Crutchlow: The front was our weapon

Cal Crutchlow starts Qatar MotoGP season-opener seeking a return to the strong Honda front-end of the past.
Crutchlow: The front was our weapon

If Cal Crutchlow could wave a magic wand and fix one thing on the 2019 Honda, there's little doubt about what it would be.

The Englishman, still recovering from serious ankle injuries at Phillip Island last October, likes the engine performance of the latest RC213V but has so far been hampered by a lack of front-end feeling.

That's especially punishing since the front-end 'was our weapon', meaning the area where the Honda riders made up time on their opponents, to the extent that they would sometimes overuse the advantage and fall.

Crutchlow was only 17th fastest (+1.039s) at the end of pre-season testing in Qatar, but draws comfort from the fact he was not using the full race package he will take to the same Losail track with this weekend.

"We never had the correct package at the test that's for sure," he said. "We were trying different things for Honda and the team and only did a limited amount on the 2019 bike. Even in Malaysia I had my 2018 bike for one day, then here we tested some other things. So I'm looking forward to getting on my race bike."

Turning to the front-end numbness he has felt ever since climbing on the 2019 machine at Sepang in February, the LCR rider added:

"I'll be totally honest, I don’t really know why I have no front feeling. I think that that's where we are struggling a little bit. I think the other [Honda] riders also a little bit. Not that I can speak for them.

"I don't think I have the front feeling that I had last year. We know the Honda has a good front end. We crash all the time with the front, but as I've said many times it's not that we have a bad front end, it's that we have such a good front end that we take advantage of it too much and that was our weapon.

"A lot like, if somebody has a lot of rear grip they use that as their weapon, but at the end of the race they are struggling more because they've worn out the tyre etc. We were the opposite.

"We were pushing the front a lot and it caused a lot of crashes over the years but we were able to fight in that area. We were always good in the braking zone and I feel that we've lost that at the moment.

"On the other hand, what we have gained is speed.

"The engine is very, very good. HRC have done an amazing job with regards to that. But we need to figure out and understand why me, personally, I've lost the front-end feeling. I'm not able to turn the bike like I was before.

"But at the tests we didn't really put it all together as a package, for how we think we will be racing this year. So now I'm looking forward to being able to ride the race bike, as such, for the year and start to work on that.

"The position obviously looked terrible [at the test]. The pace didn’t look great. But I think we'll be able to turn it on this weekend."

Aside from the front-end fix, Crutchlow's healing ankle still has limited movement as far as using the rear brake.

"I wake up in the morning and when I first get out of bed I look like I've just done it. Then five minutes later I can sort of walk, without any pain or real drama. But I will have the metalwork out, that's for sure, because I think that's what's causing the pain and the problem with the tightness."

When will the metalwork be removed?

"This year. It was supposed to be six months to a year but I prefer it to be a year so it will be the end of the year. If it's good. If it's not good then I won't take it out.

"I had a fantastic surgeon, but it was a difficult time to be able to come back… I don't think there's many people who would have put in what I've put in to be able to get back to being competitive."

Although some riders already choose hand-operated rear brakes, Crutchlow said he can’t afford the time needed to learn.

"I've done 15 years of riding with the foot brake and when we are scraping for half a tenth of a second here and there, you end up losing time. You lose a second a lap and a second a lap means you're going to be 22-seconds behind the winner at the end of the race. Plus the five seconds you'll lose on lap one. I haven't got time to learn how to use it. It's as simple as that.

"[Other rides have done] it over a period of time. They use it on one corner over the weekend and that isn't me. I'm either all in or not. So I prefer to use the foot brake, but I do have problems with it at the minute because I can't release it. I can't get my foot off the lever enough."

And what would Crutchlow be happy with on Sunday evening?

"I've come here to win. The likelihood is it's not going to happen... I'd be happy with a top six."

Reigning champion Marc Marquez was fourth fastest at the Qatar test, with new Repsol Honda team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in sixth, as the pair made up ground after a slow opening night.

"We went our different ways with regards to setting and set-up of the bike. But we had some small differences [compared with the Repsol riders] and as you know I'll start the year very close to what they are running over there," Crutchlow said.

"We did what we need to do to get the information to HRC over the three days of the test. I feel we did a good job with regards to that. The position obviously looked terrible. The pace didn’t look great. But I think we'll be able to turn it on this weekend."