Today’s press releases detailing Pol Espargaro’s move to the Repsol Honda team in 2021 and Alex Marquez’s lateral move to the LCR Honda team, also for 2021, confirm that Cal Crutchlow won’t be on a factory Honda MotoGP this abbreviated season.
There are currently four factory entrants in MotoGP for Honda. Two on the Repsol Honda team and two on the LCR Honda team. Their 2021 riders will be Marc Marquez, Alex Marquez, Pol Espargaro and Takaaki Nakagami; of that group, and as of this day in July, only the elder Marquez has won a MotoGP race.
Both Takaaki Nakagami and Alex Marquez’s ascension into MotoGP have been beset with jeers of nepotism and or blatant nationalism. Nakagami is Japanese, is backed by Japanese petroleum giant Idemitsu, which enjoys a very strong partnership with Honda. As even his own teammates have suggested, had he not been Japanese his results would have never been enough see him in MotoGP. Alex Marquez is the brother of Marc Marquez, is the reigning Moto2 world champ and is a former Moto3 world champion.
While he’s not won a MotoGP race Pol Espargaro is probably one of the hardest-riding racers in the MotoGP class, with his desire to go fast clear with almost any lap. That riding style has seen Espargaro injured numerous times including but not limited to spinal injuries which left him temporarily paralyzed. Broken wrists, collarbones and other body parts are part and parcel of Pol Espargaro’s riding.
Crutchlow, who was named after American racer Cal Rayborn, is 34 years old. Pol Espargaro is 29, Alex Marquez is 24 while Nakagami is 28.
2011 saw Crutchlow move to the MotoGP world championship where he deftly slipped from the Tech 3 Yamaha squad to Marlboro Ducati to his current berth at LCR Honda. Former HRC team manager Livio Suppo brought Crutchlow fully into the HRC fold with not just a factory spec bike but HRC taking over Crutchlow’s salary, which previously was propped up by Crutchlow’s sponsor Monster, Lucio Cecchinello and Honda.
It’s well known that Monster CEO Rodney Sacks is a huge Cal Crutchlow fan. However in 2019 Monster moved financial mountains to become the title sponsor of the factory Yamaha team which currently houses Valentino Rossi. It’s unknown how deep Monster’s pockets will go for Crutchlow in 2020/2021.
2020 sees a much different political climate at HRC than the structure in place when the ever-colorful Suppo was team principle. Now, former racer Alberto Puig runs the Honda MotoGP operation. Nauseatingly Puig suggests that Crutchlow could still ride a Honda in 2021, in WSBK; he suggests that is “a good option” for the former Grand Prix winner.
Politically, DORNA needs a Brit in MotoGP to help service their new rider programs such as British Talent Cup and to help legitimize the mammoth fee paid to them by BT Sports to televise the MotoGP world championship on BT’s British and European channels. Interestingly the current contract between BT and DORNA ends in 2021.
Crutchlow has opportunities if he does want to continue to race in MotoGP. Aprilia seem ready to concede that WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and his own self-destructive behavior have ended Andrea Iannone’s racing career so Crutchlow could easily slide into that spot. But the new Aprilia is completely unproven, needs development and the project is run by “the crazy ex-girlfriend team”.
Unpredictability has been a hallmark of Crutchlow’s racing career. At this time last year Crutchlow said that he was considering retirement when 2021 ends, and previous to that he has said that he wanted to finish his career by racing in America with the MotoAmerica championship. He recently joked he might be working at Home Depot in 2021. The Briton has been smart with his income for years, owns homes in California, Italy and the Isle of Man. At one time he famously said he did not own a credit card that he was responsible for paying the debt on. His break with his business manager, Wasserman Media Group (ex-motocross rider Bob Moore) probably accelerated his retirement fund dramatically when he became self-managed and could pocket that extra 15-25% of his yearly income.
On paper it’s a gigantic gamble for Honda to bounce Crutchlow down the road for Alex Marquez, Pol Espargaro and Takaaki Nakagami. But when they have Marc Marquez under a four-year contract Honda can afford to gamble.