Bradley Smith still an option for Aprilia as Bezzecchi turns down MotoGP offer

Aprilia's rider headache for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship season increases after Marco Bezzecchi becomes latest to turn down a contract

Bradley Smith - Aprilia MotoGP

Aprilia Racing CEO Massimo Rivola has hinted Bradley Smith is coming back into the frame to fill its available seat for the 2021 MotoGP World Championship after Moto2 front runner Marco Bezzecchi became the latest rider to turn the offer of a contract down.

The team has been left firmly on the back foot by a somewhat foolhardy decision to remain loyal to Andrea Iannone following his suspension for a positive drugs test. Standing by their man through his appeals process, it became a risky strategy when the hearing was delayed from August to October, before a decision came in November.

It’s a move that failed to reap dividends, Iannone instead seeing his suspension swelled from 18 months to four years, effectively ending his career and leaving Aprilia with scant options for 2021.

2021 Aprilia RS 660 REVIEW

With available MotoGP agents Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow walking away from negotiations in favour of a sabbatical and a Yamaha test rider role respectively, Aprilia has instead looked to Moto2 and approached Bezzecchi, one of four riders in the hunt for the title at this weekend’s Portimao finale. 

However, the Italian revealed to that he decided against accepting the deal in favour of another season riding with the Sky Italia VR46 team.

“We were close, but in the end I thought a lot in these days. We [would have] had to make some work to go to MotoGP, it was not an easy choice. 

But at the end I thought it was better to stay one more year in Moto2 because I enjoy riding the bike and I feel good. Also, I think I staying one more year with the same team and the same bike is a chance to grow.”

As such, Smith - who rode in Iannone’s place for much of 2020 before being dropped the final three rounds in favour of Lorenzo Savadori - could find himself in a prime position to compete again in 2021, not least because Dorna will be pushing to have at least one Briton on the grid.

"Regarding the second rider, for sure Bradley is a valid option. He is a rider with a lot of experience, he could have the chance. We are also looking at the market of the young talent.

"Moto2 is showing it's a very good gym for the MotoGP. Next year there will be many [on the grid] so maybe it's not a bad idea, but we are still evaluating that."

Who else is in the Aprilia running for the 2021 MotoGP?

It’s a bit of an embarrassing situation for Aprilia, whose noble but erroneous strategy of backing Iannone froze it out of the rider market, only to find there isn’t much enthusiasm for a bike that - though factory backed - is clearly the weakest of the six on course right now.

There have also been question marks about Aprilia’s internal decisions, not least regarding Iannone, while the likes of Sam Lowes and Scott Redding have precious little positive to say about their time there. Even current rider Aleix Espargaro has turned his ire towards the company for ponderous development on a smaller budget, something that is at least beginning to change as it moves its structure away from Gresini Racing to an in-house operation.

The season began with high hopes for the new RS-GP but it’s turned out to be another disappointing year for Aprilia, with Espargaro’s best result thus far being a ninth in Valencia. It’s worth pointing out that Aprilia and Suzuki both returned to MotoGP in the same season but their fortunes have gone in very different directions since.

With Bezzecchi ruling himself out of the Aprilia ride, top Moto2 rookie Aron Canet has now entered the fray, together with Fabio di Giannantonio, who is rumoured to have already signed a 2022 MotoGP deal with Gresini Racing when it spins off into Aprilia’s satellite entry.

Rivola did mention WorldSBK too, raising speculation that Chaz Davies, Loris Baz or Eugene Laverty - all MotoGP experienced riders with no deals for 2021 currently - could be in the running, but a spokesperson played down in Portugal this weekend.