Why ‘direct’ Cal Crutchlow’s outspoken nature is just perfect for Yamaha

Cal Crutchlow is set to return to Yamaha as a development rider for the 2021 MotoGP season... and this is why it is the best possible deal for both parties

While Cal Crutchlow’s famously outspoken nature has landed him in some hot water at times during his MotoGP career, they are the qualities that Maverick Vinales reckons are perfect for Yamaha amid news the two parties are close to a test and development role deal for 2021.

Ahead of this weekend’s Valencia MotoGP, Crutchlow confirmed he is in ‘advanced talks’ with Yamaha over replacing Jorge Lorenzo in the behind-the-scenes position, which has come about as the Briton prepares to leave LCR Honda.

Though it would bring an end to Crutchlow’s presence on the MotoGP race grid after ten seasons, it marks a compelling new challenge for the three-time race winner.

Indeed, the role of development rider has taken on greater priority in recent years with the likes of Sylvain Guintoli and Dani Pedrosa both identified as key factors in transforming the fortunes of Suzuki and KTM respectively.

It is an area Yamaha itself hasn’t paid so much attention too, though this was supposed to change in 2020 when it hired its triple MotoGP World Champion Jorge Lorenzo. However, suspicions were raised when Yamaha used him only sparingly even after testing restrictions were increased in the wake of COVID-19.

It has been reported that Lorenzo became disinterested when it was apparent he wouldn’t get any wildcard races in 2020, while a recent outing at Portimao appeared to confirm his fitness levels have dropped.

This comes at a critical time for Yamaha which has seen strong early season form fall away in the latter stages, with now all riders struggling with inconsistent grip issues that have seen it dominant one weekend only to be woefully off the pace the next.

Fabio Quartararo explains Yamaha’s excellent ability to generate heat into tyres means it can qualify on pole even when it’s not otherwise competitive, only to then suffer slumps in the races as it chews through the rubber. 

By contrast, Suzuki does the opposite, proving difficult to get the tyre working over a single lap but making it a weapon in the latter stages of race conditions as it conserves its rubber - it’s no coincidence Yamaha and Suzuki’s fortunes have moved in opposite directions this season.

A spade is a spade, a crap bike is a crap bike

This is where Vinales and Quartararo hope Crutchlow can come in.

Vinales has been increasingly outspoken against the direction Yamaha has taken with the M1, namely the determination to dedicate focus to the chassis at the expense of the engine. However, the issues with the tyres means Yamaha is left very vulnerable when it can’t utilise its handling strengths.

By contrast, while Crutchlow hasn’t always had the best working relationship with the latest generation Honda machine, he knows it inside out. One area where the Honda is good is grip, partly because it sometimes has too much of it and requires a physical riding style to get the most out of it, which is at odds with Crutchlow’s approach.

However, the Yamaha demands a smooth style and Crutchlow can bring a wealth of knowledge to the project, more so than Lorenzo - who is very unique in his style - ever really could in order to benefit the whole team. 

Either way, Crutchlow is arguably always going to be more motivated to work than Lorenzo and would see the bigger picture of developing a bike for other riders to benefit from. 

Moreover, Crutchlow - perhaps more than any other rider on the grid - is never short of a quotable line, a candid nature that hasn’t always rubbed well with other teams (Ducati) but in reality is what is needed to make unequivocal, straight up opinions even when Yamaha may not want to hear it.

While the team itself might be harder to win over - not least because it has dug its heels in against Valentino Rossi’s views in the past - you only have to look at KTM’s utmost trust in Pedrosa’s opinion to see how important development riders are becoming to a team’s armoury.

Vinales himself is under no doubt Crutchlow and his directness is precisely what Yamaha needs to make gains ahead of a 2021 MotoGP season where a development freeze leaves them with relatively few options to improve.

“For sure, it will be very important to have Cal because what I like from him is he is very direct with his comments and if he thinks something bad about you, he will say. 

“We need to find out if things work or not but not in five months, we need to know in one day. We need to improve a lot. For sure it is Yamaha’s decision, but what I feel from Cal is that he can improve the bike a lot.

“We see from Honda that they have a lot of rear grip and he knows that, so if we can have that information… 

“When Cal has a good day it is very difficult to beat him, so he can bring good information and I like his character by being direct. We need that in the team.”

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