Could Bradley Smith be in line for a MotoGP return in 2020?

Should Andrea Iannone's provisional drug suspension extend into the start of the 2020 MotoGP season, it could open the door to a return for Bradley Smith

Bradley Smith, Andrea Iannone

The revelation that Andrea Iannone has been suspended from racing could throw ‘silly season’ wide open once again with Bradley Smith potentially in line for a surprise return to MotoGP action in 2020 should Aprilia need to call him up.

Iannone has been provisionally banned after failing a routine drug test during the Malaysian MotoGP round, a suspension that remains in place until he supplies a B sample and WADA rules on whether to hand him a prolonged penalty or clear him.

As per regulations, if the B sample does not match the A sample then the entire test is considered ‘negative’ and the Notice of Charge is withdrawn.

Iannone has stated he is surprised by the findings and will contest it but for the time being he is ‘on notice’ and therefore cannot participate in any on track activity.

To be clear, the provisional suspension is just that. It’s a temporary one and given the length of time between now (his ban starts from 17th December) and the first round of MotoGP testing in February there is a decent time to elapse in which to have a final result, whatever that may be.

There is no word on how long this process could take but there is every chance Iannone will still be on the Aprilia come February. If he is banned, it could carry a penalty of up to four years, all but ending his career.

Could Bradley Smith replace Andrea Iannone?

If he isn’t, however, it could well prompt an unexpected return to MotoGP for Smith, who currently holds the role of test and reserve rider for the Aprilia MotoGP team.

The Briton slipped off the full-time grid ahead of the 2019 MotoGP season after being axed in favour of Johann Zarco on the KTM, but stayed involved with Aprilia, making four starts on a third RS-GP entry.

As such, it makes him the logical choice for Aprilia should it need one, not least because at this stage in the season there are precious few alternative options. Moreover, Smith has been a key component in development of the new generation Aprilia RS-GP, which is said to be a significant departure in philosophy for the Italian team after a series of disappointing campaigns since its return to MotoGP in 2015.

For now, Smith has just confirmed his place on the MotoE World Cup grid with One Energy Racing, though many contracts have an exit clause should a MotoGP ride become available, which is almost certain in this case due to his reserve role at Aprilia.

There is also a possibility that Iannone could still find himself in hot water with Aprilia even if he is exonerated. Despite giving Aprilia its best finish of the season with a sixth in Australia, it was an otherwise disappointing year for the Italian in which he was comfortably out-paced by Aleix Espargaro, one that was already expected to freeze him out of talks for the 2021 season.

For now, this is all conjecture but failed drugs tests in motorsport are very rare, making this an exceptional case which is unlikely to go down with the Piaggio Group, not least for a rider whose form has slipped since he was axed from Ducati and then Suzuki…