Smith (11 races) and Savadori (3) shared the race role last year, amid Andrea Iannone‘s doping suspension.
When Moto2 riders Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio di Giannantonio and Joe Roberts then turned down the seat for 2021, Aprilia declared it would go to either Smith or Savadori.
The Englishman made no secret that he wanted the place, especially after outperforming rookie Savadori last season when Smith had a best race finish of 13th while Savadori saw the chequered flag once, in 18th.
However, today’s online launch confirmed rumours that Savadori has been chosen for unspecified ‘company reasons’. Smith was nowhere to be seen, but Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola said he still hopes the 30-year-old will decide to continue as a test and wild-card rider.
“For sure we will have in the future a test rider. I think Bradley did a very good job in the last two years and obviously it would be good to continue with him. But that is not for granted,” Rivola said.
“Obviously he’s a racer and he wants to race, but we took another decision for reasons that are company reasons. And I respect that he is not happy about that. But we are very open to give him the chance to keep doing the job he did and eventually doing some wild-cards, to keep his hot racing spirit let’s say.
“Maybe there are alternatives, but we will be happy to continue [with Smith] and be consistent with what we did in the past.”
Aprilia initially planned to only make a decision on which of its test riders would get the race seat after winter testing.
“It was a company decision and we decided to move a bit earlier, because we realised that the choice of the rider had a chain effect on other people and the choice of other people in the team,” Rivola said.
Although there is only three-years difference in age between Savadori and Smith, Smith has made 119 MotoGP starts (two podiums) compared with 3 for Savadori, who has a background in Superbike.
Ironically, that extensive experience may have worked against Smith as far as the race seat.
“It’s true that Bradley has the experience and the characteristic that fits much more to a test rider compared to Lorenzo. That is because Lorenzo has no experience, so that was part of the choice,” Rivola said.
One rider that definitely won’t be taking part in any development work for Aprilia this year is Iannone, Rivola confirming that his four-year ban for the presence of anabolic steroid Drostanolone in a urine sample includes test riding.
“Unfortunately, he cannot be a test rider. There is actually a ban from the FIM,” Rivola said.
“And then – well, you know that for cocaine you get disqualified for one month? No further comment,” he added, referring to WADA’s recent decision to downgrade use of recreational drugs from two years to 1-3 months.
Returning to the choice of Savadori, Rivola said his main target for the Italian is to get closer to Espargaro as the season progresses.
“I think Lorenzo could be maybe the biggest rookie! Because he doesn’t even know many tracks. I think a rider coming from Moto2 has a better chance to show up, let’s say, immediately rather than someone coming from superbike,” Rivola said.
“Lorenzo did three races last year, I have to say that the third one already was quite promising and we were impressed by that one.
“I expect Lorenzo to keep growing during the season, I don’t expect Lorenzo to beat Aleix but I expect him to come closer and closer. I don’t think it is fair to give him a target in terms of results, I think his target – it’s true that we all say your team-mate is not your first reference, but it is. And is not your first enemy, but it is!
“To put it in a nicer way, I think Aleix is a real reference. Everybody that has been beside Aleix has not really been too close to him because you need a bit of time. In 2019 we had a super-talented guy like Andrea Iannone, at the beginning he was not as fast as Aleix, because when you ride the bike for many years you are immediately fast.
“I think Aleix gets the best out of the bike and so for Lorenzo I think he’s a very good reference.
“I think Lorenzo’s a smart guy, very dedicated, I’ve followed his winter training from many points of view and I hope he can continue the growth he showed in just three races.
“Fausto [Gresini] had also a very good eye on riders and hopefully Lorenzo is let’s say the confirmation of his long view.”