With the announcement that Max Biaggi will hang up his helmet alongside his 2012 World Superbike Championship trophy, attention now turns to who will replace him on the title-winning Aprilia RSV-4.
Ending months of speculation over his future, Biaggi's revelation that he will step away from racing in the wake of his second WSBK title is expected to kick-start a series of moves in the rider market, which has been notably static during the post-season period when compared with previous years.
Indeed, as yet only 11 riders having been officially confirmed for 2013, the market seemingly stalling as Biaggi considered his options. With that decision made, fierce competition for the spot alongside Eugene Laverty at Aprilia can now ensue…
The apparent favourite for the ride is Sylvain Guintoli, the Frenchman immediately linked with Aprilia (even before Biaggi's retirement announcement) when it was revealed he was holding out on alternative deal to the one FIXI Crescent Suzuki claimed he had with them.
Then again, three-time WSBK race winner Guintoli – who is the highest-placed rider in the 2012 standings yet to have his 2013 plans determined – has been linked with several rides since the end of the season, with rumours placing him on the proposed Alstare Ducati for next year too.
If Guintoli is indeed Ducati-bound for 2013, Aprilia may decide to entrust rider duties to another Italian rider capable of filling Biaggi's hallowed boots. Looking within World Superbikes, Davide Giugliano was impressive – if occasionally erratic – during his maiden WSBK season, while he could now be a free agent following the confirmation of Althea and Ducati's split.
However, it has been noted that Giugliano remains on an Althea contract, so if Genesio Bevilacqua decides to take his team to another manufacturer (rumours suggest BMW or Kawasaki), the young Italian will likely follow.
Another Italian without a ride for 2013, Ayrton Badovini may endured a troubled season in 2012, but flashes of speed – coupled to his WSBK maiden podium at Silverstone – could make him a savvy choice. He is also the only rider to have made the notoriously tricky Superstock RSV4 a race winner (even if he was later disqualified for a technical irregularity).
Elsewhere, Aprilia could seek experience from the likes of Jakub Smrz and Noriyuki Haga, both of whom have ridden a satellite RSV4 in World Superbikes and whose future plans remain unknown.
Those are our suggestions, but we want to know who you want to land the champion's ride for 2013?
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