Three-time MotoGP race winner Cal Crutchlow has officially been announced as replacing Franco Morbidelli at the Petronas Yamaha team for the next three rounds of the 2021 MotoGP season, confirming The Race’s reports that the Brit would be filling in for the injured Morbidelli as he continues to recover from surgery.
The Italian rider underwent surgery earlier this month to repair a long-term knee injury that has been hampering him since at least 2015, after crashing and exacerbating it during the German Grand Prix at the Sachsenring.
Expected to face a recovery time of some months, he was initially replaced at the Dutch TT by World Superbike rider Garrett Gerloff, as the American was given something of a job interview for next season with the Malaysian team.
However, with Gerloff back on WSB duty for the remainder of the year (and with his future there secured after adding an additional year to his Yamaha contract in the production bike championship), it was expected that Yamaha test rider Crutchlow would return to action for the upcoming two races in Austria as well as his home race at Silverstone.
It marks his first return to racing since he retired at the end of the 2020 MotoGP season but, lining up on Morbidelli’s two-year-old 2019-spec bike, Crutchlow says that he’s not rushing to set any targets just yet for his return to racing despite considerable expectations about what he might be able to do for the satellite team.
“I think it’s difficult to set targets for these three races,” he said, “and it will be more about understanding the bike, as I’ve had limited riding days this year. The good thing will be that I can compare the bikes and I should be able to gather a lot of data for Yamaha.
“It’s a bit like being thrown in the deep end, as it’s a very competitive MotoGP class, but I’m really looking forward to it and it’s going to be good to be back on the grid.
“I’m looking forward to meeting the team in Austria, although there will be some familiar faces for me because Wilco Zeelenberg was my team manager in Supersport in 2009 and I actually raced against Johan Stigefelt some years ago, so it’s going to be a pleasure to be back with them.”
Team principal Razlan Razali was equally open about Crutchlow’s prospects while admitting that the decision to run the British rider was the result of a joint agreement with Yamaha, who will be hoping that additional track time for him will aid the development of their 2022 bike – a project that Crutchlow has been working on since the start of 2021.
“After looking at all the options, it was a collective decision between Yamaha and ourselves to ask Cal Crutchlow to fill in for Franco while he recovers from surgery,” added Razali. “Cal is a credible and experienced rider, who is currently a test rider for Yamaha. As an independent team, this is where we can really step up to help Yamaha.
“Cal will be able to rack up some good mileage on our M1, which should aid him with his testing and development work for Yamaha. Cal will replace Franco for the next three races and we have no real targets for him in terms of results.
“We will do all we can to help support him and make him feel comfortable in the team. He’s already familiar with some of the key people in the team, which helps, and I’m sure he’s up for the challenge.”