It was a day of good news and bad news for Aprilia. On the day that the Court of Arbitration of Sport announced that WADA had appealed against the penalty imposed on Andrea Iannone, demanding his suspension be extended to the full four years set out in the doping code, the Italian factory was also able to announce a two-year contract extension with Aleix Espargaro. The Spaniard will remain with Aprilia for the 2021 and 2022 seasons in MotoGP.
The move was widely expected. Espargaro has been the mainstay of Aprilia's MotoGP project since arriving at the Noale factory in 2017. In the first three years of his contract with Aprilia, he has had three different teammates, starting with Sam Lowes, then Scott Redding, and finally, last year, Andrea Iannone. Thanks to Iannone's suspension, it looks like Espargaro will have a fourth teammate in 2020, almost certainly Bradley Smith. And that could change again in 2021, if Iannone does not have his doping ban by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
There were periods last year where Espargaro did not look like extending his contract. The Spaniard grew increasingly frustrated, both with a lack of performance with the Aprilia RS-GP, reliability issues with the bike, and with a lack of updates. But his patience was rewarded over the winter, when Romano Albesiano and his team produced a brand-new bike with a completely new 90° V4 engine. The bike did everything better than its predecessor, and had vastly more potential for improvement.
Espargaro has been plain that the arrival of Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola made the difference. By taking on the running of the racing department, Rivola has freed up Romano Albesiano to concentrate on the engineering side, which was always his speciality. Administration did not come naturally to Albesiano, and that proved costly in terms of development to the RS-GP. Aprilia has made major steps forward since Rivola took over at the beginning of 2019.
Espargaro's signing brings the total number of signed riders to eight. That total is likely to increase soon, as a number of new contracts appear to be nearing completion. Pol Espargaro is set to sign for the Repsol Honda squad, which would necessitate finding a slot for Alex Marquez, currently racing alongside his brother in the factory Repsol team. Andrea Dovizioso is close to extending his deal with the factory Ducati team. And Danilo Petrucci, newly liberated from Ducati, could close a deal with either KTM or Aprilia to remain in MotoGP, replacing either Pol Espargaro or Andrea Iannone for 2021. That is, if Ducati can't persuade Petrucci to switch to WorldSBK for next season.
The officially signed rider line up for the 2021 season so far is as follows:
|Monster Energy Yamaha|
|Maverick Viñales||Yamaha M1||2022|
|Fabio Quartararo||Yamaha M1||2022|
|Marc Márquez||Honda RC213V||2024|
|Alex Rins||Suzuki GSX-RR||2022|
|Joan Mir||Suzuki GSX-RR||2022|
|Jack Miller||Ducati Desmosedici GP21||2021 (option for 2022)|
|Aprilia Racing Team Gresini|
|Aleix Espargaro||Aprilia RS-GP||2022|
The Aprilia press release announcing the deal with Espargaro appears below:
ALEIX ESPARGARÓ CONFIRMED AT APRILIA WITH A TWO-YEAR CONTRACT FOR THE 2021 AND 2022 MOTOGP SEASONS
ALEIX ESPARGARÓ: “WE HAVE GROWN A LOT. I BELIEVE IN THIS PROJECT AND I AM HAPPY TO STAY TO BE ABLE TO TAKE APRILIA WHERE WE DESERVE TO BE”
Aleix Espargaró will be an Aprilia Racing rider for the 2021 and 2022 seasons as well. With great satisfaction on both sides, this confirms one of the longest current MotoGP associations.
Astride the RS-GP since the 2017 season, Aleix has weathered various phases of the Aprilia MotoGP project, from the great and promising growth in the first season to the difficulties of 2018, all the way to the technical revolution of 2019 which led to the birth of the new 2020 RS-GP
The latest prototype showed significant and promising signs of competitiveness in the winter tests, before the 2020 season was disrupted, so much that they contributed to Aleix’s decision.
Passionate, always committed on the track and a motivator in the garage, this will bring Aleix to his sixth season in a row astride the Italian bike. This is a sign of continuity and trust that comes at this turning point in Aprilia’s technical project.
“I am happy about this confirmation. The human aspect is extremely important for me, and in four seasons, Aprilia has become my second family, so with this contract, which is certainly the most important of my career, they demonstrated that I am at the centre of this project. On a technical level, the growth in recent months convinced me, with the arrival of many reinforcements and the début of the 2020 RS-GP, which did so well in the tests. I feel like we need to finish the job we started over the winter. I can’t wait to get back together with my entire team and race with the new bike, to take this project where it deserves to be.”
MASSIMO RIVOLA - CEO APRILIA RACING
“We wanted Aleix’s confirmation by all means and we are very happy that it arrived. At a rather tumultuous time for the rider market, providing continuity for our project with a rider the calibre of Aleix is essential. With him, who we have established as our captain, we have begun an entirely new project, involving new resources and taking a bike that seems to have come out very well onto the track. Now we hope that he will soon take an Aprilia to the top, where it has never been in MotoGP history.”