Cal Crutchlow’s move to Ducati is a backward step

IN signing for Italian manufacturing giants Ducati, Britain’s Cal Crutchlow finally has the MotoGP factory ride his form deserves and his talent merits.

Although he is yet to win a race, the Coventry-born rider has notched six podiums with Tech3 Yamaha – four of which have come this year – and managed his first pole position at Assen in June.

Throw into the mix his tangible development from promising World Superbike rider into consistent MotoGP podium-challenger, all on a satellite ride, his desire for a factory-backed title challenge is easy to understand.

But is that really what he is going to get with Ducati?

No is the simple answer. Valentino Rossi, Marco Melandri, Nicky Hayden and Andrea Dovizioso are all talented riders who have been – or are in the process of being – reduced to shadows of their former selves aboard the notoriously recalcitrant Bologna bruiser.

Barring a stellar one-race cameo appearance from Troy Bayliss, Casey Stoner and, arguably, Loris Capirossi are the only riders who have shown a modicum of ability when it comes to taming a Ducati.

Stoner fought fire with fire, employing a wild and ultra-aggressive riding style to scoop 23 race wins and a world title, and while Capirossi was more consistent than spectacular, his seven race victories should not be overlooked.

Looking at the talent that has fallen by the wayside in trying to bring success to the Desmosedici, the 27-year-old Briton’s chances are not exactly tempting.

Ducati’s recipe for success used to be unbeatable straight-line speed – if a rider was talented enough to keep up with the agile and more nimble Yamahas and Hondas then it could blitz them down the straights.

Who could forget Stoner’s first ever win in Qatar in 2007, when he left Rossi’s Yamaha choking on his exhaust fumes down Losail’s gargantuan straight?

Yet even this pillar of strength has been undermined – it is not uncommon to see either the Repsol Hondas of Dani Pedrosa or Marc Marquez – or even Jorge Lorenzo’s M1 – outpace the Dukes in a straight line.

This would be fine if it had become a better-handling bike round the bends, but it has not.

Crutchlow crashed a lot in his first season with Yamaha – a phenomenon not unheard of for World Superbike riders switching to MotoGP.

He is also a rider who has admitted this season to struggling to adapt to the changing weight of the bike as the fuel load decreases.

Is the most uncooperative and unwilling factory machine on the grid really the best choice for him?

Ask Dovizioso – his teammate who beat him by 67 points last season but now languishes two places and a whopping 35 points behind him this year – all after just nine races.

So why has he moved?

Dovizioso made the valid point that each rider brings something different to the table, and that individual x-factor could be the missing ingredient to restore Ducati’s fortunes on the track.

But does Crutchlow really have something that Rossi, Melandri, Hayden and Dovizioso all lacked, even with 11 world titles between them?

Crutchlow is a decent rider who could register the odd victory on the right machine, but he is clearly not in the same league as someone with the prodigal talent of Jorge Lorenzo or Marc Marquez, both of whom had won world titles by the age of 20.

Crass as it may sound, money most likely played a factor, as well as the prestige of knowing you are the chosen rider of a MotoGP factory setup.

Crutchlow also gave the impression of being a bit miffed at missing out on a factory ride last season, with Ducati eventually tempted by the irresistible yet unrealistic lure of an Italian delivering a world title on an Italian ride as they plumped for Crutchlow’s then-teammate, Dovizioso.

It was a move many in the paddock thought was actually a blessing in disguise for Crutchlow.

The knowledge that, at Tech3, he was never truly the priority clearly grated. He may well have been the team’s No.1 rider but, with Yamaha understandably distracted by the factory team, he did not receive the same technological support. Being with the B team was something that never sat comfortably with him.

Tech 3 discussing terms with Moto2 rider Pol Espargaro may well have been the final straw and, with Bradley Smith, Rossi and Lorenzo tied up for next year, he may feel his hand was forced.

Well, he has his wish – with Hayden moving on, he and Dovizioso will team up again, this time on factory machinery.

And while he may receive all the technical support he desires, whether that will do him any good in the long run remains doubtful.

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