Cal Crutchlow plays down Nakagami MotoGP results, praises Alex Marquez

Cal Crutchlow - LCR Honda

Cal Crutchlow has played down Takaaki Nakagami’s results thus far in 2020 despite them far out-stripping his own after the first five rounds of the new MotoGP season.

The Briton has endured a dismal season thus far, missing the first race after fracturing his scaphoid, with the ensuring surgery ahead of round two putting him on the back foot there too.

However, Crutchlow has barely made an impression in any of the last three races either, which means heading to Misano he sits 17th and last of the current full-time MotoGP riders.

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While the three-time MotoGP race winner would probably be excused for using the wrist as an excuse for the results, he concedes that he is simply not fast enough on the 2020-spec Honda RC213V.

"My injured wrist? I feel 100% with it. No problem," Crutchlow told reports during a particularly lengthy Zoom-equipped media session in Austria. “I have no pain, essentially, when bending my wrist on the bike. 

“I wish I could use that as a massive excuse as to what is going on but I can't! Don't get me wrong, in Jerez it was painful. But now my wrist is fine. I'm not going to lie and tell you otherwise."

The issues therefore lie in Honda developing the already discerning RC213V further away from not only himself, but Marquez himself after he declared the updates had created a fundamental handling issue.

As such, the RC213V is largely a 2020-engine with 2019-spec bodywork, but Crutchlow says it operates within a very fine operating margin when he is on the LCR-prepared machine.

While Crutchlow has probably missed the opportunity to evolve his riding style to imitate that of Marquez, his team-mate Nakagami has been poring over the Spaniard’s data to find ways to shave tenths off his lap times. 

The homework is paying off, Nakagami notching up a career best finish of fourth in Jerez and then managing a maiden front row start in Austria. As such, Nakagami is easily the most dependable Honda rider on the grid right now, earning him a de facto status as eam leader despite his aged machinery.

Crutchlow, however, appears somewhat less taken aback by Nakagami’s stride forward for 2020, the Briton pointing out that the Japanese is benefiting from having a well-developed package beneath, adding that he should be achieving these results at this stage in his MotoGP career.

"If everybody is going to ride like Marc Marquez we'll all finish next to each other, four bikes in a row over the finish line!" Crutchlow continued. "I think Taka is in a great moment. 

“Which he should be, he's in his third year in MotoGP and it's time for him to get the results and I think he's doing a great job.

"He is on a bike that has a year's development. He's also on a package that is a little different to what we used last year and he's taking advantage of that and it's working very well.

"What he's able to do with the bike - his confidence is good and feeling with the bike is good and we can see it on the data.

"Is he trying to ride like Marc Marquez? Yes he's using the rear brake a little bit more, but in the end you want me to use the rear brake even more? The thing is nearly on fire I use it that much!

"So in the end we all try and ride in the best way possible to go fast, you as a rider with your bike."

By contrast, does talk up rookie Marquez and Marquez’s current stand-in Stefan Bradl even if they have been rooted to the latter half of the field during the opening races.

"I think Alex is riding well, Stefan [Bradl, replacing Marc Marquez] is doing a good job testing the [2020] bike and I'm giving information as well and hopefully we can make a step. But I don't know where that step is going to come from.”

Where will Cal Crutchlow compete in 2021?

Nakagami’s step forward, coupled with Crutchlow’s quagmire of a season to date, would appear to rubber stamp the likelihood of the Englishman exiting LCR and Honda for 2021.

Officially speaking only Alex Marquez is confirmed in LCR colours for 2021 but Nakagami’s strong start to the year, together with his favourable nationality, means Crutchlow himself is resigned to the exit door.

With his MotoGP options for next season limited to Aprilia Racing, even if he finds himself third in the queue right now behind the suspended Andrea Iannone and soon-to-be-Ducati exile Andrea Dovizioso.

Retirement - a word he bandied about a lot in 2019 - remains an option but Crutchlow says he is motivated to continue if he can make it worth his while.

“If I didn't love it and want to do it, I wouldn't still be here," he added. "I wouldn't want to ride a bike next year. And I do.

"I can guarantee you I'm still fast. This is not about where I can finish because at the moment, I can't get the feeling with the bike. And it's never really happened to me that bad, in such a long space of time. But we've understood the bikes better in other years, I feel.”

If Crutchlow doesn’t settle for the MotoGP testing-cum-selected wildcard race outings deal Honda will likely offer, he could take the firm up on its offer of a return to WorldSBK.

The Briton is one of the few riders of the recent era to make a success of MotoGP via WorldSBK after a race-winning single season turn on the Yamaha in 2011. 

Waiting for him would be the new HRC-preparted Honda CBR1000RR-R, which showed its first true step forward at Aragon this week as potential future team-mate Alvaro Bautista earned the team its first podium since 2016.