Following what must be one of the most bizarre team dramas in MotoGP history, talented rider Maverick Viñales has popped up at Aprilia after he was unceremoniously jettisoned by Yamaha ahead of the Austrian GP for…. what, drug violations? Illegal racing maneuvers? Sexual misconduct? Speeding tickets?
None of the above.
According to Yamaha, Viñales, who has two MotoGP wins and numerous podium finishes across the recently chaotic race schedule, tried to intentionally blow up his zillion-dollar Yamaha YZR-M1 race bike during the Styria race in Austria. Following a post-race deep-dive into telemetry after the bike appeared to have “unexplained irregular operation,” Yamaha says they thought “that the rider’s actions could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race. The rider will not be replaced at the Austrian GP.” And then Mav was gone, likely forever (from Yamaha, at least). The whys and hows of this incident have not been detailed quite yet, look for the book and movie down the road, although Maverick offered a mea culpa after the race.
In his place at Yamaha? Not the hoped-for Return of Rossi or some hot up-and-comer; Yamaha instead tapped the clearly talented – and very experienced – Cal Crutchlow. Just one caveat: Crutchlow had retired at the end of last year. MotoGp is a young rider’s game (arguable exception: Rossi), and Crutchlow, at the ripe age of 35, had hung up his leathers after toiling in the lower levels and also in the development department at Honda. Now, he’ll finish out the season in Maverick’s place.
It’s a bittersweet promotion. Cal, now married with kids and once one of the brighter lights in the motorcycle roadracing galaxy, should have been given this shot about a decade ago after demonstrating his chops with time in Yamaha’s Tech3 MotoGP satellite team, and wins and podiums across MotoGP, WSB, British Superbike, and Supersport dating back to 2005. He has a home on the Isle of Man, fergodsake. Cal’s response was expectedly polite and humble, saying “it’s a privilege to be a part of Yamaha and to do what originally was supposed to be three races for the Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team, but the plans have changed. I want to thank them and I look forward to riding with the Factory Team.”
Now, he’ll be chasing Zarco, Fabio, Marquez – and Maverick – on a bike he may not be totally familiar with. If anything can be expected from Cal Crutchlow, it’s that if the Yamaha blows up on him, it’s because he was riding it hard to win. The next race is on his home court at Silverstone on August 29th, with six more to follow into November – if the season holds up against the march of the covid delta variant. The Sepang race was just cancelled, but a new event at Misano is in the works. Good luck, Cal.