2013 Mugello Thursday Round Up: Rossi's Challenge, Crutchlow's Ultimatum, And Sport As Soap Opera

Mugello is a spectacular setting. Even when it absolutely pours down, so badly that a river starts running through the Mugello paddock, the setting remains spectacular. It makes navigating the paddock without a life vest fairly treacherous, but at least the view is stunning. The rain looks set to stay for the duration, though the forecast appears to be improving day by day, but the riders need not fear a lack of wet track time.

As always, the riders waxed eloquent on the circuit, almost universal in their praise. Most entertaining simile of the day was from Bradley Smith, who compared Mugello to a motocross track: all undulating surfaces, blind crests and banked corners. He is right, of course, but it is not the first comparison that springs to mind when describing a track as physically large and magnificent as Mugello.

Former Moto2 rival Marc Marquez was the lone dissenting voice in the litany of praise heaped upon the iconic Italian circuit. Did he enjoy the circuit? "If you have a good set up, you enjoy it a lot," Marquez told the media. "But when you are struggling a lot, it is so difficult." The problem is that there are so many changes of direction, and so many fast, flowing corners that lead into one another, that if you have a problem in one corner, then you probably have the same problem in most of the corners around the track. "It's difficult, and you have to stay so concentrated," Marquez added, then joked that of course, if he won here, it would naturally be one of his favorite tracks.

Could Marquez win here? That seems beyond his possibilities at the moment. This is a track where he has had no testing, and a circuit which, like Barcelona in two weeks' time, is highly complicated circuit to ride. "Here and in Montmelo, these are two of the most difficult tracks, so it will be interesting to see what my level is," Marquez said.

It will also be interesting to see just where Valentino Rossi stands. This is a circuit at which he has had massive success, and the scene of one of his favorite races. In 2006, he fought an epic last-lap battle with Loris Capirossi, crossing the line for the penultimate time with nothing between them, and finally holding off the Ducati rider at the line. "It is the only time in my career that I don't remember the last lap," Rossi told the press conference, "I just remember that I won after the line!"

But his last win dates from 2008. In 2009 he was beaten by Casey Stoner, Ducati finally getting a win at their home circuit. In 2010 he broke his leg, and then he spent two fruitless years trying to replicate Stoner's success at Ducati. Now back on a Yamaha, theoretically he should be back in with a chance. Press conference speaker and veteran journalist Nick Harris asked Rossi whether he thought that the young riders now dominating MotoGP had taken the sport to another level, and perhaps beyond Rossi's reach. "For me, it is not right to speak about 'another level'," Rossi replied. The younger riders - Rossi named Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa - were stronger, certainly, but they were like next year's model of car. That model is always better than the one it replaces, and offered a range of new possibilities. "The way to ride the bike in recent years has changed a lot," Rossi explained. "Now you need to do different tricks on the bike that for an 'old rider' like me are difficult." How had riding changed? "Especially change a lot the tires," Rossi told the press conference. "They change a lot when the monotire rule arrived." After the single tire was introduced in 2009, the character of the tires change. They have less grip on the very edge of the tire, changing the way the bikes had to be ridden. Now, Rossi explained, you had to use the 'traction area' of the tire, the section just inside of the edge of the tire, when searching for drive out of the corner.

That's where the acceleration came from, and that required a change in riding style. It was not a style he has yet been able to master. He and his team still had work to do, Rossi said, but he believed that it was an achievable target. They could find the speed which Rossi was missing, and get him up to speed with Pedrosa, Marquez, Lorenzo, and Cal Crutchlow. "Now with MotoGP you have to be at 100% all through practice, and arrive on Sunday at more than 100% if you want to stay in front from the first lap to the last."

That Rossi should include Crutchlow in the list of fast riders is not as much of a surprise as it may seem. Crutchlow is fourth in the championship, and ahead of Rossi in the standings, though they have beaten each other twice apiece. Crutchlow is growing ever more weary of having to prove that he deserves a factory ride, in whatever form that may take, and his performance has clearly caught the attention of Ducati and Suzuki, the two factories which will have seats vacant in 2014. Ideally, Crutchlow would like to remain in the Tech 3 team, with the kind of factory support from Yamaha given to Honda's satellite riders.

But while Crutchlow continues to put in outstanding performances almost every round, Yamaha are engaged in talks with Pol Espargaro. Espargaro is believed to have signed a letter of intent with Yamaha at the Qatar round of MotoGP, which would put the young Spaniard in the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team with factory backing. At Mugello, Crutchlow lost his patience with the situation, making it clear that Yamaha would have to choose who they want on their bike. "[Yamaha] have signed Pol, as far as I am aware. It's none of my business and I don’t really care, but one thing is for sure, I won’t ride under Pol Espargaro in my team. So I will be leaving, that’s clear. I won't ride there if he has a factory contract and I don't."

If there is a factory contract to be handed out by Yamaha, then Crutchlow he felt that he deserved it over Pol Espargaro, and on the basis of Espargaro's results, it is hard to fault his logic. Clearly, Yamaha are looking to address the prospect of long-term domination by Marc Marquez. While Jorge Lorenzo is currently at the peak of his ability, Yamaha have to look to the future to prevent Honda from walking off with MotoGP in the coming years. If that was Yamaha's aim, Crutchlow said, then they were looking in the wrong direction with Espargaro. "Marc's a different story, as I've said a million times," Crutchlow told journalists. "Pol Espargaro is no Marc Marquez. Not in any way, shape or form."

Crutchlow's future lies in the hands of Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis. It is Jarvis who has decided he wants to sign Espargaro, at least according to Crutchlow, and so it is up to Jarvis to choose whether he wants Espargaro or Crutchlow. If Jarvis decides against Crutchlow, then the Englishman can walk into a Suzuki contract almost straight away.

Jarvis' dilemma is twofold: does he sign young talent for the future, or does he prepare a rider capable of riding alongside Jorge Lorenzo when Valentino Rossi retires at the end of 2014? And what kind of rider does he want? Espargaro is a charming, friendly and popular figure, and unlikely to kick up a storm. Crutchlow, too, is charming, but his charm is more rakish, and has an edge that corporate entities can sometimes fear. Crutchlow's razor-sharp wit will always generate publicity for the company, but it will not always fit neatly inside the corporate message and image which companies like Yamaha like to project. Crutchlow has a hint of danger around him, and while that is very, very good for his popularity, it leaves him feared by PR managers up and down the paddock.

It also leaves him loved by Dorna, by Tech 3 team boss Herve Poncharal, and by the team's title sponsor Monster Energy. Crutchlow packs a significant political punch, and could cause severe problems for Yamaha if he decides to leave. If Crutchlow were to go to Suzuki, for example, then that could potentially have consequences for Monster, and their involvement with the Tech 3 squad, and maybe even the Yamaha factory team. It is a complex situation for all concerned, and not one which will be resolved easily.

Where Crutchlow ends up riding next year will not be decided this weekend, but clearly this will be a pivotal few days in the career of Cal Crutchlow. The series needs spiky characters like Crutchlow, capable of drawing casual fans in to the sport. The history of all professional sports is built on great rivalries, of clashes of personality and personal style, and it is precisely that which has been missing from the sport in the past couple of years. There has been much mutual respect, and displays of politeness, and fine words back and forth between MotoGP's protagonists. That leaves MotoGP with only the racing to entertain, and entertainment is what has been sorely missing from the racing virtually since the introduction of the 800cc MotoGP machines.

There is a lesson to be learned from the heyday of Valentino Rossi, and of the World Superbike series in the 1990s. Rossi understood that a hero needs a villain, and ensured that he always had one, to act as a counterfoil to the role of hero he had set out for himself. The World Superbike series in the '90s drew crowds larger than MotoGP - then still 500cc Grand Prix. Those crowds came to see riders who all clearly hated each other, and made no bones about it, Carl Fogarty, Aaron Slight, Scott Russell, Frankie Chili and John Kocinski never passing up an opportunity to denigrate each other in the press. It may not have been sportsmanlike, but it made for great entertainment, and drew crowds in at every level of the sport.

MotoGP, like all professional sports, is first and foremost entertainment. Without that entertainment value, fans will not watch it, and without fans, there is no money to pay for it, especially a technology-based sport which costs many millions of dollars. In the words of Barry Hearn, the promoter who turned Snooker, one of the dullest sports on the planet, into a media sensation, professional sports is a soap opera for men. Soap operas are built around characters, and if nothing else, Cal Crutchlow is a real character. We need more of his ilk, or MotoGP will fade out of existence. The sport simply cannot afford to be bland.

Total votes: 179
Total votes: 60

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Comments

Insightful and informative as usual but I don't think we can count Marc Marquez out of anything at this point. He could make a mistake or not quite get up to speed but that seems increasingly less likely. Good stuff for sure.

Total votes: 149

I dont think that anyone is counting Marquez out more than Marquez himself. It's good that he realizes that Mugello is a difficult track. The speeds that he is going to get up to on that GP bike are going to make his head spin.

That said, he's a professional and obviously brilliant talent. I don't expect to see him outside of the top five.

Total votes: 161

I just wanna know the odds of Ducati keeping NH69 and if not is WSBK where he will really end up or will he demote to a CRT?

Total votes: 159

There wont be a "CRT" in 2014. So he has a shot at a privater bike. But more than likley he'll have to go to WSBK to get a ride.

Total votes: 145

You have to love Crutchlow. "Pol is no Marquez". That's saying it mildly. If Jarvis has signed the "crying boy" already, I think he's made a serious mistake. While i'll be the first to say that Crutchlow still has a bit to go to be near DP,JL, and MM. He's almost there. In France he had his 1 outstanding race. He looked like a complete rider. But thats the only race he has shown that. Pol will not get the results Cal is getting with or without a Factory bike. He's more on the level of Bautista,Bradle, Smith and so on. If there's anyone other than Cal that deserves a shot at Rossi's seat. It's Pol's older brother. Pol still has a lot to prove. So far he's shown nothing but the splash of pace here and there.

Total votes: 173

A Crutchlow + DePuniet lineup at Suzuki for 2014 would be fantastic, mouth watering even.. There would be no questioning the commitment level of either rider, that much is for sure.

 

They would certainly spur each other on to dizzy heights.

Total votes: 172

I like Crutchlow. I think that he has out done Edwards(in terms of big talk and results).

CEII was a lot of talk but no real results in Motogp. CEII had the opportunity to ride Rossi's bike but bowed out.

Crutchlow would take Lorenzo's bike and hall ass.
Given all of that, I don't think that he is consistent enough to take Lorenzo/Pedrosa and Marquez to task for an entire season.

As it stands I think that he and Rossi are dead equal. Enjoy the Yammy Crutch. Next year the Suzuki or Ducati will not be an easy ride.

Total votes: 157

I really don't see how you can say Crutchlow has "out done Edwards" considering Edwards came in 5th in his 2nd year of MotoGP to Cal's 7th (both on satellites), and Edwards has two WSBK championships under his belt.

I think it's a little early in Crutchlow's GP run to start making career comparisons. Cal also has the advantage of starting in GP 4 years earlier in his life than Edwards.

Total votes: 154

I think Jarvis would be crazy not to try and retain Cal. If he's looking for the future, he needs to look in Moto3. Enormous talent there and dare I say, better than in Moto2 at the moment. Pol is not the future. He's a md pack rider and that will show more this season and IF he steps into GP. That will be even more evident.

I actually think that Cal showed a huge leap in his racecraft in LeMans. I hope he can keep that up. With Monsters backing of Cal. Jarvis may have to put his ego aside and sign him.

Total votes: 155

Lin Jarvis seems to be a very shady character himself. I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him and I think Cal thinks the same way to be honest! Jarvis is up Jorge's butt too far to look at any other rider seriously... not even Rossi. Cal is very close to Jorge's rding style than Rossi and the results speak for themselves. However, I think Yamaha in their quest to match the Honda RCV may have jumped ahead of themselves in the M1's development. Whatever spec Cal's M1 is, if I was Cal... I wouldn't want any of the drastic updates that Jorge's using recently. Cal is 8-10 bike lengths of the lead pack. Cal needs just a splash of electronic/engine update(s) to start battling with the lead 3 riders. Going to Suzuki or Ducati... not a good idea. Stay with Yamaha Cal... just do a deal with Jarvis to get that Factory M1 bike and stay with Tech 3 for another year.
And Pol is light-years away from MM93's abilities.

Total votes: 146

Jarvis is a snake and a JL99 fanboy and the spec of Cal's bike is there or there abouts indeed. I disagree with your statement about Cal's and Jorge's riding styles. They are not naturally similar and Cal has said he struggles in riding the bike in the way it needs to be now that it is designed for earlier braking and high cornerspeeds.
Cal should be careful not wear his emotions on his sleeve as he did regarding Pol; that is unprofessional and immature - regardless of how true it is - and it is an insult to higher up decision makers who have long memories, thin skin and whom control the purse.

Total votes: 131

To my mind it looks like Lin Jarvis was thinking strategically over the winter and his logic at the time was probably reasonable;

Off season at the end off 2012 nobody would have thought Espargaro would go off the boil and Redding would appear as the lead rider in Moto 2.

Rossi was returning and was going to fight tooth and nail with Jorge for the Championship for the next two years.

Marquez would be a raw rookie fighting with Bradley Smith.

Pedrosa was a spent force and nothing to worry about.

Honda would need two years to recover from losing Casey Stoner.

Crutchlow would be an also ran.

Skip forward 6 months and everything a rational factory team manager would have bet on at the time is turned on its head.

Cant blame Jarvis for that. Now the mark of the man is what will he do now in the current situation. It all points at Crutchlow (for the moment)..............................

Total votes: 162

With the weight limit Redding was always going to be a contender.

Rossi would be able to take podiums from Honda and perhaps win at his better tracks. A stretch to think it would be tooth and nail. (am big, big Rossi fan).

Marquez was never going to be fighting with Smith.

After the second half of the season last year, once Honda had sorted the chatter, how could Pedrosa be considered a spent force? More so that he was equal or better odds than Lorenzo.

You think Honda would need two years for Marquez to get up to d speed?

And Crutchlow was expected to fight for podiums. If anyone would be an also ran in motogp it would be Pol.

Total votes: 169

Sorry, please don't think the above is my personal perspective - it isn't.

Yes, the minimum weight limit has levelled the field for Redding, which I'm delighted about. However the european wisdom was that 2013 would be Espargaro's year in Moto 2 after being the rider who put the best fight up against Marquez in 2012. Who knows, lots of twists and turns to go, it may still be? As for me, I'm hopeful of seeing Redding on a decent MGP bike next year.

Rossi, the prodigal returns etc,,,,,, half the planet thought he could go straight back to the front - including the Yamaha team.

Marquez and Smith, yes, you are right not on track, but perhaps points could have been an issue. Nobody saw him winning so quickly and pretty much everyone (including me) expected some Lorenzo 2008 style crashing whilst he got his head round the bike. After today that may or may not a fulfilling prophecy.

Pedrosa, he's been great, brilliant in fact. I do believe a lot of people underestimated him for 2013.

Crutchlow was not expected to be beat Rossi on the M1. No way that was in the Yamaha plan. A couple of podiums like last year, hell yeah, absolutely. He has to be exceeding their expectations which could not of been particularly high to sign letters of intent with Pol at the start of the season.......

Total votes: 136

No need for apologies.

I agree about the general consensus that he would run away with it this year. For me though he is missing that edge, maybe it is just a mental thing. I would have him in my satellite team perhaps, if other riders weren't available, but not factory yet.

Your right that Cal wasn't expected to beat Rossi but I don't think by seasons end he will and I wouldn't stake my claim on it just being the bike. His biggest problem is his mouth. I personally think it just ads to paper columns and so long as he gets the results expected of him that's what counts. If I were team boss I would publicly state he is opinionated and speaks before he thinks but I pay him to ride a bike. But then I am not Japanese and hailing from the north of England you say what you think and if someone doesn't agree they tell you so. I would be happy to give him factory support in the tech 3 team but for that I would sign him to a performance related contract so if the results came he was mine for 2014.

I think it wasn't that people didn't see Marquez winning so quickly, or being quick enough to win, but more to do with the expectation of some major high sides. Though its still early days and his luck (?) coming away from crashes like today can't last forever.

Total votes: 152

Is Yamaha looking to sell bikes to grandmothers or a demographic largely based on males between 20 to 50 ?
(ps. MUCH respect for all our female riders, but lets face facts)

We all love our grandmothers, but Pol is sooo boring ! he's talented of course, but Cal is the best fit for the next years for sure
AND! he's fun to watch and listen too !!!!!

I actually listen to Cal's interviews... but, I never take a moment to listen to what Pedrosa or other boring characters have to say. They just mumble the same general fluff.

Cal is sooo great for MotoGP ! Why of why would Yamaha not want him!?
He's cool and FAST !

No brainer

Total votes: 163

And it gets forgotten that the sport needs characters, as it is after all entertainment. No matter what the quality of this generation of riders, the popularity of the sport will dwindle if it doesn't entertain, both on and (arguably to a lesser extent) off the track.

That's not usually popular with us fanatical and nerdy forum jockeys. But the sport needs to appeal far wider than us to have a future.

Cal is a 'character' and has a very winning way about him in person, dare I say it like Rossi does. All this has to be backed up with the talent to deliver results of course.

For the good of the sport, and if Cal can keep delivering the results, he should have the best opportunity to do his best and that means the best package possible. I hope Yamaha are wise enough to see that and invest accordingly.

Total votes: 136

...and it's Cal again.
It's really a shame, because he's a great talent showcasing a rare mix of cold blood and pure grit. When he's riding at least, because the moment he takes off his leathers he seemingly forgets that PR is a essential part of GP racing.
That makes for an explosive combination with Lin Jarvis and I fear that Cal has already been blacklisted by the corporate side of Yamaha MotoGP. I'd say he's been found guilty by Jarvis since last season.
Remember the crimes commited by Honda against a certain Marco Melandri in 2005?

Total votes: 174

The situation Cal Crutchlow finds himself in may well be this own doing. Remember in March this year he said he did not see why he should help Yamaha (in the event of his being in a position to take points off Honda riders and help either Lorenzo or Rossi) ?

He was quoted right here in MotoMatters saying "I do not have a Yamaha contract so why should I help them?"

That, I am sure, would have gone down like a lead balloon in Japan (Yamaha and Suzuki), and Jarvis would have had a lot of work to do to calm things... or, at the instigation of his bosses, open discussions with other riders.

Let's look at this from Yamaha's viewpoint. Yes, Crutchlow has won them a Supersport World Championship, but he failed in two years to bring them the Superbike crown.

He may also cast a look in Ben Spies' direction and reflect on the fact that the team he (Crutchlow) is cuyrrently with has not sent him out on a motorcycle with a cracked sub-frame or on a motorcycle with a fatigued (and probably misaligned) rear suspension connection.

Then he could look at Tom Sykes.

Sykes' first SWC year saw him very much in Ben Spies' shadow at Yamaha. He then went to Kawasaki, grafted away week in week out, never complaining, and when the Spaniards took over the Kawasaki Superbike operation, he started to shine. He may already have more Tissot watches than Crutchlow will ever own.

Unfortunately for Crutchlow, he is probably already considered too old (at 28) by the Japanese. Remember, Casey Stoner is the same age, and he is retired with 38 MotoGP race wins to his name.

So Cal needs to stop, take a deep breath and consider how fortunate his is to be riding in one of the best teams in MotoGP having achieved so relatively little.

Those with a slightly longer memory may remember the late Barry Sheene, while still contracted to Suzuki, appeared at a major function in London in a Yamaha t-shirt. He thought he was going to have a Yamaha works ride the next year. But he ended up with private Yamahas running his own team. Yamaha would not sign someone who had already proven his disloyalty to another Japanese company.

Finally, there is Crutchlow's disconnected dummy spit at Mugello. He claimed not to care what Yamaha did, then indicated he did care, quite a lot.

"It's none of my business and I don’t really care, but one thing is for sure, I won’t ride under Pol Espargaro in my team. So I will be leaving, that’s clear. I won't ride there if he has a factory contract and I don't."

He even talks as if he is the Tech 3 team owner.

Such arrogance.

I think it will be sayonara from the Japanese, so perhaps it will be a Ducati second tier ride - but even then I wonder if Herr Gobmeier would want someone as gobby as Crutchlow?

And with the Superbike ranks shrinking by the month, it may be goodbye Cal, it's been nice to know ya.

Total votes: 143

"Pol is no Marquez", and obviously Cal is no Marquez neither, or else he would have been given a factory bike already!

"I won’t ride under Pol Espargaro in my team...", I remember another rider who told Yamaha something very similar (about picking him over another rider), and he ended up leaving...

Crutchlow is a good rider, no doubt, but he needs to understand that nobody is irreplaceable. And his attitude will not fly in the corporate world, especially in a Japanese company and the highly political MotoGP world, just ask Max Biaggi.

Good luck finding a competitive ride next year.

Total votes: 131

Cal should go to Suzuki. Let's forget all this PR crap for a moment (And I love Cal in this role, telling it like it is, no PR fluff).......Cal has experience on the crossplane engine which Suzuki is rumored to be running a la M1/R1. From the folks who've heard it they state it sound eerily similar to the M1, and firing order sounds very similar. That's a no brainer for Suzuki. All Cal's mouth can do for them is garner more attention. He has the experience and skills to help Suzuki make their GSVR M1-like in terms of results.

Total votes: 141

"Marc's a different story, as I've said a million times," Crutchlow told journalists. "Pol Espargaro is no Marc Marquez. Not in any way, shape or form."

Normally what Cal says does not bother me, but that was a bit rich coming from him. In 2012 Pol,

Portugal battle to the end, both riders outran the whole field. Marquez won but guess who was there until the last few corners of the last lap? Esp

Silverstone Esp wins outright

Aragon Esp wins

Phillip Island 16 second win Esp (Marquez could have been holding back to make sure he took the championship crown)

He did not win anywhere near as much as Marquez, but he was there. And he did win some straight up fights against Marquez. Got some Pole Positions too.

With the right team and support, Pol could be one of the few to challenge Marquez. Cal has yet to show an unbridled speed of Marquez, let alone enough speed to beat him to a win. Cal is good. That is it. Good. Marquez is phenomenal. Pol has beat Marquez when Marquez looked almost invincible. He has proven he can beat him more than once.

Cal's mouth keeps writing checks that his talent cannot cash. It will backfire on him again. There is being a straight talker, then there is being full of yourself.

Tech3 is the best team outside of a Factory team, (and much better team to be on compared to Factory Ducati). If you have the talent, you can get up front and stay there. He has yet to do that in good conditions on a regular basis.

Until Cal wins some RACES, he will just be another good rider in Motogp. Very replaceable.

Total votes: 153