The first piece in MotoGP's 2014 silly season has finally moved. Today, news broke via several different channels that Cal Crutchlow has signed a two-year deal with Ducati to join the factory team. Crutchlow will leave the Tech 3 Yamaha squad at the end of the season and join his former Tech 3 teammate Andrea Dovizioso at the factory Ducati squad.
Speculation over Crutchlow's future has been rife for a long time, and started once reports emerged after Qatar that Yamaha had already signed Pol Espargaro to take one of the seats in the Tech 3 Yamaha garage in 2014. With Bradley Smith on a two-year deal with the French Yamaha squad, there seemed to be no room for Crutchlow in the team. A long and drawn out process then took place, with Ducati trying to tempt Crutchlow to the factory team, Yamaha trying to persuade Crutchlow to stay at Tech 3, and Honda talking to the Englishman about taking the LCR Honda of Stefan Bradl.
Though Crutchlow stated repeatedly in public that he wished to remain with Yamaha, the Englishman also made no secret of his desire for a factory bike. With the line up in Yamaha's factory team looking settled for the coming years, it became apparent that finding a solution for Crutchlow to remain with Yamaha would be difficult. As recently as last week, Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis told MotoGP.com of the extra efforts Yamaha had made to keep him at Tech 3. But Yamaha were incapable of matching either the financial terms or the level of factory support on offer from Ducati. In the end, a combination of all these factors won the Englishman over.
Crutchlow's choice to switch to Ducati is a gamble. The bike has known very little success since Casey Stoner left the Italian factory to join Honda, and Valentino Rossi's dismal two-year stint at Ducati did little to change the situation. Though massive changes were made during Rossi's tenure on the bike - a switch to an aluminium beam frame, rotating the engine back 18 degrees to centralize mass, and much, much more - none of them tackled the central problem of understeer which plague the Desmosedici. More signs of change have come since Audi took over Ducati, with Bernhard Gobmeier taking over from Filippo Preziosi as the head of Ducati Corse, and Paolo Ciabatti taking the role of MotoGP team manager from Alessandro Cicognani. Despite that, Andrea Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are finishing in roughly the same place which Rossi and Hayden were finishing in a year ago.
Crutchlow will have to hope for real progress if he is to match the success he has had on the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha satellite bike. The Englishman has had four podiums this year, as well as starting from pole at Assen, and has looked set to secure his first win before the season is out. Podiums are well beyond the reach of the Ducati at the moment, and until some fundamental changes are made, they will remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.