Aprilia looks to be nearing a decision on Andrea Iannone's 2021 MotoGP replacement and it's American Moto2 rider Joe Roberts that has moved into a surprise pole position for the RS-GP seat.

With no experienced riders still on the market, Aprilia has looked towards young talent in the Moto2 class - the likes of Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio di Giannantonio and Aron Canet all being linked with the Noale factory.

While Bezzecchi said he reluctantly declined the Aprilia offer in favour of another season in Moto2, Roberts has now emerged as favourite to sign for the Italian team.

With Aprilia planning a private test next week, official confirmation of the team's new rider is expected before the end of this weekend.

Roberts, 23, has enjoyed a breakthrough third season in Moto2, taking his first podium plus three pole positions for the American Racing Team to hold eighth in the world championship.

While insisting the decision on his 2021 team-mate will be down to Aprilia boss Massimo Rivola, Aleix Espargaro had encouraging words to say about Roberts on Friday evening in Portimao.

"I like Joe Roberts, how he's improved," Espargaro said. "Actually, I was in Qatar this year, in the paddock and then I watched the races [where Roberts took his first pole position and fought for victory on his way to fourth], and sincerely he impressed me.

"He was very, very strong. Joe actually has not a lot of experience here, so it looks like he's growing and improving.

"What I like is that he's not afraid. He goes full [attack]. He doesn't care! He doesn't want to stay second or third, he goes full or crash. This is good. He still has to learn a lot of things but he's showing that he has the speed.

"So obviously he's a good option for the future and to have an American in the MotoGP category again is always great…"

Espargaro added that, while he is being kept up-to-date on rider talks by Rivola, the only advice he has offered is to sign the strongest candidate possible.

"I've said many times that I want the strongest guy possible at my side. I don’t want to be the first Aprilia – everybody says to me that I'm the fastest guy in Aprilia over the last four years but I don’t want this, I want to fight for the top five in the championship.

"So if my team-mate is stronger it would push me more. So the only advice I can give to Massimo is take the strongest one possible! Anyway, the situation is not easy now. There are not many riders with experience, so it's going to be not easy for next season."

Whoever signs alongside Espargaro would currently be joining a team whose RS-GP machine is yet to break into the MotoGP top six, although Espargaro believes he has a chance to change that statistic after being third quickest on Friday for the Portimao finale.

"I'm very disappointed about this year. sincerely. A lot, a lot. Because I still remember not long ago when I rode the RS-GP 2020 for the first time I was very happy. After the first two winter tests I was super motivated to fight for top six in the championship, but then many things happened this year," Espargaro said.

"It's clear that we've improved, we’ve been closer than ever, but not enough! If you don't fight for the top six you cannot be satisfied or happy, but the last four rounds we showed that we can fight for the top 6-8. We put the bike in some sessions very close to pole position, in Austria we did a really good pace, also Valencia, Aragon.

"Now it's the last race, the last chance. I will try tomorrow to fight for the first or second row in qualifying and then in the race I think here the engine is not super important. So if we are able to improve a little bit the grip and especially to save the rear tyre because it's dropping a lot, I think everything can happen and we can fight for the top six."

Test rider Lorenzo Savadori, who has swapped places with Bradley Smith to finish the season on Iannone's machine, was an impressive fourth fastest in FP1 then 16th in FP2.

"It's not easy for a guy to arrive here and be that strong. Stefan Bradl is a world champion and after 10 races with Marc's bike was never in the top five as Lorenzo did this morning," Espargaro said.

"So Lorenzo's doing a great job, but one thing is clear, he has no experience in MotoGP, so obviously to help to develop the bike is very difficult for him. You cannot expect a rookie guy in this championship to be fast, to develop the bike. To do all of this is very difficult."

 

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