Ahead of the MotoGP opening race on 28 March, the Qatar tests proved to be a real surprise for Team Aprilia Racing. Perhaps more for us than for the Noale manufacturer, which has worked hard over the winter to bring a 2021 RS-GP that appears every bit as good as its rivals. But will that be the case on race day?
Lap times don’t lie
If we bear in mind that Aprilia is the only remaining manufacturer to enjoy concessions in 2021, the results obtained by Aleix Espargaró during Qatar testing are truly amazing. The Aprilia rider never dropped out of the top ten and rounded out the three-day test with the sixth fastest time, a 1:53.640, to finish less than half a second from Jack Miller on the Ducati.
A success for both the Spaniard and the entire team, whose efforts appear to finally be paying off. But will the tests be a litmus test for the Italian team, or might the 2021 season fail to live up to expectations?
If we look at last year’s Qatar tests, which took place before Covid-19 shut everything down, Aleix Espargaró finished thirteenth at the end of the three days with a best time of 1:54.432. This year he was almost eight tenths quicker than last year, also considering that in 2020 the man who made the best lap was Vinales, in 1:53.858, Espargaró closing 0.574 of a second behind the leader.
But we can’t look at last year’s race data of course, as the Losail race was cancelled due to Covid-19. What is certain is that the level of all riders has picked up, as has that of the Aprilia, which could well be fighting for a top ten finish in the first and second races of the year, both in Qatar.
Could it do more? Unless there are crashes or unexpected problems, probably not. Ducati and Yamaha have proved too strong, quick, and well-prepared and the other manufacturers are unlikely to get a look in, at least early on. But this doesn’t mean that the Veneto team can’t aim for strong results throughout the season. Time will tell, the season is long and there are plenty of unknowns.
Translated by Heather Watson