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MotoGP

Oliveira must break his usual habit to earn Aprilia promotion

by Dre Harrison
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

You could make a serious case that the 2023 British Grand Prix was Aprilia’s best day in MotoGP to date.

An incredible last-lap pass for the win by its talismanic leader Aleix Espargaro. Factory team-mate Maverick Vinales backing him up in the leading group, RNF rider Raul Fernandez’s first top 10 finish in the premier class and another comeback ride for the highlight reel of Miguel Oliveira.

And maybe that was the most promising element of all for Aprilia: the first real sign of the promise Oliveira’s switch to its ranks had generated in pre-season testing.

In his very first test on an Aprilia RS-GP last year, Oliveira was fourth on the timing sheet, sandwiched between his new Aprilia factory stablemates, and just a tenth of a second behind Vinales.

Given MotoGP had just seen Gresini’s Enea Bastianini put together a genuine title challenge using the previous year’s machinery, at that moment it wasn’t impossible to see a future in which Oliveira did the same with the old-spec Aprilia, especially with five wins across his time at KTM.

But through little fault of his own, it’s been a season of injury setbacks for the Portuguese rider in 2023. Leg contusions in his home race at Portimao after Marc Marquez locked his brakes and clattered into him.

He came back with a top-five finish in an attritional race at Austin two rounds later but missed two more after being caught up in a three-bike wreck at Jerez involving him, Fabio Quartararo and Marco Bezzecchi. It was a crash that cracked the humerus bone in his shoulder, and a burden he’s had to carry up until now, having retired from the Assen TT due to the pain being too much to handle.

Silverstone was the first round since the opener that Oliveira’s been back to near 100% fitness, and it showed.

Miguel Oliveira

Even before the rain came down, it was an excellent ride. He was up to fifth from 16th on the grid and clear of the second group that included Johann Zarco and Luca Marini but was four seconds off the leaders.

He then put down an incredible run of speed to close the gap. Between laps 14 and 18, Oliveira went 0.5s, 1.2s, 1.3s, 0.4s and 0.6s per lap faster than race and championship leader Pecco Bagnaia to bring himself up to third with two laps to go and within a second of the win.

Asked afterwards if his mentality changed when it rained – conditions in which he’s often starred (or even won) – Oliveira replied: “It’s kind of a strange situation because you have to keep pushing to bring the tyres up to temperature.

“If you’re too careful, it’s even worse, so it’s hard to see where the limit is. I took more risks and I was lucky not to crash.”

He left it all on the table and was rewarded with a shot at the win.

But what next?

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As much as it was a statement result for Oliveira’s 2023 season so far, the man himself showed signs of frustration with being on last year’s Aprilia.

“We have the 2022 spec bike and we know that’s the bike we have to work with,” he said. “I think we’re just getting out the most juice we can from the package.”

And he’d clearly like a bit more than that.

Asked if he thought there might be scope to get a better spec from the Aprilia factory, Oliveira replied: “Let’s see. I think it’s possible. It’s possible that a couple of things might come.

“I don’t expect the things that will come will actually change a lot of my bike because they’re quite different bikes, so let’s see what updates can I have and if they bring really something significant.”

It’s a crossroads for Oliveira of the type that’s become a staple of his biking career. Flashes of brilliance but never fully utilising his potential, even dating back to his time in the less powerful classes. In his final year of Moto3 in 2015, he was 88 points behind title rival Danny Kent after the Brit dominated the German GP before the summer break. Oliveira went on an incredible run of form in the back half of the season, scoring 140 out of the final 150 points, only for Kent to hold on and win the title by six.

Oliveira would beat Kent as team-mates when they came up to Moto2 with Leopard, earning himself a top-tier seat with Ajo in the KTM set-up.

He won the last three races in a row in 2017 but only finished a distant third in the standings behind Franco Morbidelli and famous gatekeeper Thomas Luthi. An excellent, promotion-earning campaign the following year left him just nine points behind eventual champion Bagnaia, now arguably the best rider in the world.

His then-team-mate Brad Binder has surpassed him since entering the top flight, the South African putting together strong, consistent results, finishing in the top six of the championship twice and justifying his status as KTM’s number one MotoGP hope despite only having two top-tier grand prix victories compared to Oliveira’s five.

It paints the picture of Miguel being a talent with remarkable upside, who on his day can beat anyone on two wheels, but just falling short of forcing the big players in the sport to take notice because he doesn’t do it often enough.

False dawns and inconsistencies have ultimately plagued the career of Portugal’s most famous aspiring dentist. And while his Silverstone comeback was his most impressive ride on an Aprilia yet, it’s hard not to think that more will be needed to stand out with a factory that is now pushing for the biggest prize of them all.

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