MotoGP: Have Aprilia got what it takes to win a MotoGP race?

Aprilia have revitalised themselves for 2021, but will it be enough?

In 2020 everyone believed it was finally time to see Aprilia shine, after starting from square one they brought a brand new bike to the Sepang test with all new shiny parts, the bike’s aero was completely different and Aleix Espargaro even confirmed it was the best bike Aprilia had brought out. Yet just 9 months later at the end of the season in Portimao we were left once again underwhelmed and unimpressed by Aprilia and the work they had done, but, this was not entirely their fault.

You see Aprilia had a good bike, no wait scratch that, Aprilia had a great bike throughout 2020. The RS-GP turned, it was powerful and it was a great all-rounder but it had one dramatic downfall, it was unreliable. The bike we saw at the Sepang test was a great machine but Aprilia also found out that they had put so much time into making it great that they had neglected making it last, it had many problems and the engine was their worst. These issues on the bike meant that by the time MotoGP arrived at Jerez the bike was 70% of the bike we originally saw after the Noale factory were forced to de-tune the engine and run parts which were not as desired.

It is safe to say that this reality of another year slogging an underperforming bike around a race track struck Aprilia incredibly hard, they wanted MotoGP glory and instead were forced to watch rivals KTM win not one, not two but three MotoGP races after entering the series AFTER Aprilia did with KTM’s first full season being in 2017 2 years after Aprilia joined in 2015. This was heartbreaking to say the least, Aprilia had put their heart and soul into this project including hiring many experienced technicians and mechanics from F1 with backgrounds in teams such as Ferrari, they had everything they needed yet were still falling behind.

For 2021 they knew they had to sort it out, and they had to sort it out majorly otherwise they were in danger of becoming a laughing stock and embarrassment in the premier class of motorcycle racing, especially given the amount of time they had spent trying to develop this bike enlisting the knowledge of many riders including world champions namely Alvaro Bautista, Marco Melandri, Stefan Bradl, Sam Lowes and more. The list goes on and on and yet still after all this time and millions of euros spent on the project, it wasn’t good enough with Aleix Espargaro getting angrier and angrier at the failures of a bike he has been desperately trying to make work since 2017, however finally the tides are turning.

It’s something every true fan wants to see, nobody wants to see a talented rider like Aleix struggling to make a bike work or his teammate Lorenzo Savadori running around the back of the grid, we all want to see them do well but unfortunately, MotoGP is a rough sport and someone has to win and someone has to finish last, but for Aprilia, they are sick of finishing last. They have amassed more than 50 world titles in their span of racing, dominating the 125cc and 250cc classes with World Superbikes titles thrown in there for good measure so to say that they don’t know what they are doing would be nothing short of mental.

The RS-GP is finally showing signs of major improvement in 2021, they led some days of testing in Qatar and were generally very competitive in the capable hands of Aleix Espargaro who was able to set a new record in the season opener of Qatar for Aprilia’s closest finish to P1 finishing in P7 just 5.934 seconds from race winner Maverick Vinales, then just a week later they would break this record again finishing in P10 with a gap of 5.382. The fact that they can be just 5 seconds off in P10 is a testament to how strong Aprilia are looking this year given that nine times out of ten, 5 seconds off the leader would be a podium position, not P10!

They have come into 2021 with a new bag of parts thanks to their testing concessions which have allowed them to upgrade their engine as well as the rest of the bike, something the rest of the paddock were not allowed to do due to the testing freeze which Dorna imposed on manufacturers following the COVID-19 pandemic, forcing their competitors to continue with their 2020 engines. Because Aprilia were yet to score enough concession points to lose said concessions they have been allowed to take advantage of these benefits.

For Aprilia to lose these concessions they must score a total of 6 concession points in one season, they are scored as follows:

Race Win – 3 points

P2 Finish –  2 points

P3 Finish – 1 point

As soon as 6 or more points are reached in one season, the concessions are gone.

These concessions consist of unlimited testing days, 2 extra engines during the season and 6 wildcards instead of the three other manufacturers are restricted to. Because of this slight advantage, they have been able to fine-tune the areas the bike was lacking in which includes its reliability with Aleix Espargaro confirming the 2021 machine is lighter, has improved aero which gives the bike more downforce improving acceleration and braking plus improved stability. These improvements can actually be seen with the naked eye, when Aleix is braking on the machine it looks to be on rails and glued to the track, it looks incredibly stable and precise upon corner entry using its extra downforce to maximise its corner entry and exit.

2020 aero (left) 2021 aero (right)

Yes it’s only been two races this year and yes everything could go pearshaped at Portimao which will be the first track we will see the 21 RS-GP on outside of Qatar, but even Aleix Espargaro after completing two races on the bike has continued to praise it and confirm it is a great upgrade for 2021. Andrea Dovizioso has also recently ridden the bike and has said it is “easy to ride” which is incredibly positive to hear from a rider who with the help of Gigi Dall’Inga turned a dog of a Ducati into a title-contending, race-winning beast which currently leads the MotoGP standings at the time of writing thanks to Johann Zarco in satellite colours.

So, to answer the question of if Aprilia have what it takes to win a MotoGP race is yes, yes they can win a race, the bike is up to scratch, it’s fast, it corners and is easy to ride meaning a rider can hop on the bike and win a race on it under the right conditions and circumstances, but, can Aleix Espargaro win on it? That’s a question for another time, it is worth noting he has never ever won a race, but hopefully these positive updates and the comments from Dovizioso may just be the dangling carrot he needs to put that RS-GP on the top step of the podium.

Featured images – www.motogp.com

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