until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

Where a 2023 MotoGP disappointment went wrong

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Coming into the 2023 MotoGP season, there were high expectations for Aprilia. It had mounted a shock long-shot 2022 title challenge with Aleix Espargaro and seemed one last step away from completing its transformation from tailender to top team.

Those high expectations weren't realised. In a campaign of lows and highs, Aprilia very much failed to capitalise on the form that many - including the team itself - came into the season expecting.

Team boss Massimo Rivola is first to admit that. He knows that while there were certainly incredible achievements during the year (most notably wins for Espargaro at both Silverstone and Barcelona), Aprilia left something on the table.

“A season with too many ups and downs,” the former Ferrari Formula 1 sporting director conceded in an exclusive interview with The Race.

“A season with super emotion like Silverstone and obviously Barcelona.

“A season with a lot of regrets and lost occasions to perform. A season where we planned to be the second constructor [in the championship], and we are not.

“We are not happy, but to be honest it’s good not to be happy when you win races and you do podiums. It means that expectations were high, for a reason, and it means that we have worked well the past few seasons.

“If you had told us a couple of years ago to do this kind of championship with victories, a win starting from P13, I would have signed immediately - but now I don't feel happy. It’s good to have this feeling, but it would be better to have more.

“It’s not easy even to keep this trend, because when performance is getting high and the level of MotoGP is already very high, I was hoping that the last few years it was growing so much to make an easy life for us, but unfortunately our competitors are not sleeping at all.”

As Rivola says, Aprilia's aim was to move up a place to second in the constructors' championship beyond the all-conquering Ducatis. Instead it repeated 2022's third, now far ahead of Yamaha but vaulted by KTM. And 374 points behind Ducati this time, nearly double 2022's 200-point gap.

That's despite how good the RS-GP looked at parts through the season. So what exactly went wrong? There were obvious errors on track, but one thing Rivola is quick to highlight is a focus on starting the weekend strong that he now admits might have been in error.

“Most of the time,” he explained, “we see Aprilia the winner of Friday, which is absolutely useless.

"It’s disappointing even more because it raises your expectations at the beginning of the weekend.

“You say, ‘OK, this weekend will be good’ but too many times it was not. This should also be a way for us to think if we are working in the right way or not, and maybe we have to think twice about that.

“But also, with this kind of rule where in FP2 you need to have a sort of qualifying, you are scared about not being in Q2.

"Just working for the Sunday race, maybe you can do it if your bike level is very high, like Pecco [Bagnaia]. We saw him lost sometimes on Friday and then winning the race.

"Or if you have a start like KTM where you can recover three rows [of positions] very easily.

"But if you work normally, this is the outcome.”

KTM and Ducati were technically Aprilia's 2023 opponents. But really its biggest enemy was itself, with a number of high-profile errors, mistakes and technical issues costing it on track, something that the team boss admits must be stamped down on in 2024.

“The disappointment of the season,” said Rivola, “is that if I think really deeply about every single weekend, we lost so many points for one reason or another, one that may be a paying off of the first half of the season last year where everything was going right and Aleix was always there.

“The worst thing that we can do is overreact when things are not going right. If you look at the first half of the season, we were really underperforming - or not underperforming, but underachieving results.

“We stayed calm, we kept pushing, and then we had two amazing victories."

One of the positives Rivola cites is the rider line-up. He holds Espargaro and Maverick Vinales accountable for the opportunities they let slip, but also praises their speed and hints their best is still yet to come.

“Good things are that Aleix has confirmed that still he can be very, very fast with this bike,” he explained.

“Bad things with him are that he has been a bit up and down too much. Too many crashes, I would say, compared to the previous season in particular.

“Regarding Maverick, again some ups and downs, but I will say that generally he is getting on with the bike. He has the bike in his hands.

"What is missing is clearly the victory, not just to win a race but to take the last doubts out of him.

“It’s that kind of thing that then you can ride more relaxed, with a bit more confidence. The kind of thing that helps a rider’s confidence in general."

In fact he thinks that rider confidence lift might be the element that really makes the difference for Aprilia in 2024.

“We can see that if we put everything in the right things, we can be fast. It’s a lot about details, and we need to work more carefully about the details.

“The guys that are regularly beating us, I would say is just Ducati, and I come back again that they have a huge advantage with eight bikes.

“How do you fix that? Teamwork pays a lot, so we need to remember what we did so far and understand, really understand, why we were not fast in some races.

"If the rider is in the right environment, it can make the difference.

“So that extra, to compensate for the gap, can come from the rider. I am convinced about that.”

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