Aprilia makes first comment on Andrea Iannone, Smith would replace him

Aprilia's Massimo Rivola discusses Andrea Iannone's provisional drugs ban for first time, says Bradley Smith would be lined up to replace him

Andrea Iannone - Aprilia MotoGP

Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has made his first comments on the provisional drugs suspension handed to the team’s MotoGP rider Andrea Iannone as parties wait for a decision on whether he will be formally banned for a longer period.

Iannone was provisionally suspended on December 17th following the discovery of a banned substance in a urine sample supplied during the 2019 Malaysian MotoGP. The Italian has maintained his innocence and given the go ahead for his B sample to be tested, the results of which are expected to be announced in the coming days.

With MotoGP testing little more than a month away, Aprilia – having remained quiet on the matter in the run up to Christmas – has now given its first words on the matter, with Rivola insisting the team remains committed to Iannone but adding it is preparing for the worst.

In an interview with Gazetta dello Sport, Rivola explained he and Aprilia are casting no aspersions on the Iannone’s guilt or otherwise until the results of the B sample are revealed and the FIM makes its decision on whether to exonerate him or hand down a lengthier ban.

However, at the same time Rivola says the tight schedules between now and the beginning of testing and the opening rounds means it is putting a plan together for a season – or a few months - without Iannone

“We are on the side of our rider, but for Aprilia, respect for the rules is sacred. There will be no trial a priori, before waiting for the sentence. For us, legality is a bulwark, we support Iannone because we have never doubted him. If he made a mistake, he will have to pay for it, but we avoid the conclusions linked to the rider's media exposure.

“We hope to have the sentence by the end of January, so we will see. One prognosis is a possible suspension of three months, another six… “ .

Bradley Smith, Andrea Iannone

Bradley Smith set to replace Andrea Iannone at Aprilia

Rivola also touched on its plans to move forward without Iannone if it has to, confirming that its test rider and experienced MotoGP competitor Bradley Smith is likely to be promoted in his place to join Aleix Espargaro.

The Briton joined Aprilia at the start of the 2019 MotoGP season after being axed by the KTM factory team and has started a handful of races for the Italian marque in his role as test and development rider.

Interestingly, Rivola touches on the potential of other options too, going as far as to say WorldSBK champion Jonathan Rea might have been a savvy choice some months ago, while Jorge Lorenzo could have been too had he not leaned towards a predicted Yamaha test role.

“In the event of suspension, Smith's would be the most obvious choice. At this point, there are not many riders available. Six months ago, [Jonathan] Rea could have been an option. Jorge Lorenzo would have been a good story but I think he will be a tester at Yamaha. 

“We will decide as soon as we have the sentence. Losing Iannone would be a serious thing, because it helped us to understand what was wrong and to have a fast motorcycle.”

Iannone’s pending sentence comes at a frustratingly crucial moment for Aprilia as it prepares to launch an entirely new bike for the 2020 MotoGP season. Abandoning the V4 it arrived in the premier class with five years ago, Aprilia will go to a 90-degree unit similar to Honda and Ducati in an effort to make headway on its rivals following a number of disappointing seasons.

This fact makes Smith’s appointment logical in that he has been a significant contributor to Aprilia’s development programme, even if it would miss the input of Iannone in his absence.