As the clock ticks toward the beginning of the first MotoGP test of 2016, it is believed that Aprilia riders Alvaro Bautista and Stefan Bradl will not have the new RS-GP machine at their disposal at Sepang.
Indeed sources close to the Noale factory indicate the team will not participate in the second off-season test at Phillip Island from the 17th to 19th of February, and have instead chosen to conduct a private shakedown in Qatar in the middle of that month.
Along with the Losail track being logistically closer to Europe than Australia, the news suggests Aprilia is already playing catch up in its pre-season preparations, and wants to give the new machine a run out in a private setting, away from the public's prying eye, to ensure everything is working at a sufficient level.
The team then aims to be present at the final official test, again in Qatar, at the beginning of March, just two weeks before the first round of the new season gets underway.
In arguably a year which sees the biggest technical change in the premier class since 2007, as teams and riders come to terms with Michelin's new tyre characteristics and Magneti Marelli's spec ECU software, the news will represent a set back for Bautista and Bradl.
Both riders struggled with the significant changes in Valencia at the close of 2015 with Bautista crashing twice, leading the Spaniard to revert to his old electronics (because of “too much difference”) for the first two days at a test in Jerez at the close of November.
In hindsight, the ex-125cc world champion's reaction in Andalusia was telling. Asked if he was worried more by the change in tyres or electronics, Bautista quipped, “For next year I am worried about the tyres, the electronics and the new bike!”
The two-time MotoGP podium man added that he had not seen any physical evidence of the '16 machine, which he hopes will be smaller and lighter than its predecessor, and continued, “It's only in the computer now … but, no, I don't see the project. I hope Aprilia will send me some pictures!”
Bradl added that “everywhere” in the '16 electronics package needed improvement. “On acceleration the traction control is not good enough and with the engine brake you cannot really trust it. I couldn't find confidence.”
With the new machine unavailable for the Sepang test from February 1st-3rd, its riders will continue to acclimatise to the electronics package and gather data from the Michelin tyres.
Thus it leaves the Italian factory with a minor mountain to climb, as Bautista and Bradl have just two tests to effectively adapt to and combine three substantially new elements of set-up.
It is also rumoured that test rider Mike Di Meglio will debut the '16 spec RS-GP machine in a private test at Aragon at the beginning of February, before Aprilia's full-time riders sample it for the first time.