Aprilia is going into this weekend’s final round of the 2020 MotoGP season still unsure of what its 2021 rider line-up will be.
Its predicament follows the confirmation of Andrea Iannone’s doping ban and the subsequent rejection of Aprilia offers by numerous riders including Cal Crutchlow, Andrea Dovizioso and Moto2 frontrunner Marco Bezzecchi.
“I know it’s late, but everything came late and this is the consequence” :: Massimo Rivola
Ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix at Portimao, Aprilia boss Massimo Rivola admitted there’s still no news to announce about the identity of Aleix Espargaro’s 2021 team-mate.
The line-up has already been unsettled this year, with test rider Bradley Smith starting the season as Iannone’s replacement before being substituted for fellow tester Lorenzo Savadori for the final three races.
“Stability is important,” Rivola conceded.
“Bradley did a good job during the season; he was supposed to be the test rider but when he was racing he got closer and closer to Aleix.
“Now we’re giving an opportunity to Lorenzo, so that he will be a better test rider for next year.
“We still don’t know who will be the team-mate of Aleix for next year.
“I know it’s late, but everything came late and this is the consequence. Hopefully we know soon.”
The latest rider to reject an offer from Aprilia is fellow Italian Bezzecchi, who admitted yesterday that he turned down a deal in favour of staying in Moto2 for another season.
Valentino Rossi protege Bezzecchi is all but guaranteed a spot on the MotoGP grid for 2022 as the VR46 squad looks to expand from one bike to two following its initial season in the premier class with Esponsorama Ducati next year.
According to The Race’s sources, Rossi’s Academy did not dismiss Aprilia’s approach for Bezzecchi entirely and the VR46 management agency was in talks with Aprilia for some time about its plans.
“Aprilia came to me and they were pretty convinced about myself,” Bezzecchi revealed.
“That was very nice for me because I didn’t expect a MotoGP offer from anyone.
“We were close, but in the end I thought a lot about it, and we would have had to do some work to go to MotoGP.
“In Valencia I was still thinking about it because I didn’t know what to do, but at the end I thought it was better to stay one more year in Moto2 because I enjoy riding the bike and I feel good.
“Also, I think staying one more year with the same team and the same bike is a chance to grow.
“I would like to stay one more year, try to make a good year and then if I get results then the opportunity for MotoGP comes.
“I am sorry for Aprilia because if they came a little earlier, the result could be different but in the end it is like this.”
That leaves former World Superbike rider Chaz Davies as the leading contender to step in for 2021.
He’s currently without a ride and believed to be the favorite pick of British broadcaster BT Sport – which is keen to have a home rider on the grid and will lose Crutchlow as he swaps to a Yamaha test role.
It’s possible that an indirect investment from the TV channel could also alleviate some of the budgetary cuts Aprilia is rumoured to be facing in 2021.
Rumours suggest that Jorge Lorenzo and Aprilia weren’t able to agree favourable terms
Davies has both MotoGP experience and past history with Aprilia, riding for the brand when he made his debut in the World Superbike championship in 2012.
His last time on a Grand Prix machine, however, was 13 years ago, when he replaced the injured Alex Hofmann at Pramac Ducati for four races in 2007.
One name no longer being linked to Aprilia, is retired five-time world champion Jorge Lorenzo.
He was believed to be of interest to the factory he won two 250cc titles with and interested in finding a way back into racing after recovering from the injuries that prompted his retirement at the end of his troubled Honda season 12 months ago.
But the Lorenzo/Aprilia link now seems to have gone cold, with paddock rumours suggesting that the two parties weren’t able to agree favourable terms.
There are still candidates from Moto2 in with a shout, too, headed by Fabio di Giannantonio.
He’s already signed up to ride for Aprilia’s partner team Gresini next year and is rumoured to have an option to join Aprilia in 2022 anyway.
There are suggestions that one of the options being considered is an early promotion for the 22-year-old Italian.
Another name linked to the deal today at Portimao has been that of Moto2 podium finisher Joe Roberts. The American has been increasingly mentioned alongside the empty seat, and would make perfect commercial sense both for Aprilia parent group Piaggio and for MotoGP organisers Dorna by helping both expand in a crucial North American market.
Roberts has impressed in his breakthrough season this year, moving from an occasional points-scorer to someone able to fight for pole positions and podium positions.
While he’s already signed up to ride for the Italtrans squad in the middleweight class next year, most riders in Moto2 normally have some sort of escape clause in their contracts should they be offered a chance to step up to the premier class.
“I’ve always said I don’t want someone slow” :: Aleix Espargaro
A Moto2 graduate is Espargaro’s preferred option for his 2021 team-mate.
Having been with Aprilia now for four seasons and set to remain with it for at least two more – yet having never had the same team-mate for two years in that time – he believes that it’s time for the firm to invest in the future.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think anyone else knows either!” said Espargaro when asked if he had any insight on who he’d be partnered with in 2021.
“It’s a shame, because in five days I’ll be able to test the 2021 spec bike and it would be good to have a team-mate at that test too.
“I’ve heard many, many, many names in the last month, but I don’t have a preference.
“My biggest preference was Andrea Dovizioso, because he’s the strongest rider in the paddock except for Marc Marquez.
“I’ve always said I don’t want someone slow – I want someone very fast who will push me a lot.
“Everything would have been perfect with Dovi, and Massimo pushed a lot to make it happen but we couldn’t.
“Right now there are no riders with experience available, so maybe the best option is a young rider from Moto2, because they already have me with experience and they can have someone young.”