The Fast, the Unreliable, and the Furious

2014 is definitely not the best year for Cal Crutchlow, despite the rather high hopes he had when he decided to swap the satellite Yamaha seat at Herve Poncharal’s Tech3 for the Borgo Panigale factory seat. He knew that Ducati was literally rebuilding the bike, and he knew that he would have to help the factory engineers accomplish this goal. But I doubt he was expecting for his bike to let him down the way it did at Jerez.
A brief history of Crutchlow’s first year as a Ducati factory rider saw him experiencing problems with the electronics on his bike in the kick-off round in Qatar, followed by tire issues at the Circuit of the Americas. In the US, Crutchlow was even forced to swap bikes, but he crashed out of the race two laps later. As if things were not bad enough for him already, a small fracture in his right hand required surgery, rendering the Manx rider unable to start in Argentina.

After serious efforts to speed up recovery (hyperbaric chambers and all) Crutchlow was back in the best shape possible at Jerez, but his bike experienced extreme problems with the front brakes. After qualifying in the 14th position on the Jerez grid and managing to pass 5 riders in 4 laps, it looked like the Ducati may have had a real chance at getting back in the front of the second pack on the Andalusian track.

He tried to use the brakes as little as possible for a lap or so, but started to fall back and decided it was way too dangerous to continue, especially as he almost took Yonny Hernandez out. Those watching the race at Jerez could see him pounding his tank in rage as he was headed for the Ducati garage.

After the debut European round, the Isle of Man rider was not at all shy to express his undisguised rage and frustration even when journalists were around. He was vocal on both Ducati and his team mate Andrea Dovizioso, saying that even though his 5th position at Jerez was indeed very good for the points it brought, finishing the race 27 seconds behind the leader is not at all a thing that a manufacturer like Ducati could ever brag about. The word “inacceptable” was present in Crutchlow’s interview more than once and it was more than obvious that he could barely contain his anger.

As he himself said, there wasn’t a single round this year he could complete without the bike (or in the US – the tires) giving him a hard time. Even more, he said he was not sure whether he would be in Le Mans later this month, as the pains in his right hand were back and he had to undergo further medical investigations.

So, after all the debacle in (almost) the first quarter of the 2014 season, some guys started asking whether Crutchlow would use his one-year exit clause to put an end to his contract with Ducati. It’s hard to estimate now how his very well-known and extremely direct way of putting things will be perceived in Borgo Panigale. So far we have no declarations from either Paolo Ciabatti or Gigi Dall’Igna, but I can guess they know that the in-your-face discourse Cal Cructhlow had after Jerez has real reasons.

Some said that Crutchlow went over to Ducati solely for the bigger paycheck, but if it was only about the money, why would he be frustrated with the bike? I mean, he could have been okay with swapping being 4th on satellite Yamaha machinery with being 10th on factory Ducati AND have several millions euro more while at it, right? Was he “that desperate” to ride a factory machine? Possibly. But I doubt he, at any time, did not care about his riding and his results.

Some say a much wiser choice would have been staying with Tech3 and becoming better and better, until finally being offered a Yamaha factory ride, possibly after Rossi’s retirement, or just riding as well as possible and drawing attention from Suzuki for the 2015 season. Either way, he would have been spared the frustration Rossi experienced for 2 long years at Ducati.

Now, it appears like Crutchlow can get out of his Ducati deal at the end of 2014 in case Borgo Panigale does not come up with competitive bikes. When Dall’Igna arrived from Aprilia and shook hands with Claudio Domenicali to bring order in the MotoGP program, he said that he would need 6 months to figure out a direction for the whole racing enterprise, even if it meant to scrap the actual Desmosedici and start building a new bike.

It’s already May and the summer break in mid-July is drawing near, slowly, but impossible to stop. I guess that Dall’Igna and Crutchlow are going to have quite a lot to talk about ahead of Le Mans and until mid-season, as both of them have to make some decisions. The progress Ducati has made through the season is not based on a new, significantly better bike, but is a result of Dorna’s regulation-related hesitations and mistakes.

Aleix Espargaro and his Yamaha M1-powered Forward Racing bike is all over Ducati’s actual best rider, Andrea Dovizioso, but the Jerez battle between the two clearly showed that the Italian managed to get ahead because of a bike that’s more powerful in a straight line. NGM’s machinery is effortlessly on par with Ducati’s, especially when piloted by the elder Espargaro, and if we were to compare the two teams’ budgets… things get really funny.

It’s even funnier remembering Rossi’s reticence when he announced that a decision to retire would be based on the results from the first half of the season. It looks like the first 9 2014 races could be way more important for Ducati and Cal Crutchlow.

On the other hand, Suzuki IS looking for the best rider(s) it can get for the 2015 comeback. Some say the house of Hamamatsu will have the test rider Randy De Puniet on one bike, while the other seat could still open for Dani Pedrosa, in case Honda is no longer interested in him. Now, with Crutchlow’s obvious frustration and Ducati’s (momentary) apparent lack of working solutions, we might see Suzuki’s Davide Brivio and Cructhlow out for a coffee in the future.

In the end, I know I might be dead wrong, but somehow I feel like Ducati will build a completely new bike. 2 and a half years of utter fruitless efforts should be more than enough to know if something’s really, really wrong with their machine. And Stoner will not be back too soon, either…
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