What a difference a year has made for Aprilia?

This time twelve months ago it was preparing for its first World Superbike season in seven years, harbouring fairly modest dreams of developing in a racing environment, its outlook set firmly on the future.

Fast forward to 2010 and the future is very much now as Aprilia head into the new season with bold title aspirations.

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Their optimism certainly isn't misplaced, the Italian manufacturer exceeding expectations last season, the pretty and nimble RSV-4 proving both fast and reliable, while Max Biaggi gave glimpses of his best form to lift the team to fourth in the rider standings.

With podiums and a race win already ticked off the list, provided Aprilia can maintain its linear progress into 2010, there is good reason to believe it can be a season-long rival to Ducati, Yamaha et al.

Indeed, the RSV-4 already has a fine base from which Aprilia is working on, the team spending the winter curing some of the braking and handling issues that negated its superior straight-line speed at times in 2009. Furthermore, Aprilia will be working around acquired data for the first time in 2010, a benefit that should see them up front from the start of the race weekends.

In a personal sense, Biaggi looks at home with Aprilia and very comfortable on the compact bike, an affinity that is delivering results on the tarmac and is likely to continue doing so. Indeed, there is a sense Aprilia has engineered the bike around Biaggi and he is flourishing as a result.

What that means for new team-mate Leon Camier remains to be seen - Biaggi already sees him as his 'wingman' this season. Nonetheless, while Aprilia may be keen to focus on Biaggi in 2010, the young Briton has an outstanding opportunity to flourish on quality machinery.

The learning curve will be steep in places as he learns new circuits, but Camier is rightly treating this as a long-term project, using 2010 as a chance to progress in acclaimed surroundings before launching an assault in 2011 - it certainly worked for him at GSE Racing in the British series.

Other notable developments for Aprilia in 2010 will be its new title sponsor having secured high-profile backing from Italy's national airliner Alitalia. A brand that has had iconic links with motorsport in the past, the distinctively liveried RSV-4 will at least make an impression in the style stakes.

Unfortunately, however, there will be no satellite representation to back up the manufacturer in 2010, despite rumours to the contrary towards the end of last season.

Indeed, it appeared Borciani and Guandalini Racing were close to securing at least one RSV-4 for 2010, but ongoing talks eventually broke down and the newly formed B&G team opted to stick with Ducati machinery.

Aprilia Alitalia Max Biaggi Leon Camier