Monster Yamaha Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal has responded to rumours that Cal Crutchlow's place in the team is under threat from Moto2 star Pol Espargaro for 2014.
Crutchlow recently revealed he had been told by Poncharal
that “Yamaha are potentially going to sign Pol and [Tech 3] will have to take him for the first year” before a move to the factory team.
Crutchlow has been the top satellite rider in all three events so far this year and would therefore appear an unlikely candidate for replacement.
However the Englishman is the only Yamaha rider without a contract for 2014, meaning if Espargaro - or anyone else - arrives, it is Crutchlow's place they would be taking.
In an interview with MotoGP.com
, Poncharal - currently in talks with Yamaha to extend the Tech 3 partnership into 2014 and beyond - began by stating “I have never talked to Espargaro on behalf of Tech 3”. But the Frenchman admitted “that Yamaha and Espargaro have spoken is a certainty” and MotoGP is the “logical step” for Espargaro in 2014.
Espargaro finished runner-up to rookie MotoGP race winner Marc Marquez in last year's Moto2 series and is therefore regarded as the rider to beat this season - although he is presently only third in the 600cc standings. Assuming Espargaro does step up, Poncharal pointed out that with all four of next year's Honda seats seemingly confirmed, it is “obvious that he [Espargaro] is in talks with Yamaha” about the undecided M1 ride.
“I do not know the depth of those conversations; whether something has been agreed, is almost agreed or whether there is still a lot to sort out,” said Poncharal. “What I do know is that Yamaha has four bikes and, when Cal Crutchlow is the only rider who is contracted only for this year, some think Espargaro could take his place.
“I love Cal and will be keeping him informed of what I know, simply to allow him as much time as possible to remain attractive on the rider market - whether that will be to stay at Yamaha or to go somewhere else.”
But Poncharal also highlighted that it was Crutchlow's decision to limit his latest Tech 3 contract to a single season - and that he had been ready to leave had the factory Ducati ride not gone to then Tech 3 team-mate Andrea Dovizioso.
“[Last year] Cal told me Ducati would be his priority [for 2013] if he had the opportunity, just as Andrea did, because they both wanted to be full factory riders,” said Poncharal.
“Ducati chose Andrea and Cal ended up staying, but he had been ready to go in mid-2012 and so only renewed his deal with us for a year in order to maintain the opportunity of being on the rider market for 2013, to try and become a factory rider [for 2014] which would be a dream for him.
“Had he signed for two years, he would not be in this situation now.
“For him, Tech 3 might be 'Plan B', but each rider manages his own situation and it is true that Cal is a bit boisterous. There is a market out there, though, and Yamaha are free to make their own choices.”
Crutchlow's potential 2014 factory options would be in place of Nicky Hayden at Ducati - Hayden is the only factory rider whose contract expires at the end of this year - or as part of Suzuki's planned MotoGP return.
Meanwhile Poncharal also defended the technical differences between the Tech 3 motorcycles and those of factory Yamaha riders Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi.
“Our engine specs are almost identical to the factory engines and we are now into the third development phase of the chassis since the first pre-season test at Sepang... I do not think one can say - and, furthermore, I do not think Cal can say - that we don't have active support and competitive machinery.
“I believe Cal has a bike that is very, very close to those of the official riders.”
Just twelfth in the standings during his rookie 2011 MotoGP season, former WSS champion and WSBK race winner Crutchlow took his first two podiums on the way to seventh overall in last year's MotoGP championship. Crutchlow is presently fifth in the points after three rounds of the 2013 series, with rookie team-mate Bradley Smith in twelfth.
Pol Espargaro, younger brother of Aspar MotoGP rider Aleix, won the opening Moto2 round of 2013, but crashed out in Texas and was beaten by his Pons team-mate Esteve Rabat and Scott Redding on his way to third place last time at Jerez.