While the 2020 MotoGP rider market had been set to dominate the headlines this year, the unexpected coronavirus shutdown could see older riders delay retirement plans to stay in the sport.

That’s according to Aprilia duo Bradley Smith and Aleix Espargaro after discussing the topic during an Instagram live video.

With the majority of MotoGP riders currently in lockdown amid measures to battle the spread of COVID-19, both Aprilia riders have said it has given them time to reflect on their careers and future plans.

During the conversation hosted on Aprilia’s Instagram account, Espargaro admitted he had discussed retirement plans but since being unable to race due to the shutdown he says all thoughts of quitting have been put on hold.

“I am missing racing a lot and I am surprised because we talked quite a lot over the winter about the next year, the future and I was thinking a little bit about retirement. For me, that meant retirement is not super far [away],” Espargaro said. “But now after this lockdown I realised I missed racing a lot.

“I didn’t expect to miss it like this, but I miss the feeling inside, the pressure, the nerves, even the travelling. I hate travel, after 15 years in the championship I hate the planes and the airports but now I am missing it!

After losing his full-time MotoGP spot when he left KTM and became Aprilia test rider last year, Smith says he also considered retiring but one month into the winter break he realised he wasn’t ready to give up.

The British rider believes the same feeling both he and Espargaro have experienced will be shared across the MotoGP grid and mean fewer riders will quit racing in the near future.

In recent weeks, Cal Crutchlow has confirmed he wants to continue racing into 2021 having previously considered retirement, while rumours point towards Valentino Rossi also opting against quitting at the end of this season.

“I was in a similar situation at the end of 2018 when I first knew I wasn’t going to continue in a full-time ride, I was thinking I was going to retire. But then I was the same, after one month or six weeks I knew I wasn’t ready,” Smith explained.

“I think it will be the same for a lot of riders if I am honest because a lot of riders who were thinking maybe yes or maybe but, after all this time, I think it is going to boost a lot of riders to ride again and continue to stay out there.

“I think that will be better for everybody because we want guys like you around inside the championship for longer, because you still feel you have more to give and be competitive.

“But it is bad for some of the other guys trying to get to MotoGP as they will have to push us out.”

Espargaro admits his thoughts about retirement were sparked by being drained by travelling for 10 months a year and being away from his young family, while he also grew frustrated at competing on uncompetitive machinery.

But since the test debut of the 2020 RS-GP, with the new 90-degree V4 engine and aerodynamic fairings, the Spanish rider feels the Italian manufacturer’s latest MotoGP challenger remains an exciting package.

“After this lockdown and trying the bike in the Malaysia and Qatar tests it looks like the RS-GP 2020 will give us a lot of satisfaction,” Espargaro said. “It is just the beginning but it was noticeable just how different the bike was from the 2019 one. Winter testing is just testing but I can’t wait to go racing and mix with the others to see how close we can be to the podium.

“The stability of the bike is ten times higher than the old bike. I remember the movement on the brakes and the movement in acceleration on the 2018 and 2019 bike was super high, but the stability of the 2020 bike makes it much easier to ride and less physical to ride too.

“The new engine is not as powerful, I was expecting to have more power which I hope will arrive in the future, but it is easier to ride, the engine is easier to control and especially when the tyre drops.

“Overall it is a big step forward. It was just two tests, so when you really stress the materials you can really see how good or how bad the race bike is when racing against the others so I can’t wait to compare and to see how close we can get to the podium as this is the goal.”

Following Crash.net’s analysis into the race pace on display on the final day of the Sepang MotoGP test, Espargaro’s target could be accurate given the hints provided from his long run speed on the new RS-GP.

With both the German and Dutch MotoGP rounds set to be postponed due to suspensions on large public events in each country, the 2020 season could start in August at either the Red Bull Ring or Brno.

While Espargaro will race for Aprilia as planned, Smith is set to be his team-mate this season with Andrea Iannone currently serving an 18-month anti-doping ban, but the Italian is set to appeal the suspension.

 

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