Posted: 12 Mar 2014
Monday 10th March marked eleven years since the death of Barry Sheene, one of the greatest Grand Prix Racers of all time and the last Briton to win a Grand Prix World Championship. Sheene retired from competitive racing in 1984 with 23 Grand Prix victories to his name. Thirty years on, no Brit has even come close to Sheene’s records but things are starting to look up after a long drought in British Grand Prix success.
No fewer than four British riders will compete in the premier class in 2014 (it would have been five, had Leon Camier not recently lost his ride with IODA) and for the first time in many years Britain has a rider on a factory machine, albeit a Ducati. While winning the MotoGP title might not be within Britain’s grasps just yet, it might not be too far off.
With six podiums to his name in the premier class already, Cal Crutchlow is Britain’s most successful top class Grand Prix racer in almost twenty years. Crutchlow’s grit and determination saw him achieve considerable success aboard the satellite Tech 3 Yamaha in the last two years, often a match for nine-time World Champion, Valentino Rossi on superior machinery during the 2013 season. Does Cal Crutchlow have what it takes to win MotoGP races? Most definitely, but he’d need the right bike.
Knowing he’d never achieve the success he so much desires riding for a satellite team, Crutchlow made the brave move of signing for Ducati for 2014, elevating him to factory rider status. The Bologna factory has struggled in MotoGP in recent years but things might be starting to look up for them. Ducati seem to have made progress with the Desmosedici for 2014 and on top of that they’ll run in the open category, giving them dispensations for extra fuel, softer tyres, more engines and fewer restrictions on testing. This coupled with Crutchlow’s talent will most probably lead to more podiums in 2014, with wins not entirely out of the question either.
In 2013 it looked like Bike Social-backed Scott Redding could have well become the first rider since Sheene to win a Grand Prix title, as he fought tooth and nail with Pol Espargaro for the Moto2 crown. Moving up to MotoGP for 2014, Redding faces a tough challenge with Honda’s production racer. The fastest RCV1000R in the recent Qatar test was Nicky Hayden, 1.3 seconds off the pace of Aleix Espargaro on Yamaha’s Open Class offering. The good news is that Redding isn’t too far behind the 2006 World Champion at the moment, plus he already has a ride sorted on Honda’s superior RC213V for 2015. You probably won’t be seeing miracles from him in 2014 but a strong learning season would do him well before he steps up to join the big boys in 2015. What Redding has on side is his age, at just twenty-one he’s got plenty of years left in him. Give him two years and he could well be fighting at the front.
Someone hoping to be ahead of Redding in 2014 is Bradley Smith. After enjoying the most successful rookie campaign a Brit has seen in recent years, Smith must step up to the plate this season. He was outpaced in Qatar by his new rookie team mate, Pol Espargaro – something he’ll be hoping won’t become a regular occurrence. Smith is a talented rider; he finished second in the 2009 125cc World Championship and put in some impressive performances on the Tech 3 Mistral 610. With the Open Yamaha of Aleix Espargaro and the Open Ducatis looking likely for podiums, Smith faces a tough battle for strong results but if he succeeds, it won’t go unnoticed.
Also flying the flag for Great Britain & Northern Ireland is Michael Laverty. After a number of strong finishes last year, including a points scoring ride at Jerez, Paul Bird has retained the Ulsterman for 2014 as development continues on the Aprilia-powered PBM machine. While Laverty isn’t going to be dicing with Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, he’s riding a British built bike in a British run team. It doesn’t get much more British than that. So far in testing; Laverty has been much faster than he was at this point last year and things are looking good. More points finishes have to be on the cards for the Toomebridge rider this year but it’ll be tough with the strength of the 2014 field.
Not only does Britain have a good showing in MotoGP this year but also a strong challenge in all three Grand Prix categories. Check back tomorrow for a look at GB’s chances in Moto2 and Moto2.
Which Brit do you think will end up on top in 2014? or