Title hopes fade but Aleix Espargaro can end 2022 with his head held high
Coming out of MotoGP San Marino this weekend, it is increasingly hard to imagine that Aleix Espargaro will be able to claim the most remarkable of world titles for him and Aprilia this season.
After a sixth place around the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli Sunday afternoon, it’s now been six races since Espargaro was last on the MotoGP podium.
By contrast, victory in San Marino for Pecco Bagnaia means the Ducati rider has now won each of the last four races, a race which has now seen him slip past Espargaro into second place in the world championship, 30 points behind the champion. reigning Fabio Quartararo at the top of the table, with six races to go.
Given the ability to string together a string of race wins that Bagnaia, much like he did at the end of last season, is now showing, and the fact that those remaining races are at tracks that should be suitable for the Italian Ducati, Espargaro now looks to face a daunting task, given his own ability to find podiums now seems to have abandoned him.
But even if that does indeed prove to be the case over the next few weeks which should bring the season to a close, it’s not something that should take anything away from the Spaniard’s remarkable efforts over the campaign.
Prior to the start of this season, the Spaniard had managed a grand total of zero wins and just three podiums in 281 race starts across the various GP categories.
Needless to say, therefore, he had never come close to challenging for a world title.
All that changed during this year, however, starting with a brilliant first MotoGP victory for both him and Aprilia in Argentina in early April.
Then there was the streak of four straight third-place finishes that showed Espargaro was more than capable of handling the weight of expectations placed on him by his first win in the series, and to speak of him as a title contender.
Beyond that, it’s worth noting that some of the most memorable moments this season came courtesy of the 33-year-old.
After being innocently caught up in an accident at Quartararo earlier this year, Espargaro’s fight through the field to clinch fourth in the final standings was something special, while his double passing of Brad Binder and Jack Miller in the of the last chicane in Assen has to be YouTube.
Meanwhile, his premature celebration of what he thought would be a second-place finish in his home Catalan GP with one race lap remaining – again, YouTube if you haven’t – albeit disastrous, has also highlighted the incredible composure he has, recovering quickly to claim a respectable fifth place.
All of this effort would undoubtedly deserve plenty of praise from a rider with far more experience in race winning and podium finishes at this level.
So for Espargaro to have achieved this after entering the campaign with so little pedigree to compete at the top of the pack, and indeed the Championship, shows how much he has stepped up and delivered for himself and his team over the course of of the course of this season.
Beyond that, with teammate Maverick Vinales having now taken three podiums in the last four races as he concludes his first year on an Aprilia, it seems the work Espargaro has done in developing this bike since its link with the Italian factory in 2017, is really starting to materialize.
Considering Vinales is among those with the racing and title experience that Espargaro doesn’t, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Aprilia competing for top honors again in 2023.
Whether Espargaro himself is the one to do, either in the latter stages of this season or the next, may well remain to be seen.
But whether he does or not, what has already happened before this season for Espargaro, against so many odds, means he has provided as much excitement and intrigue for fans of the sport this season, as no any other driver on this grid.
While that’s sadly not enough to earn him a title, it’s surely enough to ensure Espargaro can walk away from the final race of this season at Valencia in early November with an overwhelming sense of pride for what he did, let alone trust. on what it could still achieve in 2023 and beyond.