2012 big year for British MotoGP star Crutchlow
Cal Crutchlow looks to be in a straight battle with new Monster Yamaha Tech 3 team-mate Andrea Dovizioso for a 2013 M1 MotoGP ride.
By Andy Marking
All riders will be under pressure to beat their team-mates during the 2012 MotoGP season, especially Britain's Cal Crutchlow.
Crutchlow's first grand prix season followed a similar pattern to Britain's previous MotoGP prospect, James Toseland. Both began well, drawing praise from their more established rivals, before hitting harder times.
Crutchlow began his GP career with three top-tens from five races, before suffering a collarbone-breaking accident at Silverstone. Although he qualified a brave sixth on his return at the following Assen event, the Dutch TT marked the start of a mid-season slump that saw just two 14th places from five rounds.
Crutchlow's relations with Tech 3 team manager Herve Poncharal were also strained when he retired a working bike at Mugello. However, the Coventry-born rider returned to form in the latter part of the season, taking points in all but one of the last six races and snatching the Rookie of the Year title from Karel Abraham with a best-yet fourth at the Valencia finale.
Crutchlow finished the year 12th in the standings on 70 points, compared with ninth and 109 points for outgoing team-mate Colin Edwards. Toseland had been eleventh with 105 points in 2008 - and also 39 points from Edwards - but over 18 rather than 16 starts, and with a best finish of sixth.
Toseland was then unable to improve his form during his second year, slipping to 14th, and his Tech 3 seat was subsequently taken by Ben Spies. With a learning year behind him, Crutchlow also has to put in some big performances to persuade Poncharal to re-sign him for 2013.
With Tech 3's Moto2 rider Bradley Smith already confirmed as moving to the MotoGP team for 2013, Crutchlow looks to be in a straight battle with new team-mate Andrea Dovizioso for the other M1 ride.
Dovizioso, like Crutchlow, naturally hopes to do well enough to be promoted to the Factory Yamaha squad for 2013, although if Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies re-sign this path will be blocked.
Beating Dovi will be a tough task, but Crutchlow did so on both days of the Valencia post-race test, which he finished in an impressive fourth place.
And with Dovizioso, who recently broke his collarbone in a motocross accident, below full fitness for the forthcoming opening test of 2012 at Sepang, Crutchlow is well placed to continue the momentum.
But Crutchlow's biggest boost should come from increased track knowledge and MotoGP's change to 1000cc engines, the same size as he used for his three WSBK wins during 2010. Former Repsol Honda race winner Dovizioso, who made his MotoGP debut in 2008, has no such 1000cc experience.
"The 1000 seems to suit my style a little better and I have to say that Yamaha has done a very good job and we are already working from a strong base," said Crutchlow after trying the 2012 bike.
"You can immediately feel the extra horsepower, which is impressive, but I'm happy because I could keep a very consistent pace. I learned a lot in my first season in MotoGP that will help me be much stronger in 2012."
If Crutchlow can rediscover the form and confidence from his victorious 2009 World Supersport season, then British fans can look forward to an all British Tech 3 MotoGP line-up in 2013, and just maybe, the prospect of a win or two.
It's long overdue... The late Barry Sheene is still the last Briton to win in the premier class!
Should Tech 3 not offer Crutchlow a 2013 M1 seat, there is now the added possibility that he could stay involved with the French team by going down the CRT route.
Independent of its satellite M1 rides, Tech 3 plans to build its own MotoGP chassis (as it does in Moto2) to be used as a CRT entry for 2013, when a raft of to-be-decided cost-cutting rules should slash the performance gap between CRTs and factory MotoGP prototypes.
But first comes 2012, when beating Dovizioso and being the best satellite rider will be Crutchlow's top priorities.