Aleix Espargaro has spoken out in support of Aprilia MotoGP team-mate Andrea Iannone, following this week’s shock announcement that his 18-month doping ban has been increased to 4-years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Iannone and the World Anti-Doping Agency had launched opposing appeals following the original FIM sentence.
The Italian hoped to have the ban quashed, claiming the anabolic steroid Drostanolone was found in his urine after eating contaminated meat in Malaysia.
However, the CAS sided fully with WADA, ruling not only that Iannone was guilty of an anti-doping violation but that he had been unable to establish ‘on the balance of probabilities’ that it was unintentional.
“I’m very upset. Especially from the personal side,” Espargaro said. “Only he knows if he did a mistake or it was contamination.
“In the end four-years is ridiculous. One year or 18 months is more than enough. But four years is an abuse and completely too much for me. But WADA has decided this so it’s nothing to decide anymore.”
Espargaro added: “If Andrea says it was contamination, ok, I trust him. Why not? In MotoGP there isn’t much to gain by taking drugs. He’s the only one who knows. The only thing I can say is four years is too much. Even if he took the drugs it’s too much!”
While Espargaro and Iannone have not always seen eye-to-eye, the Spaniard revealed he spoke to the 31-year-old on Tuesday morning, before news of the CAS verdict was made public.
“Massimo [Rivola] told me. So I called Andrea and we spoke for ten minutes. He was very, very upset. I tried to convince him to come to Valencia this weekend to say hello. I hope he can come.
“We have our relationship. In Qatar we had a fight more or less but in the end we are friends. I am someone that has a good relationship with everyone. From a personal side, he’s a really good guy. I feel really bad for one guy who can’t race anymore.”
While shocked by the decision, Aprilia must now decide who will replace Iannone next season.
“It’s not easy for Aprilia management. It’s a very, very difficult decision,” Espargaro said. “I know how difficult it is to adapt to Aprilia. The best decision was to stay with Iannone. He knows the bike and could help development.
“For me the best option is Dovi. But Dovi is not available now. Also Cal has a lot of experience and would be fast. But he’s close to signing [as a test rider] with Yamaha.
“At this point, there are not that many strong riders with experience in MotoGP. So the best thing is to take a young rider. You see how fast Mir and Quartararo are. Look at their level after just one year in a half.
“My opinion is that it would be good to have a young team-mate.”
Moto2 stars Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio di Giannantonio are among those now rumoured to be in contention for the ride.
Both are due to spend another season in the intermediate-class, Bezzecchi at VR46 and di Giannantonio with Gresini, although many contracts contain an exit clause should a factory MotoGP ride become available. di Giannantonio is already thought to have a MotoGP deal in place with Gresini, currently partnered with Aprilia, for 2022 should he perform well enough next season.
“They are [both] very fast riders,” Espargaro said. “I like a lot Bezzecchi, also di Giannantonio is very fast. Bezzecchi can be the World Champion this year in Moto2 and he doesn’t have a contract to be in MotoGP next year. They are Italians and this could be important for Aprilia.”
But a rookie signing would also mean Aleix has to shoulder much of the development work alone.
“I’m upset because I won’t be helped from the beginning. It looks like next season I’ll be alone [in developing the bike]. But this is the situation and it is how it is. For Aprilia’s situation it’s very difficult this year,” he said.
It’s not just Dovizioso and Crutchlow that have been linked to Aprilia, retired triple MotoGP champion Jorge Lorenzo recently revealed talks for a testing role, but Espargaro has his doubts.
“It’s not true that I’m really against. What I said is I’m not sure if he’s ready and in shape physically and mentally to come to a project like Aprilia. This is not Yamaha. That’s the only question mark I have,” Espargaro explained.
“But honestly I don’t think Lorenzo is an option for Aprilia today.”
Aprilia’s RS-GP is the only machine on the current grid now without a podium or race win in MotoGP, taking a best finish of sixth.
Despite high hopes for the 2020 machine, Espargaro has managed no higher than tenth place this year.