Aleix Espargaro began the campaign with only two podium appearances from eleven seasons in MotoGP and as the only rider on the grid without a victory in any grand prix class.

Meanwhile, the RS-GP had taken just one rostrum in the previous seven years, five of them spent with Espargaro as ‘captain’, leaving Aprilia last of the manufacturers since 2015.

Confidence was high after the 2022 pre-season testing, however, there had been false dawns before.

But there was no doubting the outcome of round three, in Argentina, where Espargaro took pole position, fastest lap, a long-awaited race victory and the world championship lead.

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Yamaha’s reigning champion Fabio Quartararo and Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia claimed their first victories of the year shortly after, suggesting normal title order had been restored.

But by the time Espargaro climbed the podium for the sixth time at Aragon, twelve races after his Argentine victory, he was back within 17 points of the championship lead heading into the flyaways.

Ultimately, technical mistakes and a downturn in performance saw Espargaro and team-mate Maverick Vinales - who added three podiums late in the European season - matched on just 18 points each, out of a possible 100, during the 'nightmare' overseas quartet.

Not only did it officially sink Espargaro’s title hopes at the penultimate round in Sepang, but he now heads to the Valencia finale just one point clear of Enea Bastianini in the fight for third.

Regardless of what happens at Valencia, younger brother Pol feels the disappointment of seeing the title dream slip away is still too fresh for Aleix and Aprilia to fully comprehend what they have achieved this season.

“They've been super, fighting for the title all season," said Pol. "It's not fair to say that Aleix deserves it [more] than Bagnaia or Quartararo, but what he has done with Aprilia, what they have done together, is something that will stay in the [history] books.

“For sure Aleix and Aprilia do not realise at the moment how big their achievement is, because it’s difficult to see the big picture.

“But I'm sure a couple of weeks after Valencia when they figure it out - it doesn’t matter if he finishes third, fourth or fifth in the championship - what they have done this year nobody expected, even them.

“They have been super all year; Aleix’s riding and Aprilia with the bike. I wish one day to do a championship like Aleix did this year,” added Pol, who started his final season at the factory Honda team with a podium but has faded to 16th in the standings.

‘Even the fireworks were yellow in 2006’

While Espargaro and Enea Bastianini have now dropped out of title contention, Bagnaia takes a near unbeatable 23-point lead over Quartararo into next weekend’s season finale.

“We have seen some strange endings in Valencia. I remember a big one when everyone was expecting Valentino would win the title [in 2006], but finally Hayden took it,” Espargaro said.

“Even the fireworks were yellow! And Nicky was on the orange Honda. So nobody expected it.

“Everything can happen in the championship. But I think Bagnaia at Valencia, where they have been fast last year, I think it’s a match point for him.”

Quartararo must win the race to have any chance of the title and then also needs Bagnaia to finish 15th or lower.

Meanwhile, Aprilia holds a 5-point lead over Yamaha in the fight for second in the constructors’ standings behind Ducati, and a 28-point lead over Red Bull KTM for runner-up in the teams’ championship (also to Ducati).