MotoGP: Crutchlow’s Conundrum

Five possible explanations for some of the trouble that the Ducati rider has encountered this season.

Cal Crutchlow MotoGP race action shot

We all wish the best for straight-talking Cal Crutchlow, who was "eased out" of Yamaha Tech 3 last year to make room for Moto2 standout Pol Espargaro. Sadly, things are not going well for Crutchlow at Ducati, where the setup required for his riding style seems to conflict with the nature of the motorcycle.

Here is what the British rider had to say recently: “We have one clear thing with the bike that we do not understand, and it is that we can’t get the lean angle. We are at maybe five degrees lean angle less than Andrea , but more on the limit.

“We can see from the data that we have more risk being five degrees lean angle less. It should mean that we have less risk, but I have more risk to make a crash than them, and as soon as I go one grade more I have a crash. Obviously to make the corner you need to be able to lean the bike as much as possible.”

What Crutchlow seems to be saying is that his bike’s corner grip gives up at a lesser angle of lean than it should, thereby limiting his corner speed. When I think about this, here are some of the ideas that pop up:

1. The bike may be set up with stiffer-rate springs than Dovizioso’s, so that on rougher surfaces (such as Silverstone’s old, bumpy pavement), it has less mechanical grip. Mechanical grip refers to how easily the wheel tracks over bumps, rather than the whole bike being knocked upward by bumps.

2. Suspension could be on the stiff side only in respect of compression damping; some people prefer to prevent suspension bottoming with compression damping rather than with stiffer or more progressive springs.

Cal Crutchlow cornering race action shot

3. Front and rear spring progression rates (rate at which they become stiffer the more they are compressed) may be different enough to cause chassis attitude change (nose up or down) with attendant change to front and rear weight distribution mid-corner.

4. Dovizioso may have found ways to keep his tires at a higher temperature that gives more grip (two-time MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner was strong in this area).

5. Since Ducati is known to have tried things like ball rather than roller steering-head bearings, narrower-spaced front wheel bearings, and other means of altering in-corner chassis flexibility, could it be that Dovizioso’s team is making creative use of such things and Crutchlow’s crew is not?

We know that problems like these go right to the top of the sport. Some teams jump from one setup to another, while others make step-by-step tests in hope of finding and exploiting a trend of improvement. In its first years in World Superbike, BMW seems to have used a Formula 1-style "data-driven" approach to setup that could produce five quick laps followed by a steady loss of position as the tires gave up. We've heard a lot about teams pressuring riders to adopt other styles, but we've never heard of any good coming from such pressure.

Maybe the most we can say is that Dovizioso is able to ride to the Ducati’s strengths, while Crutchlow cannot. When a rider can predict machine behavior and rely on its consistency, he has confidence. Only a confident rider can go fast.

Race action shot #1
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Race prep.
Paddock shot.