It looks like Ducati will get their all-Italian line-up after all. Both GPOne.com and Speedweek are reporting independently that Cal Crutchlow will be leaving Ducati to join LCR Honda for the 2015 season. Officially, Crutchlow had until 31st July to exercise his option to leave Ducati, but it appears that Ducati management agreed to an extension, while negotiations continued with Honda. An agreement was reached late last night, Speedweek is reporting, with one of the main points of contention being the payoff Crutchlow would receive from Ducati for leaving.
A week ago, Crutchlow announced that he would be staying with the Italian factory at the World Ducati Week event. Since then, however, the situation changed, with Crutchlow's manager Bob Moore reaching agreement with Ducati management to explore further options. That led directly to the release of Crutchlow to join LCR.
Crutchlow is the latest in a long line of victims claimed by the Italian marque. Marco Melandri was the first to leave, departing early from a two-year contract of struggling miserably in 2008. Valentino Rossi sat patiently through his two seasons at Ducati, seizing the opportunity to return to Yamaha as soon as he could. And now Cal Crutchlow, courted by Ducati for a long time in the belief that he could solve their problems, has also departed. Crutchlow has struggled all season long, both with a string of mechanical failures, and with trying to adapt his riding style to the difficult Desmosedici.
The switch to Honda is hardly unexpected. Crutchlow came very close to signing for LCR Honda last year, but only last-minute intervention by Ducati swung the deal towards the Italian factory. HRC are known to view Crutchlow favorably, and with a large British sponsor on board - CWM World, a financial services company - having a British rider makes a lot of sense. Crutchlow will have to adapt his style once again, moving away from the smooth style he learned at Yamaha, and riding more aggressively. He should at least be able to carry some corner speed again, something he was renowned for on the Yamaha but was impossible on the Ducati.
Crutchlow's departure makes life significantly easier for Ducati. The relationship between the two parties became strained from quite early on, with Crutchlow's forthright manner not always fitting well inside the tightly-controlled corporate communications culture of Ducati. The factory had also signed Andrea Iannone for 2015 with a promise of factory support. Iannone, who has had some strong results this season, was unhappy with the arrangement, but the Ducati deal was his best option. Ducati can now offer Iannone what he wants, which is a seat in the Ducati factory team alongside Andrea Dovizioso.
With Crutchlow at LCR Honda, and Iannone and Dovizioso at factory Ducati, that opens up a seat at Pramac Ducati. Eugene Laverty has been in previous talks with the Pramac squad, though the Irishman is also believed to be in the frame for a slot at Aprilia, who will be buying out the PBM team for 2015. The Pramac team has also shown an interest in Stefan Bradl, who is making way for Crutchlow at LCR Honda. But Bradl's most likely destination is the Forward Yamaha team, where team manager Giovanni Cuzari has two slots to fill, with the retirement of Colin Edwards, and the almost certain departure to Suzuki of Aleix Espargaro. Alex De Angelis is to be drafted in to replace Edwards at certain select rounds this season - Brno, which comes a week after Indianapolis, and the three flyaway rounds of Motegi, Sepang and Phillip Island - and is a candidate to take the second seat at Forward.
Jack Miller's name continues to do the rounds, though it now seems more likely he will head to Gresini, rather than LCR. Miller will take the production RCV1000R at Gresini, with Scott Redding moving up to the RC213V vacated by Alvaro Bautista, as Redding's contract decrees. Next year's production Honda will be a very different kettle of fish to this year's bike, however, with Honda supplying the engine from this year's satellite bikes, minus the seamless gearbox.
Once the paddock reconvenes at Indianpolis this coming Thursday, even more will become clear. By then, Jorge Lorenzo should have renewed his deal with Yamaha, and several other of the open seats should be filled. The only satellite seat with a question mark hanging over it is the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha seat currently held by Bradley Smith. Who will fill that is very much up in the air.