Cal Crutchlow was back on a MotoGP bike at Spielberg on Friday as he joined the Petronas Yamaha team for the StyrianGP.
Replacing Franky Morbidelli for the next three races, the Brit joked that he was happy to be back on a bike but the only person he was competing against this weekend was himself after running at the back of the field for the duration of the two opening free practice sessions - with a best time of 1’26.090, 2.2 seconds off the pace.
“It was nice to be back on the bike,” Crutchlow said from the Austrian paddock.
“I enjoyed the feeling of riding a motorcycle again. It was strange at first, of course, but overall, I’m happy to be to be riding.
“I’ve had five months off so as you can imagine! You will have seen the video of me coming out of pitlane, trying to leave the garage, I nearly crashed, like I said yesterday.
“Overall it was a difficult day because of the weather but other than that, it’s nice to be back riding.”
When discussing the multiple variations of Yamaha’s in circulation - with Morbidelli utilising the 2019 machine and Crutchlow testing the ’19, ’20 and 2021 spec so far - the Brit explained he was at a loss to explain the differences after just one day back.
“In Qatar I could because I was jumping from one bike to another. I was relatively up to speed with the bike, I’d just finished the season before, but five months off? Everything feels alien. In the chair with my leathers on feels alien, let alone riding the bike! Handlebar positions, brake positions, everything just takes time to understand and obviously I’ve ridden a Honda for six years or whatever. So my thought process is still the feeling of that, the position of that anyway.
“When I started to test with Yamaha, I understood the bike quite well, I made, what I believe, was quite a few improvements in Qatar because I had days on it, straight after each other, I had days to do stuff.
“Now? I tried to explain this to someone earlier - imagine the top marathon runners in the world, that run in the best race in the world, and then suddenly they say ‘okay I’m not going to run for five months’ but their first run back is running with Kipchoge. That’s what it’s like. I’m riding against the best guys in the world, at a lot faster speed than running, so to understand everything in the moment is still quite difficult.”
Crutchlow’s first day back included further complications as the rain arrived in time for the afternoon practice, providing limited track time to get reacquainted with the M1.
“I would have preferred obviously dry [in FP2] to make some improvement with me, with myself, riding. Because at the end of the day that’s the only problem that I have at the moment. The bike doesn’t feel fantastic because it’s not the way that I had the bike in the test, wheelbase, stuff like that, but we have time to change that over these next three races and then I’ll understand.
“I said yesterday, ‘Listen, I might not get out of pitlane cos I might stall it’. First thing I did today, got on the bike, and I let the clutch out, but couldn’t turn enough and when the lock was on, and I let the clutch out, my fingers hit the ride height adjuster. So the fingers wouldn’t go out, so then the bike was stalling, and I was nearly falling off it so I just let go of the handlebar and the bike flew up. So you can imagine it wasn’t the easiest first laps.
“The best thing was, as always, when you’re riding around, you think you’re going fast, but the reality is, I might as well have had an orange bib on like a novice!
“I was behind Jack for the first two laps and I’m staying with him. I’m thinking ‘This is brilliant’. Then, two, three laps later I ran a little wide and they went. I felt like I was flying, but my lap timer wasn’t working, so I thought ‘I’m flying here’ - braking zones felt really short, the bike’s shaking. I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m definitely going well’ and the reality was I’m five-seconds off the lap record or something but that’s the way it feels. It feels that you’re going super fast when the reality is, you’re not.
“It was always going to be a big ask. When probably the other test riders this year have done in excess of 20 days and I’ve done six and a half, seven maximum. There’s no comparison, so it’s difficult to come back in, jumping back in on a race weekend after not riding any bike at all, is always going to be difficult but I’m confident that we can improve, there’s no doubt.
“I found my mind going back into a motorcycle racer’s feeling, which is funny because I completely changed my mind, I was a test rider. I came into the weekend thinking there’s no pressure on me. No pressure from myself and no pressure from the team. I just do my job, enjoy riding, give them the information and get a bit of bike feeling and motorcycle fitness back. That’s the way that we looked at it, so I can go and test after these three races.
“I was in the garage and I was thinking, ‘you can really improve there, you can go a lot faster here. I should be on this lap-time’. It’s funny how it suddenly comes back - the feeling of wanting to compete, but the only competition I’ll be competing against is myself, I can tell you that!”