Doing It Right: How Aprilia's Organizational Changes Give Hope For The Future

Since they returned to the MotoGP paddock officially, and not under the guise of the ART, the RSV4-based bike which raced first under the Claiming Rule Team banner, and then in the Open Class, Aprilia have struggled. Their MotoGP program got off to a bad start, the loss of Gigi Dall'Igna to Ducati forcing them to reschedule their plans.

Romano Albesiano, who took over as head of Aprilia Racing, found it hard to combine his role as lead engineer with the organizational duties of managing the racing department. Albesiano came from a development and engineering background, and seemed to lack interest in the practicalities of a running a race team. Those took time away from developing the RS-GP, and so the project floundered.

To solve this situation, Aprilia brought in Massimo Rivola. With his experience running F1 teams and Ferrari's Driver Academy, Rivola was given the organizational side to manage, leaving Albesiano free to lead the engineering side of the project. With a clearer division of responsibilities – and the people doing what they are good at and interested in – some semblance of structure was restored to Aprilia's MotoGP program, and with that came the first green shoots of progress.

It did not always seem like that this year, however. Both Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone suffered a string of technical problems throughout the year, which worryingly seemed to happen most often during the race, forcing retirements. Aleix Espargaro especially became very negative in his remarks to the press, and ever more vocal in his call for more resources, and more change.

Hope and change

The Spaniard appears to have finally been given what he has been asking for, or at least some of it. At the Jerez test last November, the elder Espargaro brother was distinctly upbeat, a big difference to his previous demeanor. He was seeing changes at last, both on the inside of Aprilia, and in updates to the RS-GP. Sure, he won't get his hands on the bike until the test in Sepang, but the plans he had seen were radically different.

Espargaro's optimism was down to the changes Massimo Rivola had been able to make, and was planning to make in the coming season. "I think Massimo was not able to do everything he wants, because when you arrive in a new place you need to understand how it works," Espargaro explained. "For an intelligent person as Massimo, they listen a lot, they wait, they are patient."

"So this needs more time, but the way he arrived and the impact on the first season, I'm very happy. The team is a lot more serious, the garage is ten times more professional than in the other seasons and I think we are changing the image. So right now what we have to change is the competitiveness of the bike and the results, but it's coming because this year more engineers have arrived than in the last ten years in Aprilia!in Just the last two months. So I think in the future we will see the changes."

Engineers and experience

The new engineers had given him hope, Espargaro said. "Two or three engine guys have arrived, two aerodynamic guys have arrived, another frame guy has arrived," the Spaniard told us. "So more than six new people from very competitive places have joined the project, with new ideas. They will help a lot Romano and Romano's team will be a lot stronger. So no excuses. We were missing that and I hope that the new bike and ideas these guys will bring will help. I'm optimistic. Looks like we are on the way."

Rivola's experience from F1 was a difference maker, Espargaro said. He had brought 'many things', from the world of four wheels, he explained. "We tried a couple things coming from Formula One, especially the way they work. I think maybe professional is not the right word, but a lot better organized than us."

Improving communication was one of the key areas. "In terms of communication we are improving a lot," Espargaro said. "We are trying things during this test, like a radio in my helmet to give better information when I arrive in the garage to the engineers at the track. We are trying different ideas that I think are more than welcome."

Talking technology

Aprilia was using the radio inside the garage during the test. When the riders entered the garage, they would speak to the engineers via radios and headsets, so that everyone could clearly hear what the riders were saying. The idea is to avoid the loss of information which is the inevitable result of people mishearing, or passing information on from engineer to engineer. Working in a noisy environment, rider-to-engineer communication can quickly devolve into a game of telephone.

"On the bike it's forbidden, but in the garage you can do it," Espargaro said. Under normal circumstances, it was too easy for information to get lost. "If we have ten engineers around us, the ten engineers cannot hear what I'm saying, it's impossible."

Using radios and headsets made a huge improvement in communication." With this they can be at the track and listen perfectly to what I'm saying and start to work immediately," Espargaro explained. "They don’t have to read the reports. They are just small details. Obviously, the important thing is that the bike is competitive! But these details are more than welcome because we make life easier for the engineers."

The use of radios was just one of the changes being made, Espargaro said. "Massimo is changing a couple of things about the way we work. We do more meetings. Also I think they were trying to implement like a diet and nutritionist for the guys during the weekend. They change a couple of things in the hospitality. Massimo is strong and he's trying his best. As Massimo is not an engineer there are some things he cannot improve, not related to him, but all the organization is related to him and in just ten months I have to say that this team has changed really a lot."

Organization matters

In many ways, the situation at Aprilia is reminiscent of what happened with Ducati back in 2014. Gigi Dall'Igna took over before the start of that season, and he spent his first year at the Borgo Panigale factory sorting out the organization. Prior to his arrival, the various teams responsible for each part of the bike didn't really communicate, each engineering group focusing solely on what mattered to them. Chassis, engine, and electronics departments all worked with their own priorities, leading to a bike which always ended up less than the sum of its parts.

Dall'Igna changed all that, ensuring each group spoke to the others, and rotating engineers between Bologna and the test and race teams. Before his arrival, the engineers at the factory spoke to the test team, but rarely communicated with the engineers at the race track. Dall'Igna rotated engineers from factory to test team, from test team to race team, and from race team back to the factory again. People got to know each other's areas of expertise, and knew where to turn for help.

That unleashed a revolution. Instead of the Desmosedici being an assembly of independently developed components, Ducati engineers started to think of the bike as a single entity. They took a more holistic approach, developing chassis, engine, and aerodynamics in tandem. The bike became something more than the sum of its individual parts. The Desmosedici went from struggling to score to top sixes to finishing as runner up in the championship for three seasons in a row.

Quiet heroes

That stability also stems from having the same rider throughout the entire period, Aleix Espargaro pointed out. "I always say to Aprilia it's not good to change the riders every season," the Spaniard said. "I always give the same example, as Dovi is my favorite rider on the grid. How they worked in the last years for me is the clever way to work and I hope this stability will bring also better results in Aprilia."

Journalists were surprised to hear that Andrea Dovizioso was Espargaro's role model. "He is my favorite rider, no doubt," Espargaro emphasized. "I always said that because everybody talks about [Marc] Marquez, sometimes [Maverick] Viñales, Valentino [Rossi]… but for me, what Dovi is doing is impressive. Second in the championship every single year."

It was that steady progress which impressed Espargaro most. "He started with a Ducati that was not that fast and year-by-year he improved the bike, and he had [Andrea] Iannone, [Danilo] Petrucci, [Jorge] Lorenzo – very fast riders at his side. Maybe they beat him in a couple of races, but nobody was able to beat him in a full season and this is what counts. So the way he works, the way he is as a person, the patience."

Dovizioso had a very different temperament to Aleix Espargaro, though, something which the Spaniard said he was trying to emulate. "He's never super happy, never super unhappy, so this stability in general I think is very important and I don’t have it! I'm trying to learn, but I cannot be never happy enough and I get super angry, so this I have to improve!"

The first real test

At the time of the Jerez test, it looked like Espargaro was going to get the stability which he had been hoping for. Andrea Iannone was at the end of his first year of a two-year deal, and set to continue for 2020. "It's important also for the engineers and for me," Espargaro said."In the last part of the season he was more competitive and the important and good thing is that we have 99% the same problems and we push 100% for the same things."

Iannone's failed doping test throws that hope out of the window. With his B sample positive, the chances of Iannone returning to Aprilia in 2020 are as good as nonexistent, barring a miracle.

So Aprilia's new organizational structure faces a challenge. Massimo Rivola has to handle the fallout from the Iannone affair, line up a replacement rider for Iannone, and oversee Aprilia's testing program before the start of the season. He has to ensure minimal disruption to the engineering side of things, allowing Romano Albesiano and his team to get on with the developing the new bike, featuring a much more powerful engine with a 90° V angle and a rumored external flywheel, without distraction.

The easy and most likely choice is to move Bradley Smith into the factory team, and bring in Lorenzo Savadori and perhaps Karel Abraham to take on testing duties. That would minimize unnecessary change, and allow Aprilia to look forward. Because the next challenge coming down the road is the start of MotoGP silly season, likely to kick off before the 2020 season even starts. Aprilia will have choices to make about its 2021 rider line up, even as it deals with the turmoil which has hit their 2020 line up.

2020 looks set to be a baptism of fire for Aprilia's new organizational structure. If they can withstand this, Aprilia might finally start to live up to the expectations which they set out when they started the project.


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Comments

"Also I think they were trying to implement like a diet and nutritionist for the guys during the weekend."

Unfortunately this change came just a little bit too late!

I believe the new professional style of management which focuses on internal communication will be what changes their fortunes. Their pit felt like a wsbk pit until recently ,everyone running helter skelter.

Ianonne is out of the picture imo. The defense of his B sample coming back tainted as well looks increasingly fragile. Chance for Bradley to shine, even if it is just for this season. 

Aleix has been unfortunate to be stuck with duds for a long time now, he has the skill to mix it up with the front runners , I just hope they can give him a better bike. 

For sure we need Aprilia. Whilst acknowledging the size of the Piaggio group, it always isn't known (to me anyway), how much they're prepared to invest in the racing, as I guess it's to promote Aprilia, not the rest of Piaggio. That said, their track heritage and technical knowledge is superb. I only hope this new bike really can attract the right calibre of rider alongside Alex for 2021. Will they want to invest the resources, and does that investment need to be as towering as their Austrian competitors? If it does, where will their 'Red Bull' and similar long term partners come from to fund this? I so enjoyed the fleeting run to the front at Phillip Island!
Let's hope the arrival of what looks like a serious line up of technical talent bears fruit, and we get them back where they should be, towards the front. 

Rivola brings in a nutritional program and Ianone's only defence for doping is that it was something he ate? Bye bye Ianone.

 

with this episode in anyway whatsoever, what is to stop somebody in charge of nutrition, someone who is very knowledgeable in that field, 'knobbling' an errant athlete who, maybe, the organisation/team/management want rid of?

 Surely somebody with a high level of knowledge could taint something, knowing that athlete was going to be eating it? It's not a pleasant thought but it must be possible?

Technically anything is possible but this is a substantial potential allegation your putting forth. Andrea Iannone may have his shortcomings but for a factory to torpedo a rider's career simply because they weren't happy is taking that question beyond the limit. Aprilia was deeply dissatisfied with Sam Lowes and while their parting of ways was less than ideal it was still fairly upfront. For Aprilia or any factory team to willingly inflict permanent damage on a career of a rider may technically be possible it's so outlandish as to be pushed to the far edge of possibility. It simply doesn't make sense. Primarily from a moral perspective and secondly from a business perspective. If anticks like this were exercised and revealed a team could face untold consequences from the FIM and Dorna not to mention the riders. 

Perhaps a mid season goal put on Iannone was to drop some kilos to be closer to Aleix's weight. Some desperation and recklessness from Andrea. An over correction from having rolled off the gas for half a season. A gamble. Poor advice (from outside the team obviously).

Avoiding humor for a change. Hoping a shorter ban (1yr?) followed by a great WSBK chapter. He can still go compete in a National Series can't he? Or...be a test rider? For Aprilia/Suzuki at a huge discount??

and not connected if you read my words, written with care. My point being that it could be done, call it a conspiracy theory if necessary, JFK etc. I very much wish IA29 as long a career as possible. 
 

(As per your usual, cheers mate).
Remember the Suzuki hospitality giving the whole team a need for a seamless toilet paper dispenser for a round in 2018? Just how does that HRC "Ben Spies ghost" espionage find it's way into obscure SE Asian noodle dishes you think? And why bother with Aprilia and a 2nd rider? Testing it out? Check your fromage with care, Quartararo.
;)

So, if your contract with said underperformer meant you had to hand over a million if you sacked him, but he had to compensate you if he made himself unemployable, might you not be tempted? Especially if said rider is undiscriminating about where they eat, who with, etc etc, such that the chances of getting caught out were virtually zero? In my experience more often than not money tends to shape morality and ethics. Sad but true.

Not that I have any reason to think that's what's happened here. Teams have suffered worse than Iannone, besides which, the fact that no-one seems in the least surprised suggests most would feel he was perfectly capable of doing this to himself.

Aleix is in close touch with Pol's experiences and situation, and it has always been a big motivator. When the KTM project was making lots of progress with many (almost dizzying) changes, the Aprilia had nearly none. We know that they were more focused on the 2020 bike, and can see these organizational changes (a-la-their expat Gigi, also a bit maddening perhaps?), but regardless of the why it was obviously really uncomfortable for Aleix. He managed to channel most of that into efforts on track, and deserves respect for the sublimation. His occasional emotion and open expression is understandable, even appreciated.

Where did the new engineers come from specifically? Is there a Magnetti Marelli guy? Anyone poached from Ducati by chance?

Smith or Savadori to take the 2nd rider and Test spots. The 2nd seat at Aprilia for 2021 will be a significant deal. Either a rising kid, or a current rider in need of a new garage - Italian priority (Petrucci? Bagnaia? Dovi?). But guess who Aprilia are talking with about doing the next test? MAX BIAGGI!

Of course it would be fantastic promotion of their renewed program and 2020 bike. Lots of press and photos. And, very little more (sorry Max, but largely worthless development work). Even Smith is sometimes too far off A.Espargaro's pace for really good development. We are in an era in which Test teams are all going to expect to have a Dani or Jorge. Good riddance to the Japanese endurance Superbike tester as sufficient. We have older riders being pushed out of the series by youth. It is a good thing for Test/replacement positions to get reverence. Next comes "rock star" and financial boosting (plus guide young talent) post-riding via Vale. Marc will do the same in a decade.

The "much more power" 90 degree motor is VERY EXCITING. They have a nice chassis. We saw little Kawasaki place all their eggs in WSBK and blossom. Aprilia, you can do it! We are cheering you on. Did you get some more Euros to work with too perhaps? Davide, did you make those calls as well?

Re Biaggi for one initial test, worth it! Do it just for the spirit and energy as well as free PR. What do you think?

I think his comment about the nutrition changes were for the crew themselves, rather than the riders. They work long hours, and what they eat would have a bearing on their performance and general well being. A happy crew is more efficient and responsive. 

Wanted, factory team position available as official food taster, court jester and tester. Hospitality experience preferred. Degree in food technology and ability to use gas chromatography & mass spectroscopy also required. Apply in person at the usual rendezvous point at midnight.

Max Biaggi! The Roman emperor is 48 years old. He was slower than Valentino 20 years ago. Now he is going to be part of Aprilia's mission impossible team? OK Massimiliano Biaggi is a four time world champion for Aprilia. Oops six times world champion! I forgot Max's two WSBK titles on the Aprilia superbike. Yes it would be sweet to see Max ride a full fat MotoGp bike again. Who even remembers 250s? But Max retired at the end of 2012 AFAIK, may have had a ride since.

I saw Massimiliano at breakfast in the Movenpick hotel near Sepang circuit in October 2018, Max seemed happy that somebody recognized him. Even though I'm nobody!

Not so nice if the motorcycle has a technical problem and chucks Max down the road causing injury. Surely this idea is just an off season PR stunt to get Andrea Iannone off the front page.

On the other hand, dexter rather than sinestro, the new engine sounds like it could be good. Promised to be a 90° vee four, 280 horsepower at the brochure. At paddock Gp Romano Albesiano says it will have an external flywheel like Ducati, Honda & KTM. Piaggio have upped the budget significantly. Although this is easier when starting from a comparatively lower amount, ie the lowest budget in the MotoGp paddock.

Good luck to them! Six competitive manufacturers are better than four or five.

 

Good to see some optomism but....

In my experience it is horribly hard to fix any project that has a bad beginning.
You spend all your time reactively trying to catch up rather than proactively being in front.

The other makes are creating and modifying their bikes for the next test and the 20 season with the benefit of the end of season sessions, Aprilia have to hope they will get it right out of the box. They have to hope their 90 degree V4 is as good or better than Honda and Ducati and that their package handles, protects its tyres etc. Big ask.