LONDON (Reuters) - MotoGP statisticians delved through the decades this week to discover when a British rider last started a season as promisingly as Cal Crutchlow.
The search took them back to the 1980s and, unsurprisingly, the late, great champion Barry Sheene’s name came into the discussion.
The numbers point to the real possibility of the Yamaha Tech3 rider standing on the podium at Silverstone this weekend after last year crashing in qualifying for his home race and breaking his collarbone in five places.
They also make it all the more astonishing that the best British prospect in years does not know for sure that he will be back next year.
“I haven’t signed a contract with anyone so everything’s open,” Crutchlow told Reuters on Wednesday in the bar of a casino on the edge of the new Olympic Park in east London.
“My job is to race a motorcycle as fast as I can, my management team and the people behind me will do the negotiating and if there’s a job at the end of the year then so be it. If not, then I’ll go and do something else.”
Pointing to the bar, the 26-year-old Coventry-born rider had joked earlier that he might need to work behind it. Or become a van driver.
According to MotoGP statistics, Crutchlow is the first Briton to set a fastest lap in the top category since Sheene on a Suzuki at the 1984 South African Grand Prix.
His sequence of five top-five qualifying places is the best since Rob Mclnea in 1986.
A fourth-place finish in the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez last April was his third in a row and the longest run of top four places by a British rider since Ron Haslam in 1984.
Until this year no British rider in the top class had managed back-to-back top-four finishes since Niall Mackenzie in 1989. His haul of 56 points from five races is the best start to a season by a Briton in the top class since Haslam in 1987.
“I‘m just doing my job,” Crutchlow said.
“I don’t think it’s exceptional or anything different to what I thought I should be doing. I just thought I should have been doing it last year but it’s not that easy. We took a year to get into it and now things are going our way a little bit.”
Crutchlow’s place is uncertain because French-based Tech3 signed a deal with compatriot Bradley Smith last year that guaranteed the youngster a ride in MotoGP in 2013.
They also have Italian Andrea Dovizioso, third overall in 2011 for Honda, on board.
Crutchlow, currently fifth in the championship and four points behind Dovizioso, batted off a suggestion that recognition in Britain might help.
”British people don’t run teams,“ he said. ”Unfortunately that’s the way the championship is.
”It’s difficult. But if you were to ask me now would I be in MotoGP next year, then I’d probably say yes. But you don’t know what can happen, anything can change at the flick of a finger.
“I‘m looking to speak to the people at the minute but if something comes up soon, I’ll be taking it. Maybe there’ll be something announced soon, I don’t know.”
Honda’s world champion Casey Stoner has announced he is leaving the sport at the end of the season while Spain’s current leader and 2010 champion Jorge Lorenzo has just signed a new deal at Yamaha.
Crutchlow’s best chance of a works ride looks to be alongside Lorenzo but that would mean Yamaha dropping American Ben Spies and he doubted that would happen.
“I believe that Ben will keep his ride, and there will be one space at Tech3 as it is and then there’s going to be the one space at Honda, but (Spaniard Marc) Marquez will take that, and then we will look from there on,” he said.
If a win looks a step too far for a rider on a non-works Yamaha, a podium must surely be on the cards some time soon.
“We’re not too far away. Every race we seem to be close to the podium...it will come soon, I just don’t know when,” said the rider who won twice at Silverstone in world superbikes.
”It’s nice that we’ve topped some sessions this year, we’ve been fastest in a few practices here and there and I think it’s a good way to start the year.
“I think the main aim for (Silverstone) this year is at least to be on the grid instead of lying in a hospital bed.”
Editing by Clare Fallon