Cal Crutchlow believes he could have challenged for the top five in the MotoGP season opener in Qatar, had it not been for a late decision to change a front tyre on the starting grid.
Ultimately, the Englishman would suffer two falls in a bruising start to the campaign, as he struggled with overheating front rubber early on. The first came at the final corner. The second was a result of his remounting, when his throttle stuck open at turn 13.
Like fellow Honda runner Marc Marquez, Crutchlow had Michelin's harder front compound fitted when the race was scheduled to begin at 21.00. The RC213Vs had struggled with acceleration all weekend, leaving its rider to make up time under late braking.
However the delayed start meant the conclusion of the shortened 20-lap race would be taking place just when temperatures were dropping off, and humidity levels rising. Thus Crutchlow was warned the harder option wouldn't be feasible. “I had it taken out of my hands,” he said.
“I changed the front tyre on the grid, the same as Marc, and we shouldn't have,” said Crutchlow, largely OK in spite of the two falls. “We knew that the medium tire was not going to be possible on the front for us, it was way too soft. And we sort of got forced into changing.
“Because the race was later, they were concerned about the dew, blah blah blah. But it was completely the wrong decision for me and Marc, and the decision was taken out of my hands.
“Which doesn't usually happen to me and isn't a correct thing. So when I started the race, I started in a good position. I had contact with Valentino, which, you know, this is racing, I couldn't see him, he couldn't see me. I didn't think anything of it.
“But then riding behind the other guys, it was impossible. Because the front tyre was way too hot. I went off line a tiny bit, and crashed at the last corner. Then I got back on and I shouldn't have really, because the throttle stuck wide open.
“The handlebar was bent and there was mud all over the grip, I should have just pulled in. Well, I never even made it all the way round to pull in. I was going to come in to get the air compressor on the grip to clean it, and try and blast some of this shit out so I could at least finish the race, but I never made it round.
“The bike just accelerated. I shut the throttle, but the bike wouldn't turn. And that was why evidently I grabbed the front brake and had to jump off it. Sorry to my team, but you know me, I have a never give up attitude and I thought I would still finish the race. But the second crash was because I had a smashed handlebar.
“I had to f**king bail off the thing fast. And it hurt! It was not like a small crash either. But hey, this is racing. I started the season last year in the same position. But we lost a chance to have a good result today through a poor decision on the grid.”
Crutchlow crashed out on lap four while sat behind Scott Redding, challenging for tenth place. The fall, he said, was extra frustrating as he believed he possessed the pace to run with both Repsol Hondas.
“Honestly I was so confident I was going to have a good result, no matter the circumstances. Even in the full dry condition, I would have been in the top five, and in the mixed condition with the track not in great shape, I thought again I would be in the top five.
“Even if I had just stayed on the bike, I still would have finished in the top five, I feel. I would have been with Marc, we would have rode round together. The limit was the front tire for us, not anything else.
“But I couldn't pass the other guys in front of me at that time, so I was playing the long game, which Dani did really, and he came back up to Marc. Because the pace was not great, and even with the medium front tyre, I knew what pace I could do.
“I just ran off line a little bit into the last corner, because what I wanted to do was try to square the corner off a little bit to try and get Scott down the front straight. As soon as I went off line a tiny bit, I went down.
“But completely my own fault,” he conceded. “And getting back on the bike was my own fault as well.”
Such were the severity of the conditions, Crutchlow's words suggested he was told to use the front tyre, not advised.
“I don't ever see my tyre choice as a gamble, I'm normally completely adamant on what I do, and today, I had it taken out of my hands,” he explained. “And it was the wrong choice.
“And then, when I started to change mine, they were already halfway through changing it, so I couldn't go back, because we never had enough time. And Marc got forced to change his as well.
“And I think that would have been the key for me and Marc to be strong in the race. Don't get me wrong, I don't think the Honda could have been as competitive as the other manufacturers, but Marc, if he had a better front tyre, was able to compete.”