2023 MotoGP Rider Line-up | Aprilia, RNF agreement shakes things up again

How is the 2023 MotoGP World Championship grid shaping up following the announcement of Aprilia's rider line-up for next season, plus its satellite RNF deal

Start of the French MotoGP at Le Mans

The 2023 MotoGP rider market has received another significant shake up in the wake of Aprilia’s double jab announcement that it has both firmed up its factory line-up and will expand to include a satellite arm for the first time.

The first of the five manufacturers to formally confirm its full rider line-up for both 2023 and 2024, Aprilia put speculation of ructions over contract negotiations firmly behind it by revealing Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales will continue in its factory colours.

Arguably more significant, however, was its announcement less than 24 hours later that it will finally go ahead with plans to expand to enter a spin-off satellite effort for the first time. More than that though, it will do so in partnership with RNF Racing, the Malaysian team defecting from Yamaha.

24 riders, 22 MotoGP seats

It all comes in the wake of Suzuki’s confirmation that it will quit MotoGP at the end of the season, a bombshell that rocked what had appeared to be a stagnant rider market by launching both Joan Mir and Alex Rins into the pool of options.

Indeed, prior to this it appeared five of the six manufacturers - Suzuki included - looked set to retain each of the riders it lined up with at the start of this season, while the sixth in Ducati will look internally for its factory choice.

Of these, Aprilia has done exactly that, while Yamaha and Ducati would appear to be unmoved by recent developments with Fabio Quartararo almost certain now to agree a fresh deal to stay alongside the already contracted Franco Morbidelli, while this weekend’s Italian MotoGP will ultimately decide whom out of Jorge Martin and Enea Bastianini will partner Pecco Bagnaia.

Instead, it appears Honda is most motivated to take advantage of recent developments by snapping up 2020 MotoGP World Champion Mir to join Marc Marquez and replace Pol Espargaro. 

The Spaniard could shift to the sister LCR team on ‘factory’ machinery, though it remains to be seen whether Espargaro would begrudge what would still seem a demotion. Moreover, while LCR is likely to have two seats up for grabs to replace the out-of-form Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami, there is no guarantee Espargaro is a favourite for one of these seats either.

Indeed, Honda-backed Ai Ogura would seem a logical candidate to replace Nakagami, while Mir’s Suzuki team-mate Rins certainly makes a compelling case for the other seat.

KTM set for a shuffle?

Espargaro could potentially find appeal in a move back to KTM, the manufacturer with which he took all the way to the overall top five prior to his Honda switch. 

While KTM has remained fairly quiet with regards to its future plans, speculation in Mugello suggests it is prepared to shuffle Miguel Oliveira back to Tech 3 in an effort to stimulate a wildly inconsistent form sheet for the Portuguese rider that has yielded dismal results amid four brilliant wins.

With Brad Binder locked into a long-term deal, Rins again presents himself as a strong candidate too, not least because KTM’s pre-season plan to promote either Remy Gardner or Raul Fernandez to the factory team has stalled on the back of their questionable form on a temperamental RC16 package.

Either way, Fernandez’s loyalty to KTM has been in doubt ever since the day his MotoGP deal was confirmed, with Yamaha known to have been keen on the Spanish youngster for 2023.

Yamaha’s broader plans, however, have been thrown into disarray with the news it is losing its second satellite partner in four years. The fairly late call leaves Yamaha - which had already loosened its RNF ties - with limited time to devote towards sourcing a replacement, meaning it looks likely to be the only manufacturer with just two bikes on the grid in 2023.

As a result, any momentum that might have been building to get WorldSBK Champion Toprak Razgatlioglu onto the MotoGP grid in 2023 looks to have come to a halt, though his chances could be boosted if Morbidelli - even with a contract in place - doesn’t turn around what has been a shocking season thus far.

As for Fernandez, he is now being touted with a move to RNF Aprilia, alongside potentially another Moto2 graduate in Aron Canet. Losing out would be Andrea Dovizioso, who is expected to retire, and Darryn Binder, who would most likely head to Moto2.

Musical chairs at Ducati

Finally, Ducati’s octo-line-up appears well placed to stay on Desmo machinery… albeit in different positions.

Depending on whether Bastianini or Martin get the nod to join the factory line-up, the other is almost certain to be on one of the Pramac machines. Martin was the bookies favourite to join Bagnaia for a long time, but five crashes in seven races have left their mark, even before you consider Bastianini’s against-the-odds trio of race wins.

Miller, meanwhile, says he is prepared to rejoin Pramac Racing, but could find himself on a Gresini Ducati if it prefers to retain Johann Zarco - or vice versa - and while it has been a low key rookie campaign for Fabio di Giannantonio, he stands a good chance to staying by virtue of him being a protege of the late Fausto Gresini.

If any change to the Ducati rider line-up does occur, it is most likely to come at VR46 Racing, with Celestino Vietti making a good case for a MotoGP promotion if he continues his charge towards the Moto2 title.

However, with Marco Bezzecchi - arguably the standout of the five rookies competing in MotoGP this year - well placed to remain, it would leave Valentino Rossi with an awkward call over whether to select Vietti over his brother, Luca Marini.

2023 MotoGP Team & Rider Line-up [provisional]
Team MotorcycleRiders [confirmed - rumoured]
Yamaha Factory RacingFYamaha M1Franco Morbidelli
   Fabio Quartararo, Toprak Razgatlioglu
Ducati CorseFDucati GP23Pecco Bagnaia
   Jorge Martin, Enea Bastianini, Jack Miller
Honda HRCFHonda RC213VMarc Marquez
   Pol Espargaro, Joan Mir, Alex Rins
KTM Factory RacingFKTM RC16Brad Binder
   Miguel Oliveira, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins
Aprilia RacingFAprilia RS-GPAleix Espargaro
   Maverick Vinales
Pramac RacingSDucati GP23Enea Bastianini, Jorge Martin, Jack Miller, Johann Zarco
LCRSHonda RC213VAi Ogura, Pol Espargaro, Alex Rins
Tech 3 RacingSKTM RC16Remy Gardner, Miguel Oliveira, Raul Fernandez, Pedro Acosta
Gresini RacingSDucati GP23/22Johann Zarco, Fabio di Giannantonio, Jack Miller
VR46 RacingSDucati GP23/22Luca Marini, Marco Bezzecchi, Celestino Vietti
RNF RacingSAprilia RS-GPRaul Fernandez, Aron Canet, Darryn Binder