MotoGP has been known to have somewhat of a cut-throat reputation with riders who do not make headlines from the start. As such, many talented riders have their time in the premier class cruelly cut short. But every once in a while, there comes a competitor who through sheer grit, remains against the odds.
One such person is Spanish rider, Aleix Espargaro.
It was perhaps inevitable that, having become the youngest ever winner of the Spanish 125cc National Championship in 2004, he was hyped up by his home media as a future grand-prix champion. Alas, thirteen years on, he is still yet to win a grand-prix race, never mind a championship. Yet somehow, through determination and a sound technical ability to set up the bike ahead of a race, his reputation with riders and teams alike ensured he wasn’t to be left behind.
Having graduated from the old 250cc class in 2009, Espargaro made with premier class debut with the Alice-Ducati satellite team. It was a steep learning curve to say the least as his combined tally of just 81 points across his first two seasons indicate. With the Ducati being notoriously difficult, Espargaro took the brave decision to step back into the revamped indermediate class (Moto2) for 2011. Now armed with a 600cc machine, the confidence in his riding returned, and despite finishing the season in twelfth place on the table, the Granollers native was ready to return once more to MotoGP in 2012.
This time, he joined the Aspar Racing Team who were entered as one of the short-lived Claiming Rules Teams (CRTs). CRTs were controversial at the time, due to these teams being allowed extra compounds of tyres, standard issue electronic control units. Additionally they could carry more fuel than the factory and satellite counterparts – which ultimately, with the right rider on board, often made these machines more competitive than the Satellites.
Espargaro was one such rider who capitalised on this, and his return to the premier class was an undoubted success. Although the performance of the factory bikes almost exclusively locked out the podium places at every round, the Spaniard finished both the 2012 and 2013 seasons at the CRT-class champion, with 74 and 93 points respectively. In doing so, he had secured his long-term place in the premier class.
After one more year on a CRT machine (he signed for Forward-Yamaha in 2014), Espargaro finally obtained the holy grail for all grand-prix riders – A contract for a factory outfit. In this case, he had obtained a two year deal to ride for Suzuki.
Although he was unlucky on numerous occasions not to make the podium, despite producing some very eye catching rides, Espargaro had managed to secure a pole position and bolster his reputation as being one of the fastest men over a single lap. Two seasons with the Japanese factory, saw both the team and himself rise in stature, despite being overshadowed by team-mate Maverick Vinales last season. Nevertheless, Espargaro still found himself in considerable demand for 2017, and signed with the Italian factory outfit, Aprilia.
Perhaps due to the outfit still being relatively new to the premier class, and perhaps due to the dominance of the likes of Honda and Yamaha, Espargaro’s efforts during pre-season had perhaps escaped attention from most. A consistent showing during the winter tests – always inside the top fifteen places – left the team quietly confident ahead of the season curtain-raiser in Qatar. Neither the team and the rider disappointed.
Indeed, Espargaro has looked a completely rejuvenated figure since joining his new team, and produced a stunning result to match. Having begun the race in fifteenth, the no/41 bike stormed past the satellite machines, and his more illustrious compatriot (Jorge Lorenzo) on his Ducati, as he fought his way to finish the race in P6, locked in a thrilling duel with Honda’s Dani Pedrosa.
Whilst Aprilia’s team boss was quick to stress that the bike is still very much a work in progress, there can be no doubt that with a rider of Aleix Espargaro’s calibre and experience on board, it is only a matter of time until we see him battle at the very front again. And maybe, finally claim that maiden Grand-Prix victory which this Spaniard is long overdue.
**All statistics can be found at – http://www.motogp.com/en/riders/Aleix+Espargaro **