By Stephen English
Cal Crutchlow has seen his reputation grow hugely over the course of his three year MotoGP career at Tech 3, arriving in 2011 as a World Supersport champion and World Superbike race winner.
Replacing Ben Spies at the satellite Yamaha team meant Crutchlow had big shoes to fill, such was Spies' reputation only three years ago, but the Coventry native has surpassed Spies' achievements at Tech 3 and will become a factory Ducati rider for 2014.
"Three years is a long time for a team and a rider to work together and when Cal joined us it was his first time in MotoGP and in this paddock," said team manager Herve Poncharal as he looked back on their time together.
"He didn't follow the normal steps of Moto3, Moto2 and then MotoGP, and was coming from World Superbikes so it was a difficult year in 2011 as he had so much to learn about the paddock about a prototype chassis, engine, carbon brakes and Bridgestone tyres.
“Last year was a lot better and over the winter we all wondered would he make another step in 2013 and he is now with the top guys and inside the top five. In terms of pure speed I think he's the fourth fastest guy on the grid."
One aspect that has played a key role in Crutchlow's development was his relationship to Poncharal. The friendship that has developed over the past three years is clear to see and it will be with a heavy heart that their professional partnership comes to a close at the Valencia Grand Prix.
"Outside of racing we have something quite rare, because he is a friend," said the Frenchman. "We spend a lot of time together, he brings his motorhome to our base in France, and to spend time with a rider outside of the track in a normal environment lets us get to know each other better. We have a lot of common interest like cycling, I'm not as good as him but I love cycling! We love nature and we love to do normal things."
The announcement that Crutchlow would move to Ducati for 2014 had been expected, but due to the relative competitive positions of both teams it was still clearly a difficult decision for the Englishman. But while Tech 3 is clearly the more competitive proposition at the moment, history shows that the best opportunity to win the title is with a factory squad.
"It's a big change for me and I didn't want to leave Tech 3," said Crutchlow. "This is a fantastic team and I've become friends with everyone here and to leave a competitive package like the Yamaha I had to look at everything realistically.