It might be an exaggeration to call today's news that Andrea Dovizioso is to test the Aprilia RS-GP MotoGP bike at Jerez from April 12th to 14th a bombshell, but it certainly raised a few eyebrows. The Italian had previously turned down the offer of a full-time ride with the Noale factory for 2021, despite Aprilia extensively courting his services. So for Aprilia to offer a test ride is no surprise. For Dovizioso to accept is certainly interesting.
The press release announced by Aprilia states very clearly that this is not an audition for a permanent ride. "It will not be a ‘trial matrimony’ but an opportunity to turn some laps together without any binding commitment for the future," Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola is quoted as saying. But the fact that Dovizioso accepted the offer suggest that may change in the future.
The reasons for that are self-evident. When Dovizioso announced he would be taking a sabbatical for the 2021 season, he made it clear that he still wanted to race, but would only accept offers which give him a chance to challenge for the championship. At the end of 2020, the racing an Aprilia RS-GP in the factory Aprilia team did not look like being the opportunity he was looking for. What's more, the uncertainty surrounding the future of Marc Márquez meant that there was the potential for a seat in the factory Repsol Honda team, at least until Márquez returned.
Much has changed since October and November last year, however. It became clear quite quickly that HRC had no appetite for Andrea Dovizioso, given how strongly Stefan Bradl performed in the last few races, and, paddock rumor suggests, the Italian's financial and practical demands. Talks with KTM failed on similar issues, with KTM in the luxury position of having Dani Pedrosa as a test rider. Dovizioso turned down the offer of a test rider role at Yamaha, as the chances of anything more than a few wildcards and the possibility of replacing in injured rider seemed very slim indeed.
In the last few weeks, Dovizioso's chances have shrunk even further. Marc Márquez' recovery after injury has gone better than the six-time MotoGP champion might have dared to hope, and the Spaniard could be riding a MotoGP bike as early as Qatar. That would remove any last lingering hopes Dovizioso may have had of a replacement role with the Japanese factory.
And so, Aprilia is all that is left. But there are positive reasons for considering the Aprilia ride as well. While the RS-GP looked uncompetitive last year, hamstrung by reliability and engine issues, the Qatar tests suggest that the Noale factory has made a big step forward. The problems raised by changing engine configurations to a 90°V angle have largely been addressed, and Aprilia technical boss Romano Albesiano has had a chance to improve and update his design.
The improvements in the bike were also visible on the timesheets. Aleix Espargaro was not just quick over a single lap – the Spaniard finished the second test at Qatar as sixth fastest overall, hale a second behind fastest man Jack Miller – he was also fast in terms of race pace, his average lap time being consistently in the top three or four.
And Aprilia have a glaring problem. Lorenzo Savadori's promotion from test rider to full-time 2021 entry has not gone to plan, the Italian suffering badly with a shoulder injury during testing. Savadori was dead last among the full-time grid, and slower than Suzuki test rider Sylvain Guintoli and KTM's Dani Pedrosa. Bradley Smith, meanwhile, is still looking for a full-time ride as a racer and is still wary of taking on solely a testing role.
So both sides have something to gain from this temporary alliance. Aprilia get the benefit of feedback from one of the best development riders in MotoGP. Andrea Dovizioso gets the chance to assess where the Aprilia stands, how easy it is to work with Aprilia Racing staff, and how willing they are to listen to him. Aprilia also get a few races to see how Lorenzo Savadori gets on in MotoGP, and to reexamine their testing program.
Does this make Aprilia offering Dovizioso a full-time ride, and Dovizioso accepting it, inevitable? Not necessarily, but the odds are looking better for it every day. Aprilia is Dovizioso's only chance of riding this year, and his best chance of scoring a contract for 2022 and beyond. If he isn't riding, and racing, then the MotoGP teams will look to Moto2, and the pool of talent there ready to make the jump to MotoGP, with riders such as Marco Bezzecchi, Remy Gardner, Fabio Di Giannantonio, Augusto Fernandez, Aron Canet, Joe Roberts, and more.
The final hurdle such an alliance would face comes from the rulebook. With Lorenzo Savadori down as Aprilia's full-time entry, replacing him with Dovizioso is not an automatic option. Once the entry list is finalized, any changes to permanent riders must be approved by IRTA. Acceptance is not automatic, but rejection is very unlikely. Andrea Dovizioso is a bigger draw for the sport than Lorenzo Savadori, and so IRTA are likely to rubber stamp the decision.
The official press release from Aprilia appears below:
ANDREA DOVIZIOSO WILL TEST THE NEW APRILIA RS-GP
Aprilia Racing and Andrea Dovizioso will be together on the track in Jerez from 12 through 14 April.
Andrea will conduct a test on the 2021 RS-GP that will race in the World MotoGP Championship and which, ridden in its début tests by Aleix Espargaró and Lorenzo Savadori, provided good sensations straight away.
MASSIMO RIVOLA - AD APRILIA RACING
“It was a pleasure to invite Andrea. The days in Jerez will simply be a chance to get to know one another better, also on the track. It will not be a ‘trial matrimony’ but an opportunity to turn some laps together without any binding commitment for the future. We are well aware of all Andrea’s qualities and his contribution will be important, even for just one test.”
“I was pleased by Aprilia’s interest and when we spoke about the possibility of doing this test, I gladly accepted the invitation to be able to ride a MotoGP bike again and to stay in form, giving the engineers my feedback. I wish to thank Aprilia Racing for this opportunity.”
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