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 appeasr 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.
Source: Aprilia Racing; Photo: MotoGP