’t.

There is a gaggle of riders at Espargaro’s level whereas Marquez is a once in a generation phenomenon.

As for Cal riding a factory Honda, this was never going to happen either. The satellite Hondas are much nearer to factory machines than the Tech 3 Yamahas but, even so, they are not the Repsol bikes.

If Cal had moved to a satellite Honda he would have been no better off than riding a Tech 3 machine – and probably worse since he is clearly the lead rider in the French satellite squad.

Casey Stoner during the first day of testing at Motegi  where hell provide input on the 2014 prototype.
We had a productive day in general and thankfully the test plan wasnt too hectic  so we were able to get most of it done today  after yesterdays washout  said Stoner after his second day of testing at Motegi.
Casey Stoner is already bored with retirement and has recently been “testing” the 2014 RCV with HRC at Motegi. Don’t be surprised to see him back for the 2014 season.

A further factor is that there is only one rider for whom Honda will re-arrange the earth, the sky and the very heavens and that is Casey Stoner – not Cal.

As I predicted, Casey is already bored with retirement. It is difficult to articulate what a strange, alternative universe is the MotoGP paddock. I have never actively worked in this environment although I did spend five seasons being professionally involved in GP racing in the olden days.

It was a bizarre experience and I look back with some surprise at how much I got sucked into this alien world. A person to whom, in the ordinary universe, you wouldn’t normally give more than a passing nod, becomes a thing of wonder from which all good things emanate because he can win for you. He might be semi-literate, have little knowledge of anything except motorcycle racing, yet his word becomes law because he holds the magic key which opens the door of sponsorship, manufacturer support – and your job.

Goodness knows how much the situation I was in has escalated now where the MotoGP paddock is such a place of intense holiness that it is even isolated even from the rest of the GP classes. Without doubt, being worshipped is what Casey is missing. $15 million also helps anyone feel loved.

Casey is already “testing” the 2014 RCV, or would have been except that rain stopped play, and the production bike which Honda is selling to wealthy teams. This is ironic since he is the GP rider least likely to make any cogent development comments. Casey’s idea of testing is to sit in the pit box looking suicidally depressed and then get straight on the bike and set pole. Supremely talented he is – a meticulous test rider he isn’t.

What will happen is that Casey will return to Philip Island, one of his favorite tracks, wipe the floor with everyone, and then reluctantly return to MotoGP for 2014 filling Pedrosa’s place alongside Marquez. When he does, all the “aliens” have a problem because I still maintain that Stoner is hugely the most naturally talented rider of his generation.

Pedrosa is in a uniquely vulnerable position both failing to deliver in terms of outright results and also having his manager, Alberto Puig, and Honda’s boss, Livio Suppo, not exactly on each other’s birthday party invitation lists.

This brings us back to Cal and Ducati. For both parties, the deal had to be done: there was no choice. For the reasons I have explained, Cal wants – and needs – a full factory deal. With Stoner not available at any price, there was, and is, only one available rider capable of challenging for a World Championship and this is Crutchlow.

At this point I have to say that I always respect the opinions of MCUSA readers and I am very grateful for them. However, when I have tipped Cal for top on many occasions in the past my comments have elicited comments along the lines that I am merely showing patriotic bias because Crutchlow is English.

I would refute these criticisms entirely because the facts show that Cal is not only one of the best riders in GPs but is getting better by the minute. To come from the Aprilia Superteen cup in England, and then on to BSB and a World Championship in World Supersport as a route to MotoGP is a hard, rocky path to walk.

Crutchlow has lacked the contacts and experience which these days normally come with being groomed for MotoGP at an early age. In fact, his non-standard career path meant that he didn’t even have a manager/mentor until recently.

He is not as PR savvy as he might, perhaps even should, have been nor has he been as protected as he needed to be.

Cal Crutchlows titanium tough mentality is one of the many talents that sets him apart from many in the MotoGP grid.
Cal Crutchlow’s titanium tough mentality is one of the many talents that sets him apart from many in the MotoGP grid.

These factors have militated against his success – but Cal does have one key card and it is the reason why Ducati are paying him a rumored $6m a year. Cal’s special talent? He is titanium tough mentally.

In order to understand how important this trait is at the top level it is vital to remember that every single rider in MotoGP, even the ones on the CRT bikes rolling in last, is incredibly, mind-numbingly talented.

I once did a PR event with Cal. He was riding a standard, road going Yamaha R1 and waving to the crowd – while I rode my manly parts off on a classic Grand Prix bike trying to keep him in sight.

The best way to imagine the difference between a competent road rider, or even a decent club racer, and a MotoGP rider is this: look at a three-year-old on his electric bike, obviously with stabilizers, and imagine how much better we are at riding with our full-blown motorcycles. That’s the gap between a MotoGP rider and a normal motorcycling human being.

It’s nothing to do with physical courage either. When you see the TV shots of some “minor” MotoGP accident where the rider has slid into the gravel at 100 mph – and then runs to his bike in the faint hope that he can ride again – imagine sliding down I-95 on the way to Daytona Beach at 100 mph and immediately leaping back on to the bike instead of lying in a heap whimpering. Or how about having a major operation on your collarbone and then flying back to race still full of anesthetic?

Cal Crutchlows race weekend at Sachsenring started with a few tough crashes  but he came back and finished second in the race.
Cal Crutchlow’s race weekend at Sachsenring started with a few tough crashes, but he came back and finished second in the race. Just one example of his ability to leave aside frustration and pain to focus solely on racing.

So, if Cal is completely normal, or abnormal depending on your point of view, compared with many other supremely talented MotoGP riders what does make him special? The answer lies in a mental toughness of a Shaolin Monk. Yes, he gets upset and disappointed and frustrated but he has the iron will to concentrate on racing to a degree which belongs to another species. In short, nothing puts him off his job of riding a motorcycle quickly.

He will approach the Ducati ride completely and utterly certain that he will be the first rider to master the bike since Stoner. He will look at the list of riders who have failed with Ducati and dismiss them as an utter irrelevance, confident in his own ability to succeed.

This state of mind is not arrogance but simply the way World Champions are wired – and I have worked with many. They can’t conceive of not winning except for circumstances completely beyond their control. This is why they succeed and other equally talented riders don’t. Truly, World Championships are won in the mind.

This is the trait which Ducati have recognized in Cal. The Italians might well play at racial politics, and did, but with Germans in control only winning will count. I will discuss the finer points of the industrial politics behind the Volkswagen Group’s (who own Audi, who own Lamborghini, who own Ducati) purchase of the Bologna bike firm in depth on another occasion. However, suffice to say that Audi spent $150 million winning the Le Mans car race and so Ducati’s total GP budget is probably what Audi spend on fire proof overalls for their race car team mechanics.

Further, the Germans are not burdened by nostalgia, or reputation or history. Who did what to whom and when means nothing at Ducati now. With Cal, they will start from ground zero and I am completely confident that they will give him a bike which can win races. I am just as confident that Crutchlow is at the perfect time in his riding career to make the best use of the machinery he is given and I have no hesitation in saying that Cal will be the first Englishman to be seen on the top step of the MotoGP podium.