Aprilia’s satellite MotoGP team RNF Racing is in doubt for 2024, according to The Race’s sources in the paddock, with series boss Dorna looking at back-up options should the Malaysian-Romanian squad fail to find the necessary funding to secure its place on next season’s grid.
The RNF team was born out of the hugely successful Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team, with Malaysian team principal Razlan Razali taking over the grid slots previously owned by the Sepang circuit after oil giant Petronas unexpectedly withdrew its backing at the end of the 2021 season.
Initially running satellite Yamaha machinery in 2022 before switching to Aprilia for 2023, Razali then sold part of his ownership in the team to Romanian IT firm CryptoData, who joined not just as a sponsor but as a 60% partner in the team.
That decision to sell was in large part due to the team being left without a title sponsor at the end of 2022 after the collapse of previous sponsor Italian energy firm WithU, which was left struggling due to its reliance on Russian natural gas following sanctions after the invasion of Ukraine last year.
But despite the new majority ownership, the team's financial situation isn't believed to have improved significantly as this year has progressed, with the team now believed to have missed a number of payments to suppliers throughout the season.
That’s something that has potentially had an impact on the team’s performances this year as well. A number of technical issues have seen Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez suffer multiple retirements from races throughout the season, something that Fernandez complained in Malaysia two weeks ago was in part down to the age of the components they were using.
“Maybe because we have too much kilometres on the bike,” he said when asked by The Race why his team seemed to be the only one struggling with reliability to such an extent. “Maybe too much kilometres. We do not have nothing new, just the tyres. Maybe it’s for that.”
However, according to The Race’s sources in the paddock, things may be set to get even worse in the coming weeks, after a supposed split between Razali and CryptoData boss Ovidiu Toma.
That now leaves the whole future of the team up in the air only days before the 2024 season semi-officially kicks off with a post-race test at Valencia following this coming weekend’s final round of the championship.
While the future of the RNF team might be unsure, though, it seems that there's no cause for concern over there being some form of an Aprilia satellite team on the MotoGP grid next year. The team’s riders, bikes and many of the technical staff are contracted directly to the Italian factory, not to RNF, meaning that switching to a different team structure at the last minute is a difficult but not impossible task.
And it’s one that series bosses Dorna are reportedly already preparing for, with the Spanish firm believed by The Race’s sources to be in very tentative talks with new partners should it need to find someone else to step in and take over RNF’s grid spots - something that series sporting director Carlos Ezpeleta alluded to in an exclusive interview.
“It’s always a concern,” he admitted when asked about the team’s stability. “Not with RNF specifically, but with any team. IRTA, with the backing of Dorna, of course, is always very strict on meeting all requirements about image and payments and everything. I can’t really disclose that much information, of course, but it is a point and we’re looking into it.
“The great thing to know is that the interest in MotoGP, in all classes, is so high that things are guaranteed for next year. I’ve had a bunch of emails, and the great thing about receiving them is that we’ve been in this situation so many times in the past but the difference this time is how global the applications have turned out to be.
“A while ago, every time there was a team in difficulty, which continued [in MotoGP] or not, all the emails were Spanish or Italian or European, people who’d already been in the paddock before. But now it’s companies from all over the world who are interested in joining MotoGP, which speaks volumes to the globality of the sport.”
One of those proposed global partners is believed to involve considerable American involvement, with former head of Triumph’s racing program Jeremy Appleton in the paddock this weekend and rumoured to be introducing members of the NASCAR championship to, among others, senior management at Aprilia.
And, with pre-season testing kicking off only days after the conclusion of the Valencian Grand Prix, it’s believed that its offer is currently the prime contender among the options being considered by Dorna to replace RNF, with the intention being to announce a new partner for Aprilia before the conclusion of the weekend and the start of testing.
CryptoData RNF Racing Aprilia is yet to comment, having been approached by The Race.