Since the end of the Aragon MotoGP, Aprilia has been making headlines with two ‘Lorenzos’.
Firstly, Lorenzo Savadori was surprisingly announced as replacing Bradley Smith for the remaining three races, then retired triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo confirmed talks with Aprilia about a test riding role in 2021.
Both topics were put to lead rider Aleix Espargaro on the eve of this weekend’s Valencia round.
“Aprilia’s management is trying to make the team stronger. The first thing I need is a faster and strong team-mate that’s for sure, because if not I cannot compare anything to anybody. Just to myself,” Espargaro began.
“For example, KTM that made a good step this year, they have four strong bikes with four strong riders. So I think they can raise the level of the bike easier than us. That’s the first thing.
“By changing Smith with Savadori, it’s difficult to understand exactly what Aprilia is looking for. But Lorenzo is a young rider, coming from the Aprilia family. So I think it’s a good chance for him to prove his level. And I think for the future we will see if he can be a strong rider to test the bike.”
Turning to Jorge Lorenzo, Espargaro admitted that his pace for Yamaha at the recent Portimao test – when he was 1.5s slower than Savadori and 2.7s off Ducati test rider Michele Pirro – was a concern.
“I think the level that Jorge showed in Portimao is not enough to help me or to develop the bike,” Espargaro said.
“But you never know, if Jorge really wants to be fast and competitive, he can be a very fast rider. But for the moment I think the situation is also not easy for him.”
Lorenzo’s bottom of the timesheets performance at Portimao was also a worry for Yamaha MotoGP race rider Valentino Rossi, while the factory has now announced that Garrett Gerloff, without a MotoGP lap under his belt, is on standby to replace Rossi this weekend at Valencia, rather than offering the chance to Lorenzo.
The #99 has since explained that his Portimao form was down to the test being his first time on a bike since Sepang in February, it came at very short notice after previously being told by Yamaha that he wouldn’t test again this year and he was still riding the 2019-spec M1.
Nonetheless, for Espargaro there’s only one rider that Aprilia should be focusing all its efforts on signing.
“Obviously to have Dovizioso would be the best option ever, as a team-mate or as a test rider,” he said. “Very fast rider, very relaxed and a good rider to develop the bike with info of Ducati. So obviously the Dovizioso option is the priority, at least that’s how I see it.
“With Lorenzo, the level is beyond doubt. One of the best riders of the last 20 years. Very, very fast rider. But I don’t know if his commitment, if his desire, if he’s physically ready. I’m not really sure. He’s the only one that knows that.
“Aprilia is trying hard to find fast riders, the market is not easy but the good thing is that Aprilia management is working very hard I know to try to help me, to try to make the team stronger.
“But as we saw in Portimao, Jorge’s level was not the best one really, but let’s see how much he wants to join us and let’s see if he can help me. But again, a very fast rider that’s for sure. But I don’t know his current situation right now. So it’s difficult to evaluate.”
Espargaro warned that, as the only bike on the grid without a podium or race win, the RS-GP has to be taken to the limit at every corner by race and test riders.
“The Aprilia is a good bike, the RS-GP 2020 has grown a lot and I feel good with the bike, but it’s not a winning bike. It’s not a Yamaha. So the commitment has to be even higher than if you ride a Yamaha,” he said.
“You have to really push to the limit every single corner of every single lap, you have to risk more than the rest because it is how it is. We know that we have to do that and I’m pleased to do that. I’m doing that every single session.
“For example, I think Smith did a good job on the test team, Savadori every time he is riding the bike also is trying to push at the limit. In Portimao he did a good job.
“So I’m not sure if Jorge is in the situation to do this now. I want to repeat again, Jorge is a very very fast rider, but I don’t know if at this moment he is physically and mentally prepared for this challenge.”
The biggest weakness of this year’s machine, which – despite so much pre-season promise – is yet to threaten the previous best RS-GP result of sixth, is clear to the #41.
“At the end what we need to gain is acceleration. Our rivals are much stronger than us in acceleration phase. I think it’s a compromise between more torque in the low part of the engine, plus a little bit better grip.
“Also I think by gaining downforce on the aerodynamics we can also improve acceleration because sometimes we can see that we cannot use all the power available due to the wheelie control, the slide. Sometimes when we have more grip, yes we can. So then there is not enough power.
“So it’s a combination but basically the acceleration is what we have to improve because the Aprilia is losing ground in every acceleration, especially first and second gear.”
With that in mind, might the money potentially allocated to sign a big name test rider like Lorenzo be better spent on more engineers?
“No, I don’t agree, it’s a combination. Even if you put a lot of money into a new engine and there is no fast rider to test, it will not be any improvement. If you put a lot of money into a test rider but then you don’t improve the engine. So it’s a compromise,” Espargaro replied.
“I’m sure that the Aprilia management is looking for a good test rider, but at the same time are looking for better engineers, more resources to improve the bike. So I think it’s a combination.
“I want to say again that in the situation that Aprilia is in right now with the Iannone case, now the change of Bradley for Savadori, there is still no rider for next year to be at my side and still no [lead test] rider.
“The situation for Aprilia management is not easy, it’s very difficult! I think they are doing their best, but it’s not easy.”
Given Espargaro’s comments about needing a team-mate that will push him, it seems unlikely that he sees Savadori as a potential replacement for Iannone next year.
But Savadori now has the chance to prove his level and, either way, Espargaro hopes he will remain part of the project in 2021.
“I think Savadori has to keep riding for us, I think he showed that with the amount of experience that he has in MotoGP that is very small, every time he jumped on the bike he showed that he can have the skills,” Espargaro said.
“Now he has a very important test in front of him because he will be able to race against the best riders int the world and we will see his real level, because in the tests it’s very difficult.
“But step-by-step in every test that he did with Aprilia he was every time better-and-better and now it’s a very important test for him.
“I’m glad that he’s coming because he’s an Aprilia rider from the Aprilia family, Italian, champion for Aprilia in the Italian championship, so I’m happy for him. It’s a good opportunity.”