Cal Crutchlow’s MotoGP future at Tech 3 in doubt

HE may be fifth in the MotoGP standings, but these are worrying times for Cal Crutchlow at Tech 3 Yamaha.

Despite a positive start to the season, rumours have been circulating that the British rider may be replaced with Moto2 rider Pol Espargaro.

And, earlier this week, team principle Herve Poncharal confirmed that talks were taking place between the young Spaniard and the Japanese giants.

Crutchlow’s position is particularly precarious as he is the only one of Yamaha’s four riders – Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and fellow Brit Bradley Smith being the others – whose contract expires at the end of this season.

And, having no doubt seen Marc Marquez’s seamless transition to the premier class from Moto2, one can see why taking on another hard-charging youngster from Spain is an attractive proposition.

“It’s down to Marquez fever and people thinking that just because someone’s beaten Marquez in Moto2 in the past they can go and do the same again,” said 27-year-old Crutchlow.

“Trust me, they are not at all in the same league as him.”

Crutchlow may well be right – Marquez is a prodigious talent and few have shown such potential at his age – but Espargaro at least pushed him hard in last year’s tussle for the Moto2 crown.

Adding further weight to the rumours is the suggestion that Espargaro might only spend one year with the satellite team before moving on to a factory ride.

That would tie in nicely with the end of Rossi’s contract which, at the age of 35, would most likely see him retire.

A promotion to the factory setup could then see Espargaro learning off his experienced compatriot Lorenzo, who Yamaha will most likely be desperate to keep.

Should that scenario transpire, Crutchlow’s best option may be to turn to Ducati, where Nicky Hayden’s contract will also be coming to an end.

On the one hand, it is hard not to sympathise with Crutchlow, who has adapted to MotoGP from World Superbikes far better than most.

He has shown visible progress over his two years at Yamaha, qualifying well, regularly scrapping for top-three finishes, crashing less and developing a resilience that has earned his ‘honeybadger’ nickname.

Despite this, Yamaha may well think that just two podiums and no pole positions in that period is not an adequate return, even for a satellite rider.

The Coventry-born Isle of Man resident has also been a vocal critic of a lack of factory support, while his overt attempts at a move to Ducati last year do not seem to have gone down well.

Indeed, much of his current plight can be traced back to his talks with the Italian manufacturer.

A move to the Bologna-based team looked likely until they plumped for Italian Andrea Dovizioso instead, leaving Crutchlow to go back to Poncharal on his knees and ask for a job.

A rather hasty one-year deal was ironed out but, judging from his comments earlier this week, the Frenchman – who is nonetheless a keen admirer of Crutchlow’s – has not forgotten.

“Had he signed for two years, he would not be in this situation now,” said Poncharal.

“He had been ready to go in mid-2012 and so only renewed his deal with us for a year in order to maintain the opportunity of being on the rider market for 2013, to try and become a factory rider, which would be a dream for him.

“For him, Tech 3 might be plan B, but each rider manages his own situation and it is true that Cal is a bit boisterous. There is a market out there though, and Yamaha are free to make their own choices.”

Crutchlow’s affront at potentially being replaced with a young and relatively unproven rider is understandable but, having made his aspirations clear last summer, Yamaha have clearly decided to deal with the matter on their own terms.

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