until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Retirement preserves Espargaro's MotoGP fairytale

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Aleix Espargaro's decision to call time on his MotoGP career at the end of 2024 means that, barring the unlikeliest of turnarounds, he will not be a MotoGP champion.

The fact that sentence can be written without a hint of irony, with maybe even a tinge of regret, shows he has won.

Imagine, after all, telling a rider who just finished an inglorious 12th in the intermediate class after dropping back down from MotoGP after a single full season: "You will end your MotoGP career with the second-most starts all-time, and you will be a grand prix winner."

A grand prix winner anywhere - because he hadn't been in any class at that point. And he wasn't when he was ditched by Suzuki after being battered by Maverick Vinales in the second year of their partnership. It was an easy stick to beat him with - peer Danilo Petrucci certainly couldn't resist, during one of Espargaro's stupider spats.

But by then already it didn't really hold up. Espargaro's reputation was already a clear mismatch with the statistic. The statistic just needed to catch up.

After all, he had become kind of a nightmare team-mate. Randy de Puniet? See ya. Colin Edwards? Bye-bye. Sam Lowes and Scott Redding? Thank you, next. Andrea Iannone? You got it.

Some of them can grumble about the circumstances, but at their best these are all good-to-great riders. So is Vinales, who after reuniting with Espargaro at Aprilia has clearly found him a tough benchmark - one he's only now clearing with any sort of consistency.

So if it's Vinales, at his best a genuine superstar, whose recent ascendance has helped Espargaro decide the time to head off is now, then there's a certain 'come full circle' poetry to it.

Truthfully, the evidence of Espargaro being in decline is fairly scant still. He is the grid's oldest rider, but he is only 34. Another two-year deal would be perfectly justifiable somewhere on the grid; Honda could certainly do a lot worse.

But what he was going to accomplish in MotoGP, he has probably already done.

The 2022 season was the big chance at the title, and there wasn't quite enough. And it's a different MotoGP now: Jorge Martin and Pecco Bagnaia are fully operational, Marc Marquez is back to fitness and on a winning bike, Pedro Acosta is in rapid ascendance. Even if Aprilia somehow stole a march on all of their employers, which is a long shot this far into the rules cycle, it is Vinales now who looks in a better position to benefit.

Espargaro probably sees the writing on the wall. And there is no room in his story for a decline. It is rags-to-riches - it does not need to be rags-to-riches-to-rags.

Which is not to say MotoGP will not miss him.

He is a divisive figure, clearly, both to those watching from outside and to some of those he races against. You may hear he's too outspoken (nonsense), complains too much (nah), too hot-headed (something there), too pretentious in his idealistic views on wheel-to-wheel conduct (not really).

His image will be an inexorable part of his legacy. For better or for worse (and for this writer, make no mistake, it's for better).

But it won't define his legacy. That he's a nice bloke, that he's engaging, that he's never-ever boring - all of those things matter. He could've been all those things and stayed a mid-pack Moto2 rider.

Aleix Espargaro Aprilia MotoGP 2024

Instead, he rose to heights unforeseen, helping drag Aprilia from a laughing stock to a deeply admirable programme and machine in the process - and now looks set to walk away while still at his own personal summit.

Love him or hate him, he has won.

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