Twelve months ago, when MotoGP headed to Qatar for 2021 pre-season testing, no one really knew what to expect from the Aprilia RS-GP.
Yes, the tail-end team had made substantial progress in the preceding years, closing the gap to its rival factories, but it still wasn’t quite clear just how much was still to come from one of the series’ perennial dark horses.
Once action got underway it became abundantly obvious that Aprilia had made a substantial step forwards.
The new bike was faster in every regard, and it was demonstrated throughout the 2021 season just how good a product the team had turned out. Aleix Espargaro finally ended Aprilia’s long MotoGP podium drought at the British Grand Prix.
There have been more changes since then at the Noale factory, of course, with the shocking twists and turns of the 2021 season delivering a proven race winner to Aprilia in the shape of Maverick Vinales; arguably the first time that it has ever had a really top calibre pilot onboard.
Yet while that might open up a whole world of exciting possibilities for the team in the coming year, it also needs to come with a small degree of caution, too. 2022 has to be a year of small changes not radical shifts, after the steps of the past year.
Simply put, after a few years of making major revisions to its bike – and admittedly making big jumps forward in the process – now isn’t the time to start running, at least not just yet.
Vinales is still in the process of adapting himself to something vastly different from the inline-four engined Yamaha M1 he’s spent the past years on, and Aprilia won’t be doing anything to disrupt that process too much for now.
On the other side of the garage, of course, Espargaro has much more experience as a development rider after years of working hard to take the bike from the back of the grid to the podium, and it could be that he and Vinales will have very different work plans for the five days of testing about to begin.
With that in mind, expect to see a bike that looks very similar to last year’s when it rolls out at Sepang.
Sure, there might be some tinkering around with aerodynamics that change the visual signature slightly, but the real differences – small as they are compared to previous seasons – will come under the skin.
There’s likely to be a revised version of Aprilia’s right height device, but with the Noale factory already not far behind technology leader Ducati in that area, it’s only going to be a revision.
Aprilia’s device was one of the smartest on the grid with automatic activation already in place last year, but Espargaro admitted he preferred the manual system – so it’ll be a surprise if that hasn’t been worked hard on over the break.
The biggest update to the new machine will come inside the engine. This is somewhere where Aprilia has traditionally lagged behind the other manufacturers.
It’s now the only manufacturer on the grid able to produce mid-season engine updates thanks to being the last concession-status team and it seems to like bringing big steps, like the one that appeared at Aragon last year, rather than increments.
So, with months off to develop and well aware that its rivals – which don’t share the same flexibility for introducing upgrades and need to get their spec right now – will make substantial progress in terms of power in the coming days, the engine is where the key work will be done.