Espargaró admits Aprilia ‘not at the level to fight’ for title as defeat looms

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Aleix Espargaró’s fairy tale title shot is almost certainly over after a frustrating and ultimately disappointing weekend at the Australian Grand Prix.

Espargaró is one of three riders still in mathematical contention to catch new title leader Francesco Bagnaia, but 27 points behind has an unlikely chance at best with two rounds remaining.

The Aprilia rider would need to outclass Bagnaia by at least eight points in this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix just to stay alive for Valencia, which he would then have to win as the Italian failed to score to win the title.

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It’s a bittersweet situation for the 33-year-old Spaniard, who took an unlikely championship lead with victory at the Argentine Grand Prix earlier this year with one of his best races ever.

The triumph heralded Aprilia’s arrival as the lead bike in MotoGP in its first official year as a works team, and for most of the season the team and rider clinging to their championship aspirations against all odds and despite failing to win another race.

Four successive third-place finishes in April and May have been the backbone of the charge, but the 10 grands prix since the end of that golden streak have been relatively fruitless.

Espargaró only made it to the podium once during that time, which was comfortably outweighed by his non-score in Japan. He also failed to finish higher than fifth.

The Spaniard said it was not for lack of trying, but rather a sign of a team not ready to compete at the cutting edge of the premier class.

“I think over the last three races we have proven that we are not together as a team, we are not at the level to fight for this title,” he said.

“We actually conceded many, many points. In the last few races I think we scored [12] points, which is ridiculous if you want to fight for the title. This is the problem.

“[The championship is] still possible. I am really proud of my championship. There are two races left and Aleix and Aprilia are still in contention for the title, so I’m proud.

“But with the form of Pecco and Ducati and with a race [worth of points] more against me, it’s going to be very tricky.

“Miller Corner” Phillip Island Honor | 10:14

The Australian Grand Prix dealt a devastating blow to the stormy campaign, putting Espargaró more than 25 points, the value of a race victory, from the championship lead.

Again, he and Aprilia looked reasonably competitive in practice, but again problems befell the bike during the race.

Three rounds ago in Japan he suffered as his mechanics accidentally left his bike in the wrong engine mode, forcing him to start from the pit lane despite qualifying sixth.

In Thailand he struggled with the harder tire casing, an obvious problem with the bike all season, and scraped the points.

At Phillip Island, it was difficult to extract pace from the tires after a long stint in management early in the race, with an overly sensitive traction control setting considered the most likely culprit rather than tire wear.

“We made a lot of mistakes in the last three races,” he said. “It’s a pity, and [in Australia] again, I don’t know what happened in the last three laps.

“It was frustrating because I said many times the hardest thing here was to have the speed to be quick, and here I got it.

“I got off to a good start, I overtook Fabio [Quartararo, hitherto points leader] in turn 2 because I knew I had to be aggressive, and I was in the lead group just waiting, waiting, waiting, but in the end I couldn’t do anything.

“I don’t really have an explanation, but it’s frustrating after the hard work we did in the top 70 percent of the championship.

“Finishing outside the top five in these last three races has hurt me.

“It’s hard to eat this result.”

This must be particularly difficult considering that in the middle of the season Espargaró seemed to be in an ideal position in which he had a faster bike than the Yamaha and was less accident prone than Francesco Bagnaia, who seemed to be preparing him to ride in the middle. . of them in the title.

But due to a combination of not capitalizing on his opportunities and sheer misfortune, he was unable to rack up the points when he had the chance. Now Ducati has ramped up for the final third of the season, and with Bagnaia generally managing to keep his bike on the black stuff, his opportunity has passed him by.

Miller OUT on the newly named corner | 00:39

“It’s funny because not so long ago – three or four months ago – everyone was saying the Aprilia was the new Ferrari,” he said.

“I know the bike I have. I know it’s a good bike. I know we improved the bike a lot. But it’s nowhere near the level of the best bike on the grid.

“But it was never like that. [Ducati] made a lot of mistakes at the beginning of the year and they are paying for them now.

“But today the results from the Ducati – I don’t want to use names – are ridiculous.

“It doesn’t matter who rides the bike, but it’s always on top, in the top six.

“It’s frustrating.”

Only an incredible series of events could now keep Espargaró and Aprilia in the title race. Instead, he and Enea Bastianini behind him are likely to find themselves knocked out on Sunday night, with only Fabio Quartararo still having an outside chance to reclaim the title lead after losing it at Phillip Island.

The title rests on Bagnaia’s bike, and Aprilia was a miss.

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