MotoGP returns this weekend in Jerez, where it is roasting. Temperatures have already cleared 40 degrees Celsius this week and they will not get any lower as the weekend approaches. With a hastily-arranged pre-season test taking place yesterday, riders got a taste for the searing heat that awaits them this weekend that they don’t normally experience on the Spanish Grand Prix’s regular slot at the start of May.
But if that’s what it will take to get world championship motorcycling back on the road, then so be it. The sport is the next cab off the rank to resume, following football, golf, Formula One and boxing, bringing to an end a painful eight months since the final race of last season.
Not much has changed on the grid from the end of 2019, with Alex Marquez stepping up alongside brother and reigning champion Marc following Jorge Lorenzo’s retirement, and Johann Zarco heading to Ducati to allow Brad Binder and Iker Lecuona to fill the KTM vacancies. Crutchlow will not be the only Briton on the grid this year either, at least for the start of the championship, as Bradley Smith returns with Aprilia to stand in for Andrea Iannone while his future remains uncertain following a positive drugs test.
But in many ways, everything has changed. Riders must take a coronavirus test at the start of race week and remain in self-isolation from that point until the weekend is complete, while team personnel will have to stick with one rider and one rider only and wear personal protective equipment to, from and at the circuit.
And there are no journalists. Despite Formula One successfully finding those who make a living from the sport, Dorna has for now banished all journalists from trackside, which of course poses a problem in bringing the action to those who are unable to attend as supporters as the tracks are closed to fans.
Which is why Crutchlow is appearing on Zoom, on the same day as Honda confirmed he will no longer ride for them in 2021. After six years, three wins and 12 podiums, Crutchlow is on the lookout for a new seat.
“I think it was mutual, but it’s not a surprise or a shock to me.,” says Crutchlow. “I knew three months ago that this situation was going on.
“I was already speaking to other teams. I knew the situation at the end of last year meant that it looked like I could continue (with Honda) and it looked like they would renew my contract, which may have been something I wanted to do, but I wanted the option to go to other places as well.
“They took their decision. I can’t change their decision but what I can say is that I’ve had some great years with Honda and we’ve had some great memories and some great wins, 12 podiums and that doesn’t happen to a lot of guys in MotoGP, so I think we’ve done well.”
To be quite frank, that is an understatement. Crutchlow easily outperformed Jorge Lorenzo last season and did so too with Dani Pedrosa in 2018. Both were in their final season before retirement, but both were within the Repsol Honda Team. Crutchlow, while a factory rider for three of his six years with Honda, has always raced for LCR, Honda’s little brother.
In his role as factory rider, he has also done his fair share of testing and development, which puts him in something of an awkward position this season: should a rider continue to develop a bike they know they will not be riding in six months’ time? Crutchlow though doesn’t feel he is in too much of a predicament in this regard: “You can do the developing all you want, and you can tell them all the information you want, but it doesn’t mean they can do it or they do do it.” Honda’s reputation that Honda knows best goes before them, after all.
But the 34-year-old has never felt underappreciated. After a year in the wilderness with Ducati in 2014, Crutchlow found a home with Honda. “Honestly speaking I’ve had a great contract with Honda for years, and I’ve been a factory rider in the LCR team which suits me better anyway.
Of course the Aprilia thing excites me, it’s something completely different and completely new but something that I think would be a great project for me
“Do I think that I was underappreciated? Not massively, no. If anything it was more to do with the package I was on. Sometimes they may get something to the two riders in the factory team and I didn’t, but I was faster than one of the other riders. Maybe I wasn’t as fast as Marc but it’s just the way it is.
“It’s the way the world works, it’s the way sport works and I’m happy with what I’ve done with Honda and I know that Honda are happy with what I’ve done with them. In the end we have to look at other things and I was already looking at other things.”
Honda’s announcement sees the manufacturer join Yamaha and KTM in confirming their plans for 2021, leaving Crutchlow short on options for next season. However, having already represented Yamaha, Ducati and Honda in his career, it may well be time for something new. He has already held talks with Aprilia, who remain in limbo because of the Iannone saga, and though there are seats available elsewhere on a Ducati, it seems his head has been swung, and British fans will be relieved to hear it’s “very likely” that Cal Crutchlow remains a name on the grid in 2021.
“Of course the Aprilia thing excites me, it’s something completely different and completely new but something that I think would be a great project for me to try and put the bike on the podium and try and do a good job for them - if it happened,” he says.
“A new project with a good new bike that they have invested in and took the time to build, a new bike that looks very good, so of course it’s interesting. Will I go there? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not, but there’s some other options as well that I’ll continue to look at and then choose what I’ll do over the next while.”
But for now Crutchlow still has a job to do with Honda, where he will look to put their poor testing pace behind them at Jerez this weekend where it’s hoped the U-turn to last year’s aero package will get them back on a par with the impressive Yamahas. However, with Jerez baking in the Andalucian sun this week, the conditions could well prove to be the biggest test. Riders face a condensed season this year to squeeze in at least 13 races for a world championship, though the prospect of three triple-headers doesn’t concern Crutchlow as much as getting up to speed this weekend does.
“It doesn’t worry me so much because the last one of those three (normally) that we have is in Malaysia and we’re still ok,” he adds. “It’s the travelling that’s hard when we’re doing those flyaways for the three races, but now we’re in Europe it may be a little bit easier.
“But racing in places like Jerez this weekend in the heat will be hard physically because none of us have rode, it’s not like you’ve gone and prepared. When we get to Malaysia we’ve been racing all year when it’s roasting hot, whereas now it’s over 40 degrees here and none of us have raced and it’s such a tight and twisty track that there’s no let up, and it’s going to be a shock to the system for sure.”
MotoGP returns this weekend at the Circuito de Jerez. Fans can catch all the action exclusively live on BT Sport and sign up contract free with a BT Sport Monthly Pass for just £25 per month. For more info visit bt.com/sport.