Bradley Smith is present and ready for this weekend’s Aragon MotoGP round, but the slim possibility remains that he could yet be replaced before tomorrow morning’s opening practice session.
That’s because Andrea Iannone‘s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, against his doping ban, took place today.
In the unlikely event that the CAS was to issue a decision this evening, in Iannone’s favour, the Italian could theoretically be back on an RS-GP in time for FP1, which would be his first track appearance since November.
However, most expect it will take a week for the court to issue its verdict.
Even then, the outcome ranges from a full annulment of the current 18-month ban (which Iannone is seeking on the basis of accidental ingestion of the prohibited steroid drostanolone through contaminated meat) through to an extended four-year ban, which WADA is pushing for.
“I don’t know if I’m riding tomorrow,” Smith said on Thursday at Aragon. “I haven’t heard anything from wherever it is they’re having [the CAS] meeting.
“If something went in favour of Andrea and it got wrapped up today, he could be here tomorrow morning and ready to go.
“The likelihood of that happening is small. But next weekend isn’t a given [for me riding].
“I’ll prepare myself to be ready for tomorrow. Next week it could all change and I might be going home early. We’ll wait and see what happens.”
Explaining that the ongoing uncertainly is not helping anyone, Smith hopes that whatever the outcome, it will at least allow Aprilia to make solid plans for the future.
“Regarding the Andrea situation, yeah of course it plays on my mind. But more than anything it plays on the team’s mind,” Smith said.
“Knowing what’s going to happen going forward is what the project really needs – to have that stability and that focus again, in terms of knowing what 2021 could look like and how it’s going to look like.
“Conversations [at the moment] are always ‘if this’ or ‘if that’ and ‘maybe’. Once we have the situation clear, there’s no ifs and maybes. And ifs and maybes in elite sport is a nightmare.
“Confidence in everything is an important thing. I think we’re lacking that inside our team because of these circumstances. I certainly hope we’re able to clarify this, maybe today, or in the next week I hear is the deadline.
“If we can start making plans towards the future and how Aprilia is going to look, I think everyone will up their game more inside the team and get some stability again and a vision to the future.”
Smith ‘next option’ after the two Andreas
As far as his own future, Smith made clear that – rather than being content to automatically slot back into the test and wild-card role – he’s fighting to stay in contention for the race seat in 2021.
“It completely depends on the circumstances. Right now, I have no interest in being a test rider, I have interest in being a full-time rider,” said Smith, a MotoGP podium finisher for Tech3 Yamaha before spending two seasons at the factory KTM team.
“I’ve adapted as much as I can to the bike this year and I’m up against a guy [team-mate Aleix Espargaro] who has been riding the bike for the last four years and I’m 0.2 away.
“I’ll take that and I feel things can get better, considering I’m still a test rider inside the team, developing during race weekends and I’ve been able to match Aleix at times.
“My vision is to be here as a full-time rider. It’s something that Aprilia are definitely openminded too.”
“Right now, I think the two Andreas are of course the focus and the main priorities. But should that not be case, I’m right there as the next option,” Smith said.
“So continuity is something we need inside this team. We’ve seen it works in other manufacturers and it’s something Aprilia understand. So let’s see in next week or so what can happen and go from there.”
‘I end up flying’
Assuming he’s on track tomorrow, Smith – who put Aprilia top of the timesheets in wet opening practice at Le Mans last week – will be riding with strapping on both ankles after ligament damage from his race highside.
That highside, like his Friday afternoon fall, was due to a ‘blind spot’ in the Aprilia’s traction control electronics.
“Our [traction control] strategy where it doesn’t understand if I’m at risk at crashing or not if there are patchy conditions like Friday afternoon or wet and changing conditions during the race,” Smith said.
“At the moment we have to set [the traction control] at a halfway level to make it average out. But [by doing that] it can work too much or too little. Mine normally ends up working too little and I end up flying.
“It seems to be the initial touch [of the throttle] at maximum [lean] angle.
“We have to fix that strategy issue going forward but you can’t replicate those so-so [mixed] and wet conditions and we don’t have a lot of experience, especially with the new bike and new engine.
“The guys needed more data. I can’t put all the blame on the guys upstairs. But basically my two crashes on Friday afternoon and in the race were electronics-related and I can’t really take responsibility for those.”