Skip to content


In the last handful of MotoGP seasons, Aprilia Racing has gone from also-ran to one of the most competitive teams in the paddock. We chat to the bigwigs to find out how

Not that you’d have known if from the long faces in the Aprilia Racing box as the 2022 season drew to a close. But this year was one of the high points in the Noale factory’s history, whose team, lead rider and much-improved RS-GP carried out a campaign of pleasant surprise to so nearly shake up the MotoGP establishment. Only at the final hurdle did it fall. 

Yes, Pecco Bagnaia mounted the biggest reversal in premier-class history. But it would be no grand overstatement to assert Aprilia’s rise from a project showing potential, yet one with a propensity to be its own worst enemy, to flower into unlikely challengers for the MotoGP title was ultimately the year’s biggest surprise. 


Forget the final five rounds, when Aleix Espargaro’s title challenge dispersed with two non-scores, rendering the lively Catalan to a ball of monosyllabic misery after the year’s final race. The very fact that he and Aprilia harboured realistic goals of winning the title with two races to go was a stunning achievement in itself. Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola had spoken of his hopes for the factory to be “the sort of underdog, the little bastard” of the class in April. And it succeeded, ending the year in a stronger position than at any other time in its MotoGP history. Going into the off-season, it can now boast a satellite team (RNF) to bolster its position in 2023. 

Massimo Rivola (left) joined Aprilia as its racing boss from F1

As a factory that amassed 54 world championship victories in classes including 125cc, 250cc and World Superbike, Aprilia is no stranger to success. Yet its presence in MotoGP since it returned in an official capacity in 2015 didn’t always give the impression it was destined for the pinnacle of the sport. For a factory that amassed just five podiums and a best championship finish of eighth across 16 years of officially competing in the class of kings, the past 20 races make for absolute standout reading.


Espargaro at the 2022 Malaysian GP

Across the year, Espargaro notched up the factory’s first premier-class win and pole position in the four-stroke era in Argentina. On that same day he became the first Aprilia rider to ever lead the premier-class championship. His 212 points accumulated at the end of the year were 92 more than any previous Aprilia-mounted rider had managed. And up until the autumnal end of the European season, the RS-GP was considered among the grid’s best bikes, even on a par with Ducati’s awesome title-winning Desmosedici. 

From an occasional ragtag operation to a MotoGP heavyweight in just two years

It is quite the turnaround for the factory that had as many blunders as it did successes in the four years after its official re-entry into MotoGP in 2015 after 11 years away. At the end of 2018, one wondered what Aprilia was exactly achieving in the class. Fielding a MotoGP bike obviously isn’t cheap, and so often the operation had a ragtag element to it. Why were there so many engine blow ups? And why did each one of Espargaro’s teammates get the cold shoulder so soon into their tenures? When Scott Redding’s frustrations at events behind the scenes boiled over in Austria that year, his comment “There are so many things that… in a team of this level should not be happening” really stood out. 


Precious memory: Espargaro and Aprilia celebrate their first MotoGP victory in Argentina

But the first shoots of recovery were evident prior to 2019, when the factory began to put its house in order. Recognising Technical Director Romano Albesiano was totally stretched, Massimo Rivola – formerly of Minardi/Toro Rosso and Ferrari in Formula 1 – was brought in as Aprilia Racing CEO to look after team management. This proved a pivotal moment. 

Inside talk: Espargaro and Vinales at the 2022 post-season test at Valencia

“In the past Albesiano was in charge of almost everything,” Espargaro said this year. “Massimo started to change the organisation in Noale and the way they work, while Romano started to be more focused on the development of the bike. The organisation by Massimo has been the key.”


Esparagaro chats to the boss at the Italian GP where he scored a strong third place

It’s hard to argue. Now focused solely on technical details, Albesiano has successfully developed the factory’s 90-degree V4 engine, which replaced the 75-degree V4 used from 2016 and 2019 – to the point it was outrunning Ducati in a straight line during the first races of this year. 

“We have two or three seasons in front of us without major changes on the bike,” said the Technical Director in 2021. “We know performance comes from refinement, generally not from revolution.” 


Rivola used 2019 to assess the resources already at Aprilia’s disposal before convincing the Piaggio Group, which acquired the Italian factory in 2004, to plough more into its MotoGP project. “The company has invested a lot more in recent seasons,” Albesiano told AMCN. “This has allowed us to hire the people, to have more material, to make more engines for development. When we started, we had really a different approach, not probably a MotoGP-level approach. Now we have. The more you have, the more competitive you can be. Now it’s sufficient to be at a good level.

At the 2022 Dutch TT, where Espargaro was taken out by Quartararo before mounting a superb rearguard action

“When we started this MotoGP adventure, we had some knowledge in the racing department which we believed was enough – it wasn’t. So, we had to build a lot. Year by year we learned and we proved, myself first, and all the guys with me. We got more material, more people. It’s been an overall increase in the potential.”


Esparagaro chats to the boss at the Italian GP where he scored a strong third place

Soon it wasn’t just the company’s racing CEO that could boast of Formula 1 credentials; Rivola was able to convince a number of names from his previous paddock to try their hand at two wheels – a transition that had limited success in the bike world previously. Former Ferrari engineer Luca Marmoni was one name to collaborate on evolving the RS-GP’s 90-degree V4 engine over the winter of 2020-21. And other names formerly with Ferrari were brought in to understand and develop the complex aerodynamics that can aid acceleration and turning on two wheels. At times, Toyota’s wind tunnel in Cologne, Germany was used. 

Home treats: Espargaro acknowledges the crowd at the Spanish GP in May

“In our team we have people in the aerodynamic department who came from car racing,” said Albesiano. “The level of development of aerodynamics in car racing is unbelievable. These people have been very clever to adapt to motorcycles. I’ve seen many people coming from the car industry to transit to the motorcycle industry and, for many, it has been difficult to change their minds. But our guys have worked well. For them it’s like when Christopher Columbus went to America: it’s a new world, like nobody had gone there before. It’s not just optimising something, but discovering something new. And it’s really exciting.”


. Getting cuddly with Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Dorna racing boss

Other working methods, used effectively in Formula 1 and by Ducati in MotoGP, were implemented. Like more advanced means of analysing data by a number of specialised technicians, including a handful based in Noale. Also, an effective test team, using a number of engineers previously employed in World Superbike, was established. 

In Austria, where Aprilia test rider Lorenzo Savadori (#32) competed as a wildcard

“When we started we had a very classic approach,” Albesiano admitted. “The analysis of the data was an average level – not the level you need here. Then, brick by brick, we’ve built something that has been, at times, too complex. But the level of analysis we do now is very high. Adding some people with the right experience, and getting back people that left Aprilia years before, and then rejoining in this new wave, has been another kick. If you came to the garage four years ago, and now, you wouldn’t realise you’re in the same team. 


The Aprilia pit at the 2022 Japanese GP

“We also have people in Noale that check the data. We are continuously in contact with them, (saying), ‘please check this tyre behaviour…’ They then answer back. It’s like Formula 1’s remote garage concept. Okay, they have dozens of people. We have two or three good guys that do a good job.”

Rivola at the Valencia test in November last year

The Covid-afflicted 2020 aside, when the factory was caught out by the aerodynamic freeze, the project has gone from strength to strength. As Rivola noted in Argentina in April: “Every year we are reducing (the gap to) the leader. (It was a) 30sec average (to the race winner) in 2019 at the end of the race. (Then) 20sec in 2020, 10sec in 2021.
“And now we are very close so the target was to be 5sec (off).”


Aprilia has taken giant strides since Romano Albesiano has taken a more hands-on technical role

Another feather in Rivola’s cap was attracting the rider alongside Espargaro. While the experienced Catalan has been a factory mainstay since 2017, so often the other side of the garage had fallen into disarray. The stays of grand prix winners and world champion Stefan Bradl, Sam Lowes and Scott Redding were deeply troubled before Andrea Iannone eventually lost a place due to doping. Finding a rider to take over from the Italian at the end of 2020 was problematic. Three names in Moto2 – Marco Bezzecchi, Aron Canet and Joe Roberts – were all offered the seat for the following year; all three turned it down. 

Aleix and his daughter Mia

Yet that ultimately worked in Aprilia’s favour. For it was on hand to offer Viñales a lifeline in August, 2021 when his relationship with Yamaha spectacularly disintegrated. 

Knowing the mercurial characteristics of the former Moto3 World Champion, Aprilia knew it needed to adopt a different approach when managing him. The human aspect of Rivola’s approach could be seen when welcoming Viñales to the Noale project for the first time. 

“How we make Vinales feel is the key to everything,” he told the gathered engineers, as seen in the MotoGP Unlimited series. “We must put him at the heart of the project, like we’re integrating our own child.” 


Espargaro’s final podium for the season: a third place at Aragon

It didn’t take long for Race Manager Paolo Bonora to understand how to approach his new rider. “When we met him, we immediately found a rider with an open mind,” he told AMCN. “That showed to us he needed trust, to have each engineer and mechanic close to him, and they needed to give him the trust. When he feels the trust coming from the guys close to him, he gives his best.

“He’s a very sensitive rider. But we need to keep him in a comfortable situation without pushing him so hard. He is a big talent. It’s necessary to keep him calm to allow him to push to his limits.”

Aleix Espargaro, Malaysian MotoGP, 22 October 2022

 The rider was guarded closely, put under little pressure. Let’s not forget, 2021 wasn’t just a nadir in Viñales’ career with all that went wrong at Yamaha; it was a low point on a personal level, too, after the death of his cousin Dean Berta in a 300 Supersport race. Even at the start of this season, the Noale factory understood it had to reduce the high expectations Viñales already had.


Aprilia has been at the leading edge of MotoGP aerodynamics

“We didn’t put pressure on him,” said Bonora. “It was the correct way because at the moment he’s without pressure. He’s giving his best, thinking about podiums or winning, but with only positive (energy) – much like what we did with Aleix earlier this year.” This approach bore fruit midseason, with Viñales not just backing up his teammate but beating him. This was another first: two Aprilias fighting at the front. 

Espargaro and Quartararo after qualifying first and third respectively at Catalunya

Ultimately, Aprilia just fell short in the search for ultimate glory. It was rumoured that a shortage of new parts contributed to Espargaro’s haul of just 18 points from the final five rounds, with crucial technical errors in Japan and Australia leading him to conclude: “We’re not ready to fight for the title.” Albesiano admitted the factory is still unable to explain inexplicable poor performances in Thailand and Malaysia. 


Miller, Bagnaia and Espargaro after bagging the podium spots at the 2022 French GP

“We had this incident in Motegi which was just a trivial mistake,” he said. “This has been a hammer blow on his championship. Then in Thailand, we had troubles with grip for the very first time. This was surprising. It was one of the two races we still need to understand. 

“In Phillip Island we had quite a good race, except a detail in the traction control setting. A very small mistake, and nobody’s perfect. And then we had Malaysia, which was the second race to understand. He expected more because we were so fast there in winter testing. So, we need to understand to be more solid in the performance in the future.”

Aprilia Race Manager Paolo Bonora has spent a lot of time working alongside Vinales

Even Espargaro, devastated at losing third place in the Rider’s Championship at the final race, had previously admitted this year will soon come to be viewed as a major success. 

“Our season has been incredible,” he said prior to the final round. “Last year we celebrated the podium of Silverstone like a victory, like historic and this year we won a race, took 5-6 podiums, took pole positions and fought for the title until the end, so it doesn’t matter what happen in Valencia. Our season has been a 10 out of 10.”  


Interview Neil Morrison + Photography Gold&Goose