Crutchlow's style has substance
Late last Saturday night, in the front row press conference at the Losail Circuit in Qatar, pole setter Jorge Lorenzo was struggling to find the right words to describe the emerging threat of the man sat immediately to his left.
"This year Cal is more... 'mantequilla'" he finally says, reverting to his native language.
Mantequilla, Spanish for butter, is the word Lorenzo uses to describe his own smooth approach to finding the fastest way around a circuit; a trait he believes he inherited from his mother because of the dextrous way she would flick her knife across his morning toast, using the perfect angle of lean to cover every corner with minimum effort.
The other half of Lorenzo's racing DNA is made up of 'el martillo' (the hammer), the relentless and consistently accurate way he is able to string together lap after lap with metronomic timing.
British rider Cal Crutchlow finished fourth in the opening race of the MotoGP season in Qatar. Photo: Getty
This, he believes, he picked up from his father, a motorcycle mechanic, having spent hours watching him tapping away in the family workshop.
Describing British rider Cal Crutchlow's new found speed as mantequilla was a huge compliment coming from one of only four MotoGP masters on the grid; not least because for riders making the switch to Grand Prix racing from World Superbikes in the past, command of this particular science has proven to be the biggest obstacle.
As Crutchlow was lauded for being the first British rider to qualify on the front row since James Toseland at the very same race in 2008, comparisons were immediately and inevitably being drawn between him and the most recent in a long line of WSB superstars to attempt and ultimately fail to make the Grand Prix grade.
However, there are key differences between what at first appears to be two unerringly similar achievements and their bearing on what the future could hold for the protagonist in question.
Let me explain...
Before tyre regulations came in at the end of 2008, which included a single supplier and set allocation, riders had a limitless supply of rubber that, to an extent, they could use to paper over the cracks in bike set-up or riding style.
Using Michelin's famously sticky rear 'qualifier', which was good for just two flying laps at best, double World Superbike champion Toseland's pace during qualifying for the 2008 Grand Prix of Qatar jumped from consistent laps of low one minute 56s in race trim to a jaw-dropping effort of 1:54.182.
By comparison eventual race winner Casey Stoner, using Bridgestones, had been setting mid-1:55s in race spec and could only improve to a 1:54.733, leaving him fourth on the grid.
Nowadays, with Bridgestone supplying the entire grid, each rider has a maximum of nine front and 10 rear tyres to use as they see fit across the entire weekend, which in Qatar consisted of three different choices of front (soft, medium and extra-hard) and two choices of rear (medium and asymmetric hard).
Both rear compounds are, in theory, designed to last the full race distance and although teams invariably try to keep a fresh set of the softer compound handy for a time attack there is no longer a quick fix to find the one thing that makes riders go faster: grip.
During last Saturday night's qualifying practice Crutchlow, like Toseland four years before him, had also lapped in the low 1:56s in race trim.
Sticking with a hard front tyre that already had five laps on it he switched to a new soft rear for his penultimate run, allowing him to improve to a 1:55.022 and secure third place on the grid.
Prior to that in free practice he had led the standings for most of Thursday's opening session, using the same soft rear tyre throughout, before ending the second of two sessions on Friday night second fastest overall thanks to a 1:55.456 that came on a new soft rear but with a used hard front.
This kind of pace was an extension of the form he has already shown in preseason testing at Sepang and Jerez, which is why his qualifying time came as no surprise, certainly not to the observant Lorenzo.
After a bad start in Sunday's race Crutchlow quickly recovered positions and on lap three he was the fastest man on track, clocking a 1:55.984 to close in on team-mate Andrea Dovizioso in fourth place.
Over the next 19 laps only Stoner went faster than that, with eventual race winner Lorenzo managing a best effort of 1:56.067; enough evidence to suggest that had Dovizioso not forced Crutchlow back into mainly the low 1:57s until he finally found a way past on lap 17, he could have been closer to the podium battle at least.
This, of course, would have required plenty of 'martillo', something the Brit will have to find to go with the extra 'mantequilla' if he is to challenge Lorenzo et al in the coming battles.
It is only right to point out that the switch to 1,000cc machinery this season has aided Crutchlow's transition and it is no doubt a move that Toseland would have relished.
Yorkshireman Toseland's valiant effort on what was his MotoGP debut was a worthy achievement in its own right but it ultimately served to create false anticipation and eventually perhaps even JT himself got tangled up in his attempts to live up to the hype.
This time, however, there is the substance to suggest that British challenge will not melt away.