Aleix Espargaro ‘shook hands’ on Ducati MotoGP deal before Suzuki

Aleix Espargaro reveals how differently his MotoGP career could have panned out had he signed with Ducati rather than Suzuki in 2015

Aleix Espargaro - Suzuki

Aleix Espargaro has revealed he ‘shook hands’ on a deal to join the Ducati MotoGP team for 2015 before signing a contract with the returning Suzuki factory outfit.

The Spaniard, though only 30-years old, is one of the most experienced riders currently competing in MotoGP having made his debut well back in 2009 with the satellite Pramac Ducati team.

Since then his career has taken numerous twists, including a brief return to Moto2, three years on CRT/Open machinery (ART and Forward) before joining Suzuki and then landing at Aprilia where he competes now.

However, Espargaro reveals his career could have taken a different turn had he been able to come good on an agreement that would have seen him competing with Ducati in 2015 rather than Suzuki, which was returning to MotoGP after a short hiatus.

“When I signed after the year with Forward Racing, when I achieved sixth in the world [ED: it was seventh] with the Open bike, I signed with Suzuki,” he told the MotoGP podcast. “But I had shaken hands with Gigi Dall'Igna three weeks before to go to Ducati, it was practically all done, and by the time Dovizioso ended up staying.

“So I went to Suzuki. At that time I had the opportunity to be in two of the most powerful factories in the championship and ended up in Suzuki.”

After a solid maiden season with the team in 2015, Espargaro says he struggled with the switch from Bridgestone to Michelin tyres in 2016, unlike his team-mate Maverick Vinales who scored a famous win on the GSX-RR in only his second season of competition.

“I had a good year with Suzuki and the second year the reality is that the change of tyres from Bridgestone to Michelin cost me a lot, but it is not an excuse, I was not up to it: Maverick won a Grand Prix, he was much more competitive than me. I think I didn't have a bad year because I did a lot of top five and top six results, but I was not at Maverick's level, that's the reality.”

Joining Aprilia in 2017, Espargaro admits the troubled project had him questioning his future in the sport right up to the most recent winter break. However, the performance of the new generation RS-GP had him ‘almost in tears’ over its competitiveness.

“Last year the truth is that I had a very bad time, it was a very disappointing year, I did not enjoy anything on the bike. Although it is a job, but when you don't enjoy anything and you keep on playing your life and you keep dragging yourself around the circuits, falling, the results don't come... I had a very bad time.

“At the Sepang Test I almost had tears on my first lap on the new bike. We were very competitive, so, well, I'm not in a hurry to renew with Aprilia, I don't know what will happen next year, there are quite a few options."

Aleix Espargaro: Untapped potential or MotoGP journeyman?

Espargaro has notched up a lot of starts during his career in MotoGP – 165 in the premier class – with the only minimal return of just a single podium finish (interestingly on the Forward Yamaha Open bike). In fact, he has managed just two podiums in the entirety of his GP career stretching right back to 2004.

The figures don’t quite to justice to a rider that hasn’t always been in the right place at the right time, predominantly on CRT/Open bikes or burgeoning MotoGP projects, but his experience coupled to his flashes of brilliance on average machinery means he remains in fairly high regard.

It’s interesting to imagine how he would have fared with Ducati in 2015. That year he would have raced alongside his current team-mate Andrea Iannone, a rider that could win races with Ducati then but is largely out-performed by Espargaro on the Aprilia.

In light of the above, you can’t blame him for getting somewhat emotional when Aprilia turned up to pre-season testing with a machine he feels can finally fight at the front.

However, by the same token this season – or whenever it may get underway – is a crunch one for Espargaro to come good on the promises he has made given the stats don’t currently back him up…