Unless there are any unforeseen late events, Bradley Smith will start the championship with Aprilia. This was confirmed by Massimo Rivola, CEO of Aprilia Racing, to 'Speedweek' as Andrea Iannone, who achieved the team’s best single result of the season in 2019 with sixth place in Phillip Island on the RS-GP19, is still suspended for doping.
To date, 29-year-old test rider Bradley Smith has replaced Iannone in the 2020 tests - in February in Sepang and Losail and last week in the first test since the reopening of Misano, where Aleix Espargaró was absent.
Aprilia Racing has not yet informed the Malaysian team WithU Motorsport that Smith will be their rider in MotoGP, therefore Johann Stigefelt's team will have to find a replacement.
"I think Bradley's manager (Bob Moore, Ed.) has informed the MotoE team that Bradley will replace Iannone until further notice. Bradley will ride until Andrea Iannone is available again. This summer we will know if Andrea can return to track this year or not. "
In the first MotoGP test at Misano last week, Aleix Espargaró was surprisingly absent from the Aprilia squad, having just signed for a second year of racing.
"There were still no direct flights from Spain to Italy. Brother Pol instead managed to find a flight to Austria. This is why we tried only with Smith and Savadori. But next week we will be testing at Misano together with Ducati and KTM and Aleix will be there. We can't wait to see him back on track with us. "
Iannone's absence is a sword of Damocles over the head of the Aprilia team: if in fact the Court of Arbitration of Sport in Lausanne confirms the 18-month suspension for Iannone in August, the Noale manufacturer will have to find a new rider in 2021.
At the moment Oliveira, Bagnaia, Nakagami, Crutchlow and Zarco are still free, while Petrucci seems very close to reaching an agreement with KTM.
"Should Andrea not be available for 2021, there is still a good selection of riders on the market - observed Rivola - We must evaluate whether to hire an experienced rider if necessary, because our bike is brand new and not yet mature and we still have to do the development. So maybe an expert rider would be an advantage. But to be honest: for the moment we are focusing on the availability of Andrea Iannone in the near future. For this reason, we have not yet conducted any negotiations. "
Time is running out and the options on the market will shrink further in the near future.
"Yes, I know. We have decided to wait for the CAS decision for Andrea. This decision puts us at a disadvantage in the search for riders. I am aware of it. At the same time, it is right towards Andrea to show him our loyalty. We believe in his innocence. Eighteen months is a severe penalty for someone who is innocent. Andrea shouldn't have been punished at all. But we have to live with it."
Could Bradley Smith also be one of the candidates for 2021?
“Obviously yes. He now has some excellent opportunities to show us his speed. Last year, Bradley was in ‘test-rider’ mode in his wildcard races. But we are confident that he will improve when he takes to the track to compete - concluded Rivola - As a titled rider, you have to turn a switch in your brain again. I expect Bradley to find that switch and be competitive. "