With the shock news that Andrea Dovizioso will quit MotoGP following his home race in Misano next month, six rounds before the conclusion of the 2022 season, it means that factory test rider Cal Crutchlow will step into his shoes at the WithU RNF Yamaha team for the rest of the year.
And despite Crutchlow himself being out of MotoGP action since his retirement at the end of the 2020 season, it’s put Yamaha into a position where it’s hard to see who else would be better suited to the role, thanks not only to the timing but due to what’s likely to happen in the coming months with both the manufacturer and the team.
That is in part because Dovizioso’s contract is not with the satellite squad run by former Sepang Circuit boss Razlan Razali, but rather is directly with Yamaha itself – a standard arrangement for other factories like Honda, KTM and Ducati but a novel thing for Yamaha, which has always regarded its independent teams with a more hands-off approach.
The Italian’s ability to negotiate directly with Iwata came about in large part because of unusual timing of its own, Dovizioso signing an 18-month deal halfway through the 2021 season to replace Franco Morbidelli, himself promoted into the factory squad to fill in for Maverick Vinales following his shock mid-season defection to Aprilia.
But, with the then-Petronas Yamaha SRT outfit already confirmed as being set to fold at the end of that year (and with Razali to launch a brand new outfit to take over under the RNF Racing banner), it means that Dovizioso was able to secure himself a deal directly with Yamaha to ensure that he had continuity through to 2022.
However, the circumstances that handed him that deal in the first place have ironically now also ensured that it will be Crutchlow who will replace him for the remaining races of 2022 and not a young rider given the chance to trial themselves in MotoGP – something that many have suggested should have been the case.
With Yamaha electing to give the RNF team only a single-year contract for its first year (supposedly thanks to corporate governance procedures and the age of Razali’s new entity), it means that RNF was free to look elsewhere for 2023 – and promptly did so, signing a new deal with Aprilia that means Yamaha will be left without a satellite team next year.
That means that there’s now no carrot for Yamaha to dangle in order to lure a top Moto2 rider onto the bike and away from their current seat.
There are rumours in the paddock that an offer was extended to Jake Dixon, last year a Moto2 rider for Razali’s team who stood in for Morbidelli in MotoGP following his knee injury.
But with no Moto2 outfit as part of the team’s 2022 structure it would have meant potentially angering Dixon’s Aspar squad just as he’s started to find his form there – a situation that applies equally to other top Moto2 talent who might be hoping for a full-time promotion to the premier class at some point.
And while Yamaha was able to take Dovizioso out of his 2021 sabbatical 12 months ago with the promise of a full-time contract for the year after, there’s no chance of new RNF Racing partner Aprilia doing that with the team’s likely 2023 riders.
It’s looking increasingly likely that it will be current KTM duo Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez aboard Aprilia’s year-old RS-GP machines in 2023 – news that hasn’t yet been announced thanks in part to legal considerations involving the Austrian brand.
There’s also no chance of parachuting one of Yamaha’s World Superbike stars, either, as much as many would have liked to see Toprak Razgatlioglu get a chance on the bike, especially following his test on it last month.
For the first time in years, the 2022 WSB season (delayed kicking off thanks to Australia’s lingering COVID restrictions) will finish considerably later than the MotoGP year, not ending until the very end of November – this ruling the reigning champion out of any move over to the prototype series.
So while Crutchlow might not quite be the fit that many wanted to see on the WithU-backed bike for the remainder of the year, it’s also hard to see who else would have worked for Yamaha in tricky circumstances.