until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


The asterisk skewing an important MotoGP 2024 battle

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Trackhouse Aprilia effectively inherited a rider line-up for its first MotoGP season, as there was never any question as its entry came together that it could run anyone but Miguel Oliveira and Raul Fernandez for its debut.

Its first big rider decision is yet to come then, but it is coming. And while that decision could well end up being another season of Oliveira/Fernandez, that would still be different - a choice inextricably linked to Trackhouse and how it plans to approach its rider strategy, rather than a vestige of the RNF era.

For what it's worth, the chance that Trackhouse will make some sort of change seems pretty high right now. The elephant in the room is current Moto2 frontrunner Joe Roberts - Trackhouse owner Justin Marks does not want a token or hurried American rider in his line-up, but he is clearly keen on having one sooner or later, and Roberts is now a lot more credible than he had been just months ago.

But there may also be a play to be made for some of MotoGP's established riders who end up missing out - and some inevitably will - in the current game of factory ride musical chairs.

Everybody in MotoGP was reminded very recently of what the factory-spec Aprilia RS-GP can do when Maverick Vinales monstered the Circuit of the Americas round, so Trackhouse should have a good pitch to make there.

So Oliveira and Fernandez will have to fight for their rides and, first and foremost, as always in motorsport, they will have to fight each other. Trackhouse is probably the best gig available to either for 2025 - any suggestion they could move up to the works Aprilia team or another factory ride seems incredibly far-fetched right now.

In terms of track record, there's no contest. One of these riders has five MotoGP wins in 88 grand prix starts, the other hasn't even cracked the top four in 41.

But this is not how MotoGP teams make their decisions. If it were, it would've been Brad Binder, not Oliveira, vacating his KTM seat for Jack Miller.

And in terms of the classic 'what have you done for me lately', Oliveira vs Fernandez has been an inconclusive battle in 2024.

Yes, Oliveira is ahead in the standings, 23 points to 12, and yes, he's coming off a high-quality Jerez round. But they're 2-2 in qualifying, and 3-3 in terms of races (including sprints) where both finished - which would be 4-2 in Fernandez's favour had he not incurred a tyre pressure penalty in the Jerez sprint.

So, it's really close - but it's also not a like-for-like comparison. Oliveira is on the 2024 bike he has been struggling to turn, while Fernandez is on last year's model and has been generally happier with it.

The engine difference will be negligible, but the 2024 version - built around having more downforce - seems credibly more competitive, particularly in Vinales' hands (even if he and Oliveira still aren't using the 2024-spec seat unit).

At the same time, Fernandez is benefitting from great continuity between what he rode last year and what he's riding now, while Oliveira seems to have been knocked off-balance by having skipped a step.

It is a muddy picture but with a clear solution - one that Aprilia and Trackhouse will implement, albeit perhaps a little later than ideal for its rider evaluation.

What were initially non-committal suggestions that Fernandez will be upgraded to the 2024 bike at some point mid-season are now a lot closer to statement of fact - with Aprilia tech chief Romano Albesiano reiterating at Jerez that an upgrade for Fernandez was coming and acknowledging that it will "definitely" be easier once the whole roster is on the 2024 spec of bike.

But the timing remains a bit murky. For now, Fernandez has had his first - limited - taste of the newer machine on the Monday after the Spanish Grand Prix.


"It's quite a different bike to ride. You need time to understand the aerodynamics.

"For me it was better - you need time, but for me it worked a little bit better than the '23. I can't tell you the '23 is a bad bike, I'm happy with my bike. For the future maybe, it [the '24] is one step more for us.

"On data we saw that [in the fast corners] it's more or less the same. We did like eight, nine laps, was not enough to know very well if it's fast or not.

"The feedback in some corners is quite better than the '23 bike. [But] when you have a test, with no pressure, you have a new bike, everything is super easy. We need to know [what it'll be like] when we have the bike in a race weekend, with same conditions, just with two practices - later I can tell you something."

Fernandez was fairly agnostic on the prospect of being upgraded mid-season when he began the campaign, but his tone has shifted.

It could be a double-edged sword for him - especially if, like Oliveira, he doesn't click with the newer RS-GP immediately - but he wants a straight fight.

"If I have the possibility, I prefer to have the same material that all the [other] Aprilias, to see where we are.

"Because now always it's difficult to know.

"For example in America I was super competitive - but [compared] with the laptime of last year. I want to know where we are with the same bike."

It would be very useful for Trackhouse and Aprilia to know, too.

Oliveira seems to be making progress with the RS-GP - he was the highest-placed Aprilia rider in the Spanish GP after a solid effort. But the case that he was the quickest Aprilia at Jerez isn't very robust, and the way he spoke after the race suggested he still knows there's a little bit missing.

If he rediscovers the form that he had begun his Aprilia career in last year, through testing and the opener before his injury, Trackhouse would be foolish to drop him.

But as it stands, and assuming the 2024 Aprilia is representative of the manufacturer's development direction with its future bikes, benchmarking Oliveira against Fernandez - and Fernandez against Oliveira - on that machine as soon as possible is a no-brainer for everyone concerned.

For now, though, we'll remain in a bit of a holding pattern, without a full picture for Trackhouse to head into 2025 talks with.

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