Andrea Dovizioso announces retirement, Cal Crutchlow in MotoGP return

Andrea Dovizioso announces he will retire from racing at the San Marino MotoGP in Misano; Cal Crutchlow to see out the final six rounds with RNF Yamaha

Andrea Dovizioso - RNF Racing Yamaha

Andrea Dovizioso has announced he will retire from racing after the San Marino MotoGP at Misano, with Cal Crutchlow called up to see out the 2022 MotoGP World Championship season on the RNF Yamaha.

The Italian - one of the most successful MotoGP riders of the modern era - revealed the news ahead of this weekend’s British MotoGP at Silverstone.

While Dovizioso - runner-up to Marc Marquez in 2017, 2018 and 2019 with Ducati - had previously revealed he was not chasing a new MotoGP deal with any team for 2023, the call to bring it to an end before the season concludes was unexpected. 

Choosing his home Misano race for what will be a poignant swansong performance, it means Dovizioso has just three more events - the British MotoGP, Austrian MotoGP and San Marino MotoGP - to go before he hangs up his helmet.

The decision comes amid a difficult season spent with the satellite RNF Racing team, during which Dovizioso has struggled to haul the factory-supplied Yamaha M1 beyond the rear quarter of the field.

Indeed, it has been trying couple of years for Dovizioso, who sensationally walked away from Ducati at the end of the 2020 MotoGP season in a dispute over salary. Doing so despite there being no other seat options on the grid for 2021, Dovizioso instead opted to take a sabbatical which lasted for nine months. While it was a drastic move that interrupted his momentum and checked his motivation upon returning to racing, Dovizioso says he stands by his call to leave Ducati rather than be cornered into an unfavourable deal.

A few subsequent tests with Aprilia raised anticipation of a deal to race in 2022, but his hesitation to sign over his uncertainty as to the RS-GP’s competitiveness simply led the team to hire Maverick Vinales instead.

As a result, Dovizioso penned a deal with Yamaha to race with RNF Racing (then known as Petronas SRT) in place of Franco Morbidelli during the final rounds of the 2021 season ahead of a full-time deal. However, in a season that has seen Aprilia emerge as title contenders, the Yamaha package has faltered in anyone but Fabio Quartararo’s hands.

Identifying his personal difficulties adapting to the modern day machines, Dovizioso candidly blames him for not making the most of the bike, rather than criticise the M1 package itself.

“In 2012, the experience with the Iwata manufacturer in MotoGP had been very positive for me and since then I have always thought that, sooner or later, I would have liked to have an official contract with Yamaha. 

“This possibility presented itself, actually in a somewhat daring way, during 2021. I decided to give it a try because I strongly believed in this project and in the possibility of doing well.

“Unfortunately, in recent years the MotoGP has changed profoundly. The situation is very different since then: I have never felt comfortable with the bike, and I have not been able to make the most of its potential despite the precious and continuous help from the team and the whole of Yamaha. 

“The results were negative, but beyond that, I still consider it a very important life experience. When there are so many difficulties, you need to have the ability to manage the situation and your emotions well.

“We did not reach the desired objectives, but the consultations with the Yamaha technicians and with those of my team have always been positive and constructive, both for them and for me. 

“The relationship remained loyal and professionally interesting even in the most critical moments: it was not so obvious that that would happen.”

The understated MotoGP legend

Though he won’t necessarily be exiting MotoGP with a flourish, Dovizioso leaves a legacy as one of MotoGP’s most decorated riders, albeit one that has never attracted the same level of fandom as his rivals.

Making his premier class debut in 2008 - having won the 2004 125GP title and twice finished runner-up in the 250GP class - Dovizioso was the star of his rookie season en route to a top five finish in the overall standings aboard the little-fancied privateer Honda entered by the Scot Racing team he competed with in the feeder classes.

It earned him a move into the factory Repsol Honda squad for the next three seasons - which led to his maiden win at Donington Park in 2009 - but overall he struggled to match team-mate Dani Pedrosa before the opportunity to hire Casey Stoner for 2011 led to Dovizioso losing status internally as part of an unusual three rider line-up.

Despite this, he finished third overall in 2011, even if it wasn’t enough to retain his ride, with Dovizioso snapped up by Tech 3 Yamaha. Nevertheless, he thrived in less pressured surroundings and after a series of giant-killing performances put him back in the shop window, he was hired by Ducati for 2013.

Replacing Valentino Rossi, the latest high-profile rider unable to tame the tricky Ducati package, Dovizioso's move was dubbed something of a risk. Instead, 'Desmo Dovi' was the man to spearhead  Ducati's return to form in the ensuing years, getting it back into the winners' circle in 2016 for only his second career victory, some six seasons after his maiden triumph.

Often the only rider with the speed and bike to penetrate an otherwise dominant Marc Marquez-Honda era between 2016 and 2019, Dovizioso took the fight to the Spaniard in 2017, 2018 and 2019 en route to finishing runner-up in all three seasons. He came closest to success in 2017 when six wins saw him take the championship fight down to the wire in Valencia before Marquez wrapped it up.

Now a 15-time race winner, Dovizioso’s penultimate race in Austria will also see him surpass Alex Barros (246) to sit second on the all-time list of MotoGP starts behind Rossi.

Cal Crutchlow returns to MotoGP

The premature exit means Crutchlow, as Yamaha’s reserve rider, will contest the final six rounds of the season, in so doing ensuring British representation on the MotoGP grid for the first time this year.

Crutchlow retired from full-time racing at the conclusion of the 2020 season having accumulated three wins - the first by a British rider in the premier class since Barry Sheene - and 18 podiums over a ten season tenure that led to stints with Yamaha, Ducati and Honda.

He will race alongside rookie Darryn Binder for the final events, which come before RNF Racing part ways with Yamaha to join forces with Aprilia as its satellite entry for the 2023 MotoGP season.

Its rider line-up is expected to include Miguel Oliveira, who will join from KTM, but there remains uncertainty over the second seat with Binder in contention, while Raul Fernandez is rumoured too, along with Moto2 hopeful Aron Canet.