until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP’s great giantkiller appears to have joined the giants

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Since returning to MotoGP as a manufacturer in 2015, Aprilia had been reliably finishing last in the manufacturers’ standings. Some of those years that meant fifth place, in others it meant sixth, sometimes it was reasonably close to KTM, but in any case – always last.

But not in 2022. Not even a little bit. The RS-GP, despite being represented by just two riders, should’ve really finished that season second only to the Ducati Desmosedici.

Although Yamaha pipped it at the line amid Aprilia’s disastrous conclusion to the season, for much of 2022 the bike was the talk of the town and subject of envy, making the big question for the coming year – in theory – whether it was a sustainable jump.

And in that context, Aprilia ‘captain’ Aleix Espargaro’s relative lack of buoyancy during the three-day Sepang test last month could’ve been taken as a sign his team has taken a step backwards.

But what he actually said made it clear that wasn’t the case.

“The feeling that I have is, the trend of ’22 is the same as ’23,” he reckoned. “Not much has changed.

“The Ducati is still the best bike with really good riders. All the riders look fast in some moments of the three days.

“The ’23 [Aprilia] bike is definitely better than the ’22. But we still have to be patient to see if it’s enough or not enough.”



And when Espargaro says “enough or not enough”, he doesn’t mean consolidation.

“We are not that far [from Ducati],” he told MotoGP.com’s After The Flag.

“And our rivals of the other manufacturers are not super. They didn’t really improve so much. But once again, it’s just test one.”

Just imagine such a situation a few years ago – Aprilia’s lead rider suggesting he had the second-best bike and an all-round improvement coming into the season, and not being absolutely over the moon about it.

But such are the steps Aprilia has made, with its compliant machine and its increasingly potent rider line-up and its aero innovation, since adding ex-Ferrari Formula 1 man Massimo Rivola as CEO and shifting Romano Albesiano to a tech-specific role.

And while Espargaro has always been ambitious – and, at 33, will feel the particular urgency of knowing that he’s at the start of what may well be his last two-year MotoGP deal – senior Aprilia figures have always made a point to welcome and share that ambition.

Listing off Aprilia’s gains for 2023, Espargaro said: “One really important thing, the cooling is much better. It was a nightmare last year. I burned myself in Thailand, in Indonesia, here [at Sepang], it was really difficult to ride the bike. Now they did a super good job, the bike is much better on this.

“We have some more revs, the bike is a little bit faster on the straight. And the bike is more narrow so allows me to be more aggressive on the change of direction.

“The new aero is a little bit better with the top speed, but at the same time with the wings that we have the bike turns same or even better.

“So, overall, in general we made one step forward. In all areas. Very small step – but when you do a very small step everywhere, without destroying anything, it’s very positive.”


Those very same points were made by a downright jubilant Maverick Vinales, Espargaro’s team-mate. But Espargaro himself knows Aprilia needs more – more initial acceleration, more mid-range torque.

But that ‘more’ could arrive before the season is properly underway. The actual 2023 engine, Espargaro says, is only coming for this weekend’s Portimao test, and it will have presumably run in the Jerez private test this past weekend with tester Lorenzo Savadori.

“We have to be patient,” said Espargaro. “Romano told us that the racing engines that are already on the dyno on Noale are a bit better than these ones.”


Maybe Ducati will prove out of reach in 2023. But it is remarkable how Aprilia marches on, having seemingly shrugged off a late-2022 deflation to maintain a positive year-on-year trend this year.

And, with Espargaro as its goal-setter and motivator, it shows an entity not content just being a giantkiller – but one that clearly believes it deserves to be one of the giants.

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