When Andrea Iannone’s ban was more than doubled from 18 months to 4 years, following a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport by WADA, it looked highly unlikely that the Italian would be seen in world championship competition again.

But, after two years of chaos caused by the Covid pandemic, December 2023 doesn’t seem that far away. Indeed, many of the MotoGP rider contracts now being signed are for both the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Iannone was forced into two-wheeled exile following a positive test for the banned steroid Drostanolone at the 2019 Malaysian Grand Prix.

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The former Ducati rider winner, then nearing the end of his first season with Aprilia, insisted it was caused by eating contaminated meat.

However, the CAS declared Iannone had ‘not been able to provide any convincing evidence to establish that the ADRV [anti-doping rule violation] he committed was unintentional’ and increased the initial ban awarded by the FIM.

But absence makes the heart grow fonder and Iannone, now 33, insists the desire to race burns as strongly as ever.

“I'll be back [riding]. I don't know where, how and when, if in MotoGP or Superbike, but I guarantee it: I still can't fill my life with other things [other] than the bike or the speed,” Iannone said in an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.

"Dancing with the Stars was like a diversion and I'm spoiled for choice for everything that’s offered to me. If I get offers from TV it means that people are interested in me, but I guarantee you that I am focused on one thing: to get back to [riding]. And I will do it.

"I kept relationships with Aprilia, my former [personal] manager Carlo Pernat and [Pramac boss] Paolo Campinoti, who are like members of the family, but races are made to win, not for true friendships.”

'Aprilia can fight for the title until the end'

Adding to the feeling of what might have been, Aprilia’s RS-GP has now grown into one of the most competitive machines in MotoGP, fighting for the world championship in the hands of Iannone’s former team-mate Aleix Espargaro.

On this season, Iannone said: “Aleix Espargaro is the revelation. Pecco Bagnaia is fast, but he hasn't had the continuity of the second half of 2021.

“[Ducati] has been shining for years, has a good group and only the icing is missing: before it was a bike for a few, now everyone goes fast. Gigi Dall’Igna is one of those I respect most.

“Aprilia impressed, but I know how they work and I expected this leap: they can fight for the title until the end. Fabio Quartararo is the most solid: the Assen mistake can happen, but he remains the most constant.”