An exclusive interview with Aprilia Racing manager Romano Albesiano, covering the team's all-new 2017 rider line-up of Sam Lowes and Aleix Espargaro, strengths and weakness of this year's redesigned RS-GP machine, the MotoGP wing ban and more...
Sam Lowes recently made his MotoGP debut in testing, what was it like to work with Sam and how did he get on?

Romano Albesiano:
It's been something totally new for me, this way of training a young rider. It's an experiment that seems to work very well. The Misano test was very exciting; it was an emotion for me to assist in this historic moment in Sam's career, when he jumped on the MotoGP bike for the first time.

So it was nice from an emotional point of view, but Sam was really impressive because he was immediately very 'on the point' I would say. He understood everything and was very wise in managing the risk, but also quite fast! Before a first test like that you can imagine any number of difficulties, but by mid-afternoon I was already relaxed because everything was so positive. Everybody enjoyed it and we feel very positive for the future.
How would you describe Sam? What was it that caught your eye?

Romano Albesiano:
What we really liked and the reason why we selected him - and it was quite a long time ago - starts with his victory in the 2013 World Supersport Championship. He won it in a special way against very strong rivals like Kenan Sofuoglu.

So I've been always convinced that he is a special guy. But it's not easy to show that in this world and he did immediately well in Moto2, he did fantastic at the beginning of last year, he is going very well this year - he has been unlucky in a couple of races - and he is fighting to win the championship.

I also like how he lives to go racing. He is very English, very brave! But at the same time it's not just courage, there's a lot of thinking behind it. He always makes very precise reports of every race and he did the same at the MotoGP test. His feedback was very good and he is a clever guy.

I'm not trying to hide anything and just talk about positive things; we honestly saw only positive things!
What is your advice for Sam next year?

Romano Albesiano:
Our advice now is to be very gradual in the learning phase and he knows that every time he eventually crashes he will need to take a step back and recover to the previous level, before pushing forwards again. But he looks to me to be very clever and knows what to do. So there is not much to explain to him. Okay, his fighting spirit is so strong that maybe sometimes we will need to calm him a little, but he's a very good guy.
Joining Sam in the MotoGP team will be Aleix Espargaro, why did you choose Aleix over the existing riders and what will he bring to the project?

Romano Albesiano:
The riders we have this year are very good riders. Especially, I have to say Alvaro is doing very well. It's not been easy to decide, but we expect from Aleix something similar - fighting spirit - as I said before with Sam. Something that we believe could help us to make another step.

Aleix will also bring recent experience on a competitive bike, a good bike, the Suzuki. And maybe most importantly Aprilia has fantastic memories of what he did with the CRT bike. That was very important for the story of Aprilia in MotoGP.

And he feels the same. He has this desire of joining again the family. I think we can do a good job with both riders because I expect Sam to be on a good level from the beginning. We'll see.
You had an all-new bike for this year, what are you happy with, what is the next step?

Romano Albesiano:
The bike is overall quite well balanced and is working not so bad. It does not have a specific weak point, or strong point. I would say that we are not looking for extra strong points - because it's not easy also! - but we are working on everything.

We know peak power is not our speciality at the moment, we have to recover something in that area. Fortunately, you pay for this only on some tracks. But for next year it is going to be fixed, definitely. Then the rest is a matter of optimising and improving all of the details.
Will there be big changes again for next year's bike, or is it more of an evolution?

Romano Albesiano:
It will be an evolution. We did the big changes at the end of last year. If we saw a clear structural limit on this year's bike we would have to do it again, but we don't see that. Probably all the parts of the bike will change, but only in a slight way.

So it will not be a new bike but a continuous evolution throughout this season and the winter. Like this race we brought a new swingarm that is much different, lighter and so on. This is the process.
How close is the weight of the bike to the minimum allowed?

Romano Albesiano:
I think we miss a couple of kilograms and we have a plan, again made over a number of modifications, each of which saves about 150g! We think we can be on the limit by the beginning of next year, but I don't think this 2kg makes a lot of difference.
There won't be any satellite Aprilias next year, but how about 2018?

Romano Albesiano:
We'll see. We are not focussed on this. As you know we are not a big structure and Supporting in a proper way a satellite team requires an effort which is sometimes not easy to fit with what we have to do in the championship and eventually some work in the superbike that maybe will come or not.

CLICK HERE to read Albesiano's comments on a possible factory return to the World Superbike Championship in 2017.
Do you agree with the ban on wings in MotoGP next season?

Romano Albesiano:
No, we didn't agree with the ban. We voted against the ban. We really tried to help find a compromise between the Japanese and Ducati, which were on opposite sides. We tried to put some common sense to help bring everyone together.

Because on one side, okay wings are a cost. Sure. But in general for the motorcycle world it is something positive. It definitely helped the stability of the motorcycle, so it's something positive. We always say racing should help the product. Especially on the safety side. And it was a good way to improve safety.

But then some riders complained about the slipstream. The slipstream argument I absolutely don't believe, because in the aerodynamic wake created by of a motorcycle it is impossible to find the vortex generated by the wings.

So the discussion [within the MSMA] had to be about how to reduce the danger of contact between the wings and the rider. If you have sharp edges that is dangerous. But if we decided a rule - as we proposed - to have wings swept back, with a proper radius [to avoid sharp edges]. At that point the wings wouldn't have been more dangerous than any part of the fairing.
So you suggested that the wings should be swept backwards and follow the normal shape of the bike?

Romano Albesiano:
Yes, so if you do this shape [wings extending outwards at a right angle from the bike] like we and others have now, there is a greater possibility they will hang on another rider. But if you do a wing that is swept back - so like an arrowhead shape, if you look down on the bike from above - and with a safe radius on all the edges. Why should it be dangerous?

Wings help the bike to be more stable and they also improve the braking performance. So this helps safety. It's a shame.
All the manufacturers had to agree unanimously, so if just one manufacturer didn't want wings they could effectively stop everybody?

Romano Albesiano:
Yes.... But if MSMA had a unanimous position that would have been automatically accepted by the GP Commission. Now every manufacturer will try to recover the same downforce in a different way. Maybe in a more expensive way. We'll see.
Can you put wings on a Superbike?

Romano Albesiano:
That is a good example. If you want to make a wing on a production bike you can do it. You just have to comply with some rules that simulate the crash between a motorcycle and a person. There is special device that has to be rolled along the bike [from front to back] and not to hang.

I proposed this same rule, as applies for a street motorcycle, to the MSMA. If it is safe enough for riding a motorcycle in a city, why is it not good enough for MotoGP? But it was not possible. So, to answer your question, it is possible to put wings on a street motorcycle - and then you can race Superbike...

By Peter McLaren