Crutchlow and Smith in showdown for 2021 Aprilia MotoGP deal…

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Picture: GeeBee Images

Britain’s Cal Crutchlow looks likely to line up alongside Aleix Espargaro at Aprilia in 2021 but will have to fight compatriot Bradley Smith for the honour.

Crutchlow’s LCR Honda team is moving in a different direction, becoming HRC’s junior squad to promote young talent with Idemitsu-backed Taka Nakagami and to-be-confirmed Alex Marquez on their RCVs for next season.

It leaves Crutchlow, who has spoken many times of retirement, with only one riding option for the future and that is Aprilia.

But it is not a done deal as fellow Brit and factory test rider Bradley Smith is back in the team to replace Andrea Iannone until the mess with his doping conviction is sorted out one way or another - and boss Massimo Rivola has said there is no reason that if the Oxfordshire coppertop proves fast enough, he can’t stay for 2021.

There isn’t another rider in the frame as Dorna want to keep a British rider in the premier class and neither Jake Dixon or John McPhee are ready. And MotoGP’s telescope can’t quite focus on Superbike paddocks as the ivory tower is at lung-straining altitude.

Historically, there has been a pot of cash available from Dorna to teams that employ British riders - and Aprilia needs all the financial help it can get. Although part of the massive Piaggio group, the Noale factory has the smallest budget of the factory squads.

Espargaro has already signed and removed most of the rider cash from Rivola’s bottom line but there will still be enough to keep Smith or Crutchlow in overpriced pushbikes for several years to come.

And there is the small matter of Dorna’s multi-million pound contract with BT Sport which will have in it somewhere the need for a British rider in the blue riband class.

It will be a one-year deal, though, as there are many talented youngsters in the support classes - Jorge Martin has reportedly already been snapped up by Ducati in case Pecco Bagnaia doesn’t deliver this season - who are forming an orderly queue behind the olds.

LCR boss Lucio Cecchinello appears resigned to his fate running a junior team although his life is a little easier with HRC paying the wages bill for the foreseeable future.

Quite what happens in 2022 is anyone’s guess. There is hope that Dixon or McPhee will grow into MotoGP riders over the next two seasons or that one of the British youngsters like Charlie Nesbitt or Rory Skinner can get back into the GP paddock somehow.