Aprilia's all-new 2020 RS-GP may have failed to match the best result of the factory's previous MotoGP machine, peaking at eighth compared to sixth place, but CEO Massimo Rivola is confident they have advanced half-a-second closer to the front.

Rivola cited Aleix Espargaro's results at the Valencia Grand Prix, where the Spaniard finished ninth this year and last, but climbed 17-seconds nearer to the top over the 27-laps (the race-winning time was almost identical in 2019 and 2020).

But that still leaves another half-a-second per lap to be found and Rivola admits the level of 'difficulty' will only increase.

MotoGP 2020 Riders' Championship Race Visualised | Crash.net MotoGP

"2020 started with good expectation, clearly the bike was - and is - a step compared to the 2019," Rivola said. "Obviously, it's quite a new bike and we need milage, but this year was not perfect for that in terms of Covid and everything.

"We improved compared to the competitors more than half-a-second, so it was quite a good step. Obviously when you are, let's say, far away the first part is easier to gain, now the difficultly becomes even more.

"In the Valencia race we finished P9 and 15-seconds from P1. Last year we also finished P9, but 33-seconds from P1. And that's the average difference more-or-less for the season.

"So racing now is much more fun, clearly the show is better. We are close to the main group and it's not depressing, it's a boost, because we feel we are close and we need to do the last step."

Acceleration is the main area identified as needing improvement for 2021, any major progress during this season having been hampered by MotoGP's emergency freeze on engine development.

Aprilia's 2020 campaign was also hindered by uncertainty over Andrea Iannone's doping case.

The Italian's four-year sanction was only finalised in November and the team eventually spent the entire season with test riders Bradley Smith and then Lorenzo Savadori substituting for Iannone.

With Moto2 riders Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio di Giannantonio and Joe Roberts declining the RS-GP ride for next season, either Smith or Savadori will now get the race seat for the full 2021 world championship.

"Stability is for sure important. Bradley did a good job during the season, he was supposed to be the test rider but at the end when he was racing he went closer and closer to Aleix," Rivola said. "Also we gave some opportunity to Lorenzo Savadori, to let him be a better test rider for next year."

The Smith or Savadori decision will be taken after pre-season testing.

As the only manufacturer on the present grid without podiums (or a race win), Aprilia continues to have access to technical concessions and will be able to develop its engine during the 2021 season.