Aprilia's announcement that it will give the second RS-GP race seat, the last remaining place on the 2021 MotoGP grid, to either Bradley Smith or Lorenzo Savadori is sure to add some spice to the team's pre-season testing.

The vacancy alongside Aleix Espargaro became official when Andrea Iannone's anti-doping saga ended in a four-year ban, issued by the CAS in November.

With the likes of Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and Moto2 riders Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio di Giannantonio and Joe Roberts then turning down the Aprilia chance, the factory opted to retain both Smith and fellow test rider Savadori.

"Aleix will obviously be our top rider [for 2021]," explained Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola. "The roles of second rider and test rider will be decided at the end of the winter test schedule."

Smith, 30, is a veteran of six MotoGP seasons, spent at Tech3 Yamaha (two podiums) and then Red Bull KTM. He replaced Iannone for most of the 2020 world championship, scoring points in five of his 11 appearances with a best result of twelfth.

The Englishman also gave Aprilia it's only 'P1' of the season by leading opening practice at Le Mans, but didn't beat Espargaro in any race they both finished.

Former WorldSBK rider Savadori, 27, then took over to make his MotoGP debut in the final three rounds of the season, retiring from two races and finishing 18th in the other.

"Lorenzo has also shown significant progress in just three races and we know that we can count on Bradley’s professionalism and experience," Rivola said.

How will Aprilia decide who gets the race seat?

In the past, pitting team-mates against each other in pursuit of a similar prize has naturally created tension, including when Pramac riders Scott Redding and Danilo Petrucci battled over who would get upgraded to Factory Ducati machinery at the team the following season.

It was decided that the fairest approach was to award the 2017 Factory bike to the rider scoring the most points over the remaining rounds of 2016, but that meant each rider became fixated on beating the other and they eventually clashed on track.

While not at risk of losing any points, Aprilia's situation carries a twist in that Smith and Savadori will be 'auditioning' for the race place while carrying out essential early development work on the new RS-GP.

Assuming no additional private tests, the pair will be on track for the Sepang Shakedown and Official Test in February, followed by the Qatar Test, where the new season is currently set to begin on March 28.

Aprilia told Crash.net that similar amounts of track time and bike spec are planned for both riders, but insisted Smith and Savadori are not locked in a 'race' for the full-time seat.

Decision 'not based on pure results'

Tell two riders they are in contention for something important and the natural urge will be to try and impress by going faster than the other.

That might provide added 'motivation' during a racing season, albeit with the pitfalls seen in the Pramac example. But Aprilia knows if the Smith or Savadori decision were to be made purely by who goes faster at Sepang and Qatar it would "ruin" the factory's pre-season testing plans, which no doubt involve careful evaluation of different parts and settings, plus reliability runs. Time lost and parts damaged due to 'needless' accidents while pushing for the fastest lap time will be the last thing they need.

As such, the team are emphasising that whatever happens both riders know they will have a job for 2021, either racing or testing. And the test rider may also get the chance to make wild-card appearances.

 

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