On 22 November, having crossed the line at the Portuguese GP, Cal Crutchlow appeared a happy man. It must have felt strange for the 35-year old, as he closed an important chapter in his life after ten seasons in MotoGP. But at the same time, hanging up his leathers – as a championship rider, considering he’ll become a Yamaha test rider – was something he’d been considering for a long time. The Brit talks to us exclusively about his decision.
At the end of 2019 you said that it would be your last championship and yet at the start of this season you’d changed your mind, saying you wanted to race for another year. You’re not retiring as you’ll now be a test rider – can you clarify the situation for us?
"I can say that I’m happy with where I am, and my idea was claer. If I’d had an option to suit my ambitions, I’d have considered it. Otherwise, I’d stop, no worries. I enjoyed a fantastic opportunity, I did my best, I gave 100% every time I got on the bike and sometimes it went well, or very well, and at other times no. But I feel I always gave it everything, and so I’m pleased about that".
There’s a long list of riders who have said farewell to racing with a smile, knowing they’d given it everything and ready to enjoy life. But some of them, a few months later, have expressed regrets. After many years in the paddock, is it difficult to find a place in the “real world”?
"I don’t think so, look at Casey Stoner for example, I don’t think he missed the media, the flashes, the interviews. He perhaps missed pushing to the limit on track though. But then I think Jorge Lorenzo misses everything about this world”.
You’ve said many times that one of your reasons for retiring is that you plan to live in California so that your daughter Willow can grow up there. How much has her arrival changed your life? Not in terms of your speed on track, but in terms of your approach to racing.
"Things haven’t really changed on track, but since 2016 my life away from the races is quite different, a drastic change. Before I was the classic selfish rider who did whatever he felt like doing. And if no one went along with me, I didn’t care, because I was doing what I wanted. Now, if Willow or my wife Lucy say 'go there', I have to go there… But I’m happy. Seeing my daughter grow up and bringing her to the track with me has been fantastic. Unfortunately, with the restrictions this year, I’ve been away from the family. Willow had to go to nursery, that’s the normal evolution of things, but it was different to the past and I spent more time at the track. And it was difficult, because Willow now understands time and in recent weeks she didn’t want to accept my leaving, she didn’t want me to go and knew I’d be away for a long period. She loves coming to the tracks, not for the racing, but to be with me. But she probably handled me being away better than I did, being away from her".
Her arrival changed your life for the better
"Sure, and things improved on track too, I was faster. I’ll continue to be a rider and will give it my all during testing with Yamaha, as always. Because I’ve always had the mentality of someone who wants to win. I’ve always known it would be hard to win, but if you’re not on track to win, there’s no point being there”.
You’ve often said that your results wouldn’t have been any better on a factory team. But on a factory team you wouldn’t have lost technicians when they moved to an official squad.
"I have to say that Honda has always supported me well. Sometimes I’ve had to do without things, but then at other times I’ve received them before the other riders. Obviously there are different resources on a factory team, both human and technical, there are more people doing all those things that help you go faster on track. It’s all a little easier. Fundamentally, the factory riders are there because they’re good, but they also have a simpler life. They have more people around them, they race for the richest teams, teams that even travel in better conditions, probably because the staff is better paid, and they ride better bikes than the riders on satellite teams. For this reason, the satellite riders struggle more to make that final step in their development".
Can you give us an example?
"Think of the difference between a former Moto2 champion like Tito Rabat and Maverick Viñales, who didn’t win the Moto2 title. One has only been with satellite MotoGP teams, the other only with factory teams. I’m not saying that if Tito Rabat had had the same treatment and resources as Viñales he would have been as fast as Maverick, but he’d definitely have been a lot closer to the front. This is racing, the harsh reality. Because factory riders have chance to evolve and grow over time. For years we asked why a satellite rider hadn’t won the championship, and the answer comes down to all these details, it’s not just down to the technical side".
You’re leaving Honda, so you can tell us what you think about the factory team, with Pol Espargaró arriving to replace Alex Marquez.
"Let me start by saying that I like Pol, he’s a good rider who gives it everything. But at the time of being hired, he’d scored just one MotoGP podium. It seemed strange to me, on Team HRC’s part, but then this year he’s been consistent and has taken a step forward. And he’s a world champion".
Do you think he brings something that Honda doesn’t currently have?
"If I’m honest, no. I think he’ll bring some results, but is that what Honda was looking for, when it already has a rider capable of winning every race? I don’t think anyone will ever replicate what Marc Marquez does, or what he’s been able to do. I think that Alex Marquez has also done a great job, and that Taka Nakagami is growing".
After the Sepang test in February, a colleague asked Dani Pedrosa who his favourite was for the title and he said “Suzuki, but their riders don’t know it yet".
"It doesn’t surprise me, riders of Dani’s skill, and I think I can include myself here, see certain things when looking in from the outside. You can offer certain opinions because you can evaluate the rider and compare him to the fastest rider. For example, it’s clear that KTM is now one of the best bikes on the grid. Dani knows the game, he knows where to look, he has the right experience. And I’d add that I would have liked to see him on a Yamaha or a Suzuki, because what he did with Honda for so many years was simply superb".
After a season like this one, conditioned by Covid-19, do you think it might be good to go back to a 'discarding' system, cancelling each rider’s two worst results for example?
"I was asked this a while ago, and I said it didn’t seem like a good idea. Now I’m torn, because there is a risk of an ‘incomplete’ championship, a rider who misses two races having the same value as one who starts every GP. If we were to have another season like this one, in which some riders missed races due to Covid-19 or even due to anti-Covid regulations, then it wouldn’t be fair for someone to miss out on the title for something like that. But it’s a complicated subject".
Translated by Heather Watson