Everyone in the pitlane that I spoke to about Aprilia, including opposition team members, admitted to being impressed with what the Noale factory have achieved over winter. This is not only because they turned up in Qatar with a comprehensively revamped machine, but because it worked. Aleix was fast every session every day – at least until his fall.
The Aprilia sports new cylinder heads (fitted to the new 90-degree engine we first saw in Sepang 2020) giving more power and torque across the rev range, a new chassis wrapped around that engine, with two new exhausts poking out from new wing clad bodywork (high, low and medium downforce wings to choose from) and a new shape seat/tail unit above a new carbon fibre swingarm. Not much left of the original 2020 machine. Oh, and there's a new rear start device to go with the front device they had last year. Aleix's starts looked to be second only in speed and consistency to Jack Miller’s.
I’m really excited for them. Could this be the machine that gets Aprilia some results to be proud of? I'd be better placed to answer that if Aleix had not fallen and cancelled his last race simulation, but the run I saw him do a day earlier was still impressive. From all we now know, Aleix has both the speed and the race pace to be in the large group that I think will be vying for the podium.
I'd understand if Aleix felt quite alone at Aprilia at times, compared to riders at manufacturers who have two, three or even four star riders to gather data and direction from, which can't be easy. That doesn't change the fact that Aleix and Aprilia need to turn all this good, hard work into a solid result on Sunday. Something to build on the following races. If they don't achieve the results they are capable of it feel like déjà vu for us fans.
The pressure is on, because the 2021 RS-GP is the most competitive MotoGP™ Aprilia I've ever seen.