UPDATE: Maverick Vinales revealed in Malaysia on November 9: "We have a system but the championship banned it, so we go back to the standard clutch! Now the starts are difficult again. That was the difference.

"Until Australia, we were using a different way to start but now it has been banned and we cannot use it. So we are with a standard procedure."

ORIGINAL report, posted November 1: Espargaro and Vinales had often struggled off the line until around the middle stages of this season, most graphically illustrated at Jerez, when pole qualifier Espargaro lost out to both KTMs in all four race starts (including restarts).

While still not a consistent match for the holeshot capabilities of the factory Ducatis and KTMs, Aprilia looks to have made substantial progress since.

While Ducati’s latest launch upgrade means the factory GP23s now drop visibly lower compared to the 2022 Desmosedicis, and all factories are trying to get as close to the ground as possible for anti-wheelie benefits, the cause of Aprilia (and KTMs) starting progress this season is less obvious.

Much attention at Aprilia is known to have been focused on the clutch, an area where it felt KTM and Ducati were ahead, with a carbon version introduced earlier this year.

While such work has likely helped, paddock gossip at Buriram suggested some factories also have a method of effectively optimising the release of the clutch lever.

‘We don’t have the system’

Fernandez spoke only of ‘the system’ but seemed to confirm it is not the clutch itself.

“The problem is… We have different clutches to try [during the season] but what we don’t have is the system that they have on the factory [Aprilias],” Fernandez said on Saturday, after slipping from 14th on the grid to 18th.

“Because in the factory [team] they can start more or less well. We start very bad. It’s too sensitive and we don’t get a solution. I say in all the meetings that I have with them; if we start better, we will do a better race.”

Exactly what that ‘the system’ is remains unclear.

The technical rules covering clutches are brief, specifying that while the use of hydraulic or pneumatic powered systems are generally not allowed, an exception is made for:

‘Normal hydraulic hand/foot controls such as master/slave cylinders for brakes/clutch, where pressure is built and released only by the rider’s force.’

Twin clutch transmission systems (DSG), Continuously Variable Transmission systems (CVT) and Automatic transmission systems are not permitted. ‘Manual transmissions with gearshifts assisted by quick-shifter systems are permitted’.

Crash.net understands that each MotoGP factory must provide a schematic diagram of its clutch system to the Technical Director.

This needs to show that a rider has complete control of the clutch, meaning the release of the lever should be directly related to the amount of movement of the clutch plates.

As an example, electronics cannot be used ‘in between’ the lever and clutch plates, in the way that an ECU interprets throttle movements to deliver a preset torque output.

One theory is that some factories might have found a way to optimise or control the release of the clutch lever.

In other words, effectively matching how quickly the lever ‘springs back’ to its normal position (when released by the rider after the red lights go out) with the ideal release speed needed to feed in the power. Launch Control electronics already decide the maximum rpm.

‘We are like a turtle!’

Fernandez insists he doesn’t know what the new Aprilia start ‘system’ is - but remains adamant that it clearly works:

“If I look at his [factory rider] data, I saw that his [acceleration] speed is coming high and we are like a turtle! Too slow,” he smiled after the Sprint.

“I don’t know what they have but they can start very, very well and if I see some races from the last year, I saw that Maverick had the same problem as us, with the same [2022] bike.

“They have something better because if not, why do they start well? And in our case, it’s very difficult.”

But after struggling all year, the young Spaniard left Thailand with reason to be optimistic for the final three rounds, after finally getting a decent getaway in Sunday’s grand prix.

“I don’t know why [I got a good start], but what I like is that we did it, so now we can do it again,” he said. “We need to see what we did [on the data] and copy, copy, copy!”

Fernandez was up to twelfth place after the opening corners of the grand prix.

The young Spaniard reached a high of ninth before dropping to 15th in the closing stages due to fatigue from the intense heat emitted by the RS-GP, which also caused Vinales to retire and Espargaro to battle for breath.