Moto2 rider Joe Roberts’ manager Eitan Butbul has told The Race he believes his client made a mistake in turning down Aprilia’s offer of a 2021 MotoGP seat.
Roberts was believed by The Race’s sources to be at the top of the list for Aprilia in its continuing efforts to find a permanent replacement for the banned Andrea Iannone.
The 23-year-old American was very close to signing the Aprilia deal, only to seemingly change his mind at the eleventh hour and instead decide to honour his 2021 contract in Moto2 with the Italtrans Racing team that just took Enea Bastianini to the title.
“Everything was ready to sign, and at the last minute he backed off and decided not to do it” :: Joe Roberts’ manager
That decision came, according to some rumours in the paddock, after Roberts consulted with some senior members of the MotoGP grid at the final race of the year at Portimao.
Former Ducati rider Andrea Dovizioso, who himself turned down a offer from Aprilia, is believed to have been one of the voices most strongly advising Roberts to remain in Moto2.
Butbul, who also manages the American Racing Team that Roberts rode for in Moto2 for the past two seasons, said both he and the squad’s ex-MotoGP star director of racing John Hopkins were disappointed in Roberts’ decision.
“In my opinion he had a big opportunity to step into Aprilia,” Butbul told The Race.
“Everything was ready to sign, and at the last minute he backed off and decided not to do it.
“Hopkins and I thought that he should do it and that it was a good opportunity for him.
“We know that he wants to stay in Moto2 and have a chance to win the championship, but it’s not every day that a rider that is still only in their third year and has just broken into the top 10 in Moto2 gets the chance to step into a factory team.”
The deal on the table is believed to have included an option for four-time MotoGP podium finisher Hopkins to join Aprilia to continue in his role as Roberts’ rider coach.
Butbul said Roberts’ refusal means he is under increased pressure now to prove himself in the middleweight class.
“We gave him the options and he made the decision. The future will tell if it was the right one” :: Joe Roberts’ manager
“Aprilia was more than good and pleasant to work with in terms of the contract negotiations, and really wanted him to come,” Butbul added.
“It was disappointing for us, because we wanted to work with them.
“They have a good bike, they’ve made a lot of steps and improvements, and he had a chance to step into a solid team.
“I think it can create pressure because he decided to stay and fight for the [Moto2] championship, so he has put a lot of eyes on himself.
“Even if he had gone to MotoGP it would have created pressure regardless though, and at the end of the day it’s the rider’s decision and we didn’t push him too much.
“We gave him the options and he made the decision. The future will tell if it was the right one.”
Left with limited options for 2021 following a spate of refusals from both rookies like Marco Bezzecchi and Roberts and veterans like Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow, Aprilia has finally confirmed that its plans will include both its test riders Lorenzo Savadori and Bradley Smith.
In what exact role each will start the season in remains to be seen, however, with Aprilia using the remaining winter tests to evaluate which one is most deserving of the chance to step up as Iannone’s eventual replacement ahead of the first round next March.
Butbul’s American Racing Team will continue in Moto2 with new signing Cameron Beaubier, a five-time MotoAmerica champion.