Aprilia’s MotoGP aero: ‘It’s a new world, like when Columbus went to America!’ 


Aprilia goes into the 2023 MotoGP world championship as a genuine title challenger. Technical director Romano Albesiano guides us through the latest RS-GP developments, from engine to aero

Aprilia with front wing and ground effect fairing

Aprilia’s RS-GP at last year’s German GP, sporting the bulging ground-effect lower fairing for the first time, as well as the two-part front wing


This time last year I wrote a blog about Aprilia’s work on its latest RS-GP, titled, ‘Can Aprilia fight for its first MotoGP victory in 2022?

In fact Aprilia did more than that. In April, Aleix Espargaró won the company’s first MotoGP race, a journey that had started in 1994, with an over-bored 250cc twin which eventually scored podiums and pole positions but never quite won a race. At the same time Espargaró took the championship lead and stayed in the fight until the run of flyway races at the end of the season when the RS-GP’s results went awry. And team-mate Maverick Viñales came within four-tenths of a second of winning the British GP.

Aprilia’s hopes of winning the 2022 title dissolved after the European sector of the season. Following September’s Aragon GP, where Espargaró scored his sixth podium of the year, the Spaniard was just seven points behind eventual champion Pecco Bagnaia.

Then everything went wrong. At Motegi, Espargaró failed to score after starting last, having changed bikes in pitlane, because his engineers hadn’t switched off the fuel-saving map, used on the sighting lap. In Australia his RS-GP had a traction-control issue. And in Thailand and Malaysia he struggled with grip.

Overall the Aprilia is probably the second best bike on the MotoGP grid, so the question is this: can Espargaró and the RS-GP win the 2023 MotoGP world championship? If they continue the same rate of progress they’ve managed since the 90-degree V4 RS-GP was introduced in 2020, the answer is definitely, yes.

The RS-GP project was transformed in 2020 when Aprilia finally dumped its troublesome 75-degree V4 engine and built a 90-degree V4, like Ducati, Honda and KTM (OK, the RC16’s vee angle is 86 degrees).

Pol Espargaro leads Jorge Martin in 2022 Argentina MotoGP round

Espargaró making history last April in Argentina, where he won Aprilia’s first MotoGP race, beating Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martin


The new engine made more power and better torque, which also gave better negative torque, which made the bike behave more efficiently in the vital engine-braking phase, braking into corners. All these improvements transformed the performance of the whole motorcycle.

The RS-GP is arguably the most rider-friendly V4 on the MotoGP grid. How does Aprilia achieve this? Its engineers won’t say in public, of course, but one did tell me that one of their secrets lies in their steering-head design, a trick the factory learned way back when its RSW250 was ruling 250 GPs.

The 90-degree RS-GP starts its fourth season a few weeks from now, so what does Espargaró want from the new bike?

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“The first thing is to learn what happened during the last part of last season because during the first part of the season we were always strong, always on the podium,” the 33-year-old told me last November. “But the last part of the season was a disaster and we still don’t fully understand what happened.

“The second thing is pure power. And the third is rear grip because we can’t load the rear enough to create grip during braking, so we are paying on the brakes because we can’t use the engine braking because the tyre isn’t pushing into the ground. It’s the same thing in acceleration – we don’t have grip.”

More power may come from Aprilia’s latest patent, for a mechanical variable valve timing system. Electronic and hydraulic adjustable VVT systems are banned in MotoGP, which is why Suzuki equipped its GSX-RR with mechanical VVT a few years ago. Aprilia’s new system is different, hence the patent.

Variable valve timing won’t necessarily offer more peak power, but it allows you to tune for more high-rpm power, without losing the gentle, mid-range power that’s so important in motorcycle racing, for accelerating from the edge of the rear tyre. Essentially it’s the same idea as the adjustable exhaust valves and expansion chamber volume systems that appeared on two-stroke 500cc GP bikes in the early 1980s.

Aprilia’s growing strength in MotoGP was proved throughout 2022. Ducati may lead the way in downforce aerodynamics, but Aprilia was the first to use seat aero (to increase downforce on the rear tyre), during May’s Italian GP, with Ducati following suit at the British GP in August. Aprilia was also the first with a ground-effect fairing, introduced at Assen. Ducati tried a similar fairing during post-season tests at Valencia – and when Ducati copies you, it means you’re doing something right.

Maverick Vinales battles with Jorge Martin at Silverstone in 2022 MotoGP round

Viñales fights with Martin for his first Aprilia podium at Silverstone, where he finished second, just four tenths behind Bagnaia


The final proof of the factory’s strength was RNF’s decision to quit Yamaha and lease RS-GP machines for its new riders Miguel Oliveira and Raúl Fernández. Oliveira was delighted with the bike during post-season tests and may pull some surprises.

At Valencia last September I sat down with Aprilia’s MotoGP technical director Romano Albesiano to ask him about the 2022 season and his hopes for 2023…

Mat Oxley: What were the positives and negatives of the RS-GP’s performance in 2022?

Albesiano: There wasn’t one big item we developed, so it’s been a general increase of performance, on the engine side, the chassis side, in the aerodynamics and in the way we work on track to optimise all the parameters, which is a vital factor. The weak point has been the consistency of performance, because we had a few races where the performance wasn’t aligned with the rest of the season, which was a surprise for us.

What was the reason for this?

The riders always say grip. This [the four consecutive flyaway races] was most the negative moment of the season and we don’t yet have a clear understanding of those few races where we had poor performance. The rest of the season was generally good.

2022 Aprilia team of Pol Espargaro Maverick Vinales Romano Albesiano and Massimo Rivolawith MotoGP bike

Team manager Rivola and technical director Albesiano with Espargaró and Viñales who are contracted to the end of 2024


What are your priorities for the 2023 bike?

The step forward we made with the 2022 engine helped a lot but we have to keep increasing performance, so for 2023 we expect an increase in engine performance.

There are the parameters which you know, so that if you improve those you will get better performance – that means engine performance, engine efficiency and aero numbers.

Another target for 2023 is to have a better understanding of some of the dynamics in the engine-braking phase, which is aways the most difficult part of the motorcycle to set. We know we can increase our understanding in this area by having new sensors and new ways to get the information. This is a very important point for us.

Is this a mechanical thing or in the dynamics of how the bike works?

It’s the interaction between bike behaviour, the bike’s attitude in braking, the engine-braking function and rider braking tuition. This is a very complicated environment where we need to understand more.

So you need more load on the rear to help the engine braking? You were the first team to use a rear wing, during practice at Mugello, but the wing was very small…

Yes, the wing was small, but you wouldn’t believe the effect! I cannot say anything more about this because I don’t want to give information to the others.

The rear wing you used at Mugello was a bolt-on part, so will you have built-in rear aero for 2023?

The seat area is outside the aero homologation rules, so in theory you can change that area at every race. There’s a lot to discover in that area. We started experimenting with a small rear wing and we plan to do more.

REar wing on Aprilia MotoGP bike

Aprilia tried this rear wing on test-rider Lorenzo Savadori’s bike during the Italian GP. Expect to see more rear aero in 2023


Do you think you can match the Ducati on horsepower? Their desmodromic system can use less fuel, so they can spend that fuel elsewhere to get more power. So what can you do, with combustion, friction and so on?

In theory the friction from the desmodromic system is less, but we don’t really know about this. I don’t think fuel efficiency is stopping us from getting more horsepower. Getting more power is a matter of pumping air inside the engine and burning it in an efficient way, this is the point. So we are always trying to improve this.

But, honestly, it’s not easy to make real steps in this area, so researching how to reduce friction is as important as making more power, because the amount of power you lose in friction is huge, so there’s probably more potential to get power from that area than from pumping air into the engine and burning it.

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The Aprilia MotoGP bike you’ve never seen

The Aprilia MotoGP bike you’ve never seen

A few months ago I was talking to Aleix Espargaró about Aprilia’s long and winding road to the summit of MotoGP, from the 500cc two-stroke twin of the 1990s to…

By Mat Oxley

At the moment most MotoGP engineers talk more about turning than anything else – getting the bike stopped and turned quickly, so the rider can pick up the bike and get on throttle, so in fact turning is also acceleration…

Yes and this is one of the not-so-consistent attitudes of our bike. According to rider comments, most of the time our bike turns quite well, sometimes very well, but sometimes it lacks some turning. This isn’t related to the motorcycle, to the metal, it’s more related to how the bike is set, in terms of suspension, tyre parameters and the way the bike stops. Because if the bike doesn’t stop it won’t turn. This a lesson we’ve learned and this is one area where we have to do more.

You’ve had some problems in straight-line braking, is that still an issue?

In the past we did but now it’s not so bad, but we still have some limitations in high-speed braking.

Is that an engine-braking thing, using rear grip?

In braking you have three phases. The very first part is when you still have weight on the rear tyre, so you can exploit that to help stop the bike. The next part is when the rider is really pulling the front brake lever, so there’s almost no weight on the rear, so there’s no rear-braking effect. Then when the rider starts releasing the brake and using some lean angle that puts load on the rear tyre and this is the most important area, where you have to be perfect.

This is the key for performance, the first target for everybody. Sometimes we are good in this area, sometimes we are maybe not perfect, but everybody is so close that it’s very difficult.

Pol Espargaro and Maverick Vinales approach a corner on Aprilia MotoGP bikes

Espargaró and Viñales struggled in braking last year, due to lack of load on the rear tyre, which is currently very important in the braking phase


Aprilia is hiring engineers from Formula 1 – how has that helped your success?

Yes, we have people coming from car racing, in our aerodynamics department, in general from Ferrari. The level of development of aerodynamics in car racing is unbelievable, so these people have been very clever to adapt to motorcycles. I’ve seen many people coming from the car industry to the motorcycle industry and for many of them it’s very difficult to change their minds, but our guys have been good.

It must be exciting for them, because F1 is very complex, but motorcycles are more complicated, especially aerodynamically…

It’s a new world for them, like when Columbus went to America! [Yes, we all know the Vikings got there first.] It’s a new world, nobody has been there before, so you can really make something new, not just optimising things, but really discovering something. It’s really exciting.

Handlebars on Aprilia MotoGP bike showing hydraulic rear height control

Aprilia started using radical hydraulic systems for its rear ride-height device early last season


What happened to you at those four flyaways: Japan, Thailand, Australia and Malaysia?

We had the incident at Motegi, which was a really trivial mistake, just click of a mouse, basically. OK, we can improve our procedures in these areas and we will do that for sure. But what happened at Motegi was like a hammer blow for us.

Then in Thailand we had trouble with grip, the first time, so this was very surprising and this is one of the two races we still need to understand. Then at Phillip Island we had quite good race, except for a detail in the traction-control setting, which was a small mistake. Nobody is perfect. Then Malaysia is the second race to understand. For sure Aleix expected more because we were so fast in winter testing. That’s the point I mentioned earlier – we need to understand these races to have a more solid, consistent performance in the future.

How has Aprilia got stronger in the last few years, since introducing the 90-degree vee engine?

Honestly, the company has invested a lot more in recent seasons. This allowed us to hire the people we were talking about before and have more material and more engines to do development.

When we started this MotoGP adventure we had a different approach, not a MotoGP level approach. We had a level of knowledge in our race department which we believed to be enough, but it wasn’t enough, so we had to build a lot, and year by year we learned and we improved, myself and all the guys with me. Then we got more people and more material, so it’s been an overall increase in our potential.

The more you have the more competitive you can be. It’s also a path of learning. When we started we had some ideas, for example in terms of the torque character of the engine. We believed that we should have a certain shape of torque curve and then we understood, sometimes by mistake, by chance, that our beliefs were not correct, so we understood that we had to steer development in another direction.

How has your role changed since Massimo Rivola arrived as team manager in 2019?

My life has always been engineering, technical, but when I started this MotoGP race department job I also had to take care of contracts, rider contracts, budgets and some bureaucratic topics. Most of the time I stopped doing engineering work, so when Massimo came I had the opportunity to come back to engineering. I’m not saying this made the difference in results, but for sure it helped me do a better job and helped the guys to work in better conditions.

How have Aprilia’s working methods at the track changed?

When we started we had a very classic approach, like the old scene. The analysis of data was at an average level, not at the level you need in MotoGP. Then, brick by brick, we built something that’s much better, maybe sometimes too complex, but the level of analysis we have now is very, very high.

We got some new people with the right experience and got back some people who had left Aprilia and then re-joined us in this new wave, which gave us another kick forward. If you came into our garage four years ago and then came back now you wouldn’t think you were in the same team.

Miguel Oliveira testing Aprilia RS-GP in 2022

RNF rider Miguel Oliveira testing the RS-GP at Valencia – the Portuguese could be a dark horse in the 2023 title race


Do you also do analysis at the factory in Noale?

Yes, we also have people in Noale who check the data and we are continuously in contact with them – ‘Please check this tyre behaviour’ and they answer back. It’s a similar system to what they use in F1 – the remote garage concept. OK, they have many more people in F1 while we have two or three good guys that do a good job.

You have lost concessions for 2023, so you can’t do any engine development during the season and your riders will have fewer engines, so is this a big deal?

The process is different – you have to decide your engine configuration earlier, because you have to buy a lot of parts and assemble more engines. But if I look at the 2022 season we didn’t really introduce any real changes in the engine during the season, in the parameters that are limited by engine sealing. Of course you can still change the exhaust, the airbox, the throttle-body system and you can change the fuel and the oil.

So it will be basically the same and I’m not too concerned, maybe just a little bit, because we have to serve double the number of riders. This is a level of complication that we have to do carefully but we are preparing for this.