"From a rational point of view, I think that this could be the year in which we can catch the others. This is a target, a real target for this season" - those were the words of Aprilia MotoGP technical director Romano Albesiano following the official presentation of the latest RS-GP.

While its rival MotoGP manufacturers all took a podium last season, four of the five also winning races, the Noale factory's best result slipped from sixth to eighth place.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for a heavily redesigned machine that Aleix Espargaro repeatedly called the best RS-GP he had even ridden, albeit with acceleration as its Achilles' heel.

That 2020 bike, with a cylinder V-angle modified from 70 to 90 degrees, had its first Shakedown in January, but the following Covid technical freeze removed the chance to fix reliability issues or introduce performance upgrades.

Now the only manufacturer still benefitting from technical concessions, clearing the way for engine modifications during 2021, like all manufacturers Aprilia has worked on every aspect of its machine over the winter.

"Closing the gap is always a mix of everything. Last year I think Suzuki was maybe not the best in each single aspect but a very good balanced bike," said Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola.

"I think from the aerodynamic point of view we did a huge step. I think we are at a very high level, maybe one of the best on the grid.

"Chassis-side Aprilia has an historic background that is very positive. Electronics side we did a good step but we know that we have margin [to improve] and we are working on it with people now to keep doing that job.

"I think at the moment the engine is the weak point. The engine guys did a superb job because in only one and half years we changed completely from 70-degrees to 90-degrees V.

"This year we are changing the overhead cylinder. So we are changing a lot. We will need a bit more time to develop the engine and to test more on the bench."

"We tested a prototype of the new bike at the end of last year in Jerez and then again in Jerez a few weeks ago, and both of these tests have been very positive," Albesiano added.

"I think that the good point would be the handling, the rideability, the dynamic behaviour of the bike was quite good last year, and it seems like it has improved quite a lot this year.

"The package between the dynamic of the bike and the aerodynamics. Also the engine, driveability, the torque delivery seems to be another big step, similar to what we did from 2019-2020.

"So I think we shouldn't have any real weak point. But to be fully honest, I would feel fully satisfied with some improvement in peak power, which is a target we will hopefully grab this season."

Albesiano also explained that the technical freeze hit Aprilia hard in terms of aerodynamics as well as engine development.

"The aerodynamics on last year's bike were designed to have a second version, but this was made impossible by the rules because of the pandemic," he said.

"So we raced all last season with a low downforce configuration which we had assumed would only be used in a couple of races. Now this year we have had an opportunity to adjust this, which for me is one of the most important.

"According to the rules, we can use the 2020 aero configuration, plus another configuration. But we have made a big step from the 2020 to the 2021, so we will have only one [aerodynamic] option for 2021."

Turning to other areas of the bike, Albesiano revealed: "The weight has been reduced. It's the first time we are clearly under the minimum weight, so we can play with some ballast and some extra devices without increasing the weight too much.

"The engine has new cylinder heads, with a more modern concept. The rear swingarm is in carbon, we reduced the weight again and we are open to better stiffness characteristic. And the rear seat is important because it affects the vibratory behaviour of the motorcycle.

"We suffer from chatter many times in the past, probably we have understood some basic concepts related to the stiffness of the rear seat that will allow us to avoid this kind of problem in the future."

All of which means that, "in theory this bike is better than last year's, so the gap should be even more reduced. We hope that this means the gap is zero! But we won't know until we get on the track."

That will happen tomorrow (Friday) when the new RS-GP will get a taste of its 2021 competition during the Qatar Shakedown, open to factory test riders, rookies and race riders from Concession manufacturers. The first of five days of Offiical testing then starts on Saturday.

Espargaro will spearhead the RS-GP project for the fifth season in a row, being joined by rookie Lorenzo Savadori, who has been promoted from test rider.

"I think Aleix has the ability to show the potential of the bike," Albesiano said. "Lorenzo of course, we don't know, it's his first season, we believe in his potential, but we can't say we are absolutely sure he will be the measure to understand the level of the bike. Aleix will be that."

"I think step-by-step we are reaching the top. It’s still far away, but personally I think it's less far than it looks at the moment," said Rivola, before touching on Aprilia's suspected budget size relative to its competitors.

"If the bike is as good as I expect and think, we can show that we don’t need such a huge budget to be competitive.

"I would like to underline that in such a difficult year, the fact that we got three new partners like Castrol, Came, Kaspersky means that the job and the direction we are taking is not totally wrong."

 

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