Espargaró: ‘The risk now is crazy… I don’t want to take the risks anymore… it’s a big relief’


Bigger risks, bigger pressure, bigger calendar – no wonder Aleix Espargaró says the day he announced his MotoGP retirement last week as one of the best of his life

Aleix Espargaro cheered by fans after winning the 2024 MotoGP Catalan sprint race

Catalan fairytale – two days after Espargaró announced his retirement he not only survived a crash-strewn sprint race but won it


Every motorcycle racer has an epiphany. One day he or she decides they’ve had enough: enough of the pressure, of the hassle, enough of the risk, of the injury, of the surgeon’s knife, of the painkillers, enough of the journalists, of the travel and of the peripatetic monomaniac existence.

That day came for Aleix Espargaró last month. In fact the 34-year-old Spaniard’s was a two-day epiphany.

The first came when he was about to travel from his home in Andorra to the USA for last month’s Grand Prix of the Americas, his 324th world-championship event.

“I want to stay at home more and I don’t want to take these risks anymore”

“When I was packing to go to the race in America I started to struggle – started to feel I’d rather stay at home with my kids than go racing,” he said while announcing his retirement at Catalunya last Thursday. “And in a job like mine, if you feel even 1% like this, you cannot compete.”

What Espargaró felt a few weeks ago is nothing new in racing. A few years back I interviewed four-time MotoGP champion Eddie Lawson, sat in his home in Lake Havasu, Arizona. The Californian raced grands prix full-time from 1983 to the end of 1992, but he came very close to packing it in earlier than that.

“I hated the travelling so much,” he said. “I’d sit at home, thinking about going to Europe, going, ‘I can’t get out of the chair to go’. I told Gary [Howard, boss of International Racers Inc, managers of Lawson, ‘King’ Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, John Kocinski, Nicky Hayden and others], ‘I can’t do this anymore, I’m so burnt out’.

“He said, ‘What can I do to make it easier for you?’. I said, ‘The travelling is killing me – I fly into Los Angeles airport from Europe, then it’s an hour in customs and a three-hour drive home in traffic’. So they actually got me a helicopter to take me from [the VIP area at] LAX to my driveway. When you’re young the travelling is okay, but I’d had ten years doing fifty international flights a year. I’d had enough.’

Aleix Espargaro leads Jack Miller in 2021 MotoGP British GP

Espargaró ahead of Jack Miller, half a lap from his first Aprilia MotoGP podium at Silverstone in 2021. In the background is Pol Espargaró, shouting, ‘Go on brother!’


When Lawson raced GPs there were usually 13 or 14 races a year, just over half this year’s proposed calendar of 22 rounds. The living-out-of-a-suitcase lifestyle is getting to a lot of today’s paddock people, not only 34-year-old father-of-two Espargaró, but also mechanics and other team staff.

Espargaró’s second epiphany came at Jerez last month, when he crashed out of the sprint. It wasn’t a terrifying or injurious accident – just the usual good kicking you get from hitting the ground at 80mph and tumbling and rolling through the gravel – but it was enough to flick the switch.

“After I called my wife and I said, ‘Laura, this is the end’. It’s been a nice journey but I want to stay at home more and I don’t want to take these risks anymore… It’s a big, big, big relief.”

“Family and MotoGP aren’t really compatible and the risk now is crazy – it’s very high, especially because everything is super-close, super-tight. And to be a factory rider you do a lot of development, a lot of marketing, so when you go to bed on Saturday nights at races you are destroyed and you still have to race tomorrow. It’s easier for guys of 20 or 25 than for 34-year-olds!”

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Top racers have a superhuman ability to focus and compartmentalise – to ignore things that would gnaw away at the minds of mere mortals – so despite the fact Espargaró had already decided to stop risking life and limb for a living, he took pole position and the sprint race at Catalunya last weekend.

This is what racers call being in the zone and psychologists call the state of flow or optimal functioning. It’s when your subconscious takes over from your conscious and it’s a weird feeling, like an out-of-body experience. Everything seems to slow down and yet you’re riding faster than ever.

“There’s a moment when you are riding at the limit that you don’t know if you are here or you are in China,” explained Espargaró after his Catalan sprint victory. “You are focused, full focus, then when you pick up the bike out of the last corner you realise you are at your home circuit and you are winning the race.”

MotoGP isn’t as dangerous as it was half a century ago but the death rate has increased in recent years, with four fatalities over the last decade and a half. And however safe MotoGP may be now, travelling at 220mph on a motorcycle, with rivals to the left of you and rivals to the right of you, is never going to be anything less than dangerous, whether it’s FP1 or race day. Which, of course, is one reason why some of us love it.

Aleix Espargaro celebrates championship win with team CRT in 2013

Espargaró revealed his MotoGP talent for the first time when he rode a low-spec ART with Team Aspar in 2012 and 2013

Team Aspar

When Espargaró announced his decision at Catalunya it closed the circle, because he was born and grew up in nearby Granollers, where he used to sit in class, listening to bikes roaring around the newly built circuit (which hosted its first GP just before his third birthday) and dreaming that one day it would be him making the noise.

During his retirement media conference the tears flowed freely. And not only from the man himself. You might think that Jorge Martin and Marc Márquez are lean, mean killing machines (and you’d be right) but both were moved to tears. It was a bit like they were losing a much-loved uncle.

Espargaró will be missed, especially by us journalists. Sports journalists like to write stories that bring sport alive. Motor sport is a wonderful mix of cutting-edge technology, remarkable human endeavour and giddy romance. Valentino Rossi became a global superstar because his career was an unlikely fairytale – even he sometimes used the word ‘romantic’ when he talked about racing.

It’s always been a delight to talk with Espargaró. I’ll miss him a lot.

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Unlike some riders, he understands that people don’t want to listen to robots. They want to listen to human beings, with emotions and opinions, who can communicate the reality of what they do for a living to the average human being. He knows his job is extraordinary, which is what makes racing fascinating. That’s the whole point of sport – to distract people from their workaday lives, to excite them, to make them dream.

Sometimes Espargaró has got into trouble for opening his mouth too much, but better too much than too little. You can’t tell good stories without getting someone into trouble, even if it’s yourself.

Espargaró has had nothing like the success enjoyed by Rossi but his career arc has had a hint of romance, a hint of fairytale to it.

He made his grand prix debut at Valencia in 2004, aged 15, a few months after current rookie sensation Pedro Acosta was born. He is the last rider on the current MotoGP grid to have raced 250cc two-stroke GP bikes – God’s own race bikes. He scored his first GP podium in the Moto2 class, in 2011 at Catalunya, of course, behind Stefan Bradl and Márquez.

Aleix Espargaro leads Valentino Rossi in 2019 MotoGP race

Espargaró leads Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso and Cal Crutchlow in 2019 – he nearly quit at the end of that year because Aprilia’s narrow-angle RS-GP was useless


He made his MotoGP debut in 2009, riding a Ducati, when the Desmosedici was the devil’s own race bikes.

“At that time the Ducati was super-powerful but unrideable. I had no idea how to ride that bike, it had zero turning!”

Espargaró had shown some talent when he rode an Aprilia RS250 but he really shone for the first time when Jorge ‘Aspar’ Martinez signed him to ride an ART in the 2012 MotoGP championship. The ART was an Aprilia RSV4 superbike engine in a prototype chassis. The project was run by Gigi Dall’Igna, who had engineered the RSV4.

During Espargaró’s two seasons on the ART – well below the spec of a real MotoGP bike – he had some great rides, embarrassing a few prototypes along the way.

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“Going from the Ducati to the ART was like going from a boat to a bicycle! It was one of most fun bikes I ever rode. If I had to define the bike in one word it would be agility, it was super-super-agile. The first time I rode it I told the engineers that it was a 250 with a strong engine; it had the DNA of an Aprilia 250.”

In 2014 he was promoted to a second-hand Yamaha YZR-M1, scoring his first MotoGP podium at a soaking Aragon.

All this was enough to get his first factory ride, with Suzuki’s brand-new GSX-RR in 2015. He took his first pole that year – at Catalunya, of course – but lost his ride at the end of the following season, the first year of spec Michelin tyres.

“When we changed to Michelins in 2016 I had the worse year of my career, because I struggled a lot with the front. I remember spending many afternoons with Tom [O’Kane, his Suzuki crew chief] in front of the computer, checking and understanding the combination between lean-angle degrees and front-brake pressure. But I wasn’t able to adjust to the Michelin front in that first year, that’s why I lost the Suzuki ride.”

When Espargaró joined Aprilia for 2016 the Noale factory was at the back of the grid with its new V4 RS-GP, finishing last in the 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 MotoGP constructors’ championship.

Aleix Espargaro celebrates MotoGP win with Aprilia crew at the 2022 Argentine GP

The day Espargaró and Aprilia had been awaiting – their first MotoGP victory – at the 2022 Argentine GP


The problem was the narrow-angle, 75-degree RS-GP V4.

“It was impossible because it was like riding a 500. The problem was that the engine had no torque at the bottom and it finished very early, at 17,000rpm. The bike had good agility, but the engine made it very difficult to ride, especially at low-grip tracks, where the super-tricky power delivery made it so bad.

“We worked a lot with the chassis, but all the problems came from the engine. There was always a lot of vibration, which gave a lot of chatter and made the bike super-nervous on the brakes. From 2017 to 2019 we made no f**king progress at all.”

“If they’d told me I’d fight for the title with Aprilia?! This is more than enough for me!”

Aprilia engineers finally found the right road for the 2020 season, when it consigned the original RS-GP engine to the scrapheap and essentially copied its more successful V4 rivals – Ducati, Honda and KTM – and built a 90-degree V4.

The difference was immediate, from Espargaró’s first exit at the 2020 pre-season tests at Sepang.

“I did three laps, came into the garage and I was crying. I told the engineers, ‘This is the best bike you ever made, it’s crazy, unbelievably good!’. I was crying because at the end of 2019 I was thinking of retiring, because with the old bike it was impossible to be fast.

“Actually we couldn’t start the new bike at Sepang because the starter didn’t have enough power to turn over the engine, so we closed the garage door and started the bike using a scooter: full gas with the scooter’s rear tyre against the RS-GP’s rear tyre!”

Covid development freezes prevented Aprilia from developing the 90-degree RS-GP during its first season but it was obvious to anyone watching carefully enough that the bike was going to be special. Espargaró scored Aprilia’s first four-stroke MotoGP podium in 2021, its first MotoGP victory in 2022 and was in that year’s title fight.

Aleix Espargaro on Aprilia in MotoGP pit garage

With one of Aprilia’s first 250cc GP bikes, at an Aprilia promo event


Two more GP wins followed last year and already more success this year, but although he’s enjoying the best moment of his career he’s had enough. Success came late, but at least it came.

“I believe that I’m not good enough to be MotoGP world champion but I proved during this time with Aprilia that I’m a good rider. Maybe I have more talent than what I believe. The thing is I worked very, very, very hard and I proved that with talent but without work you go nowhere. I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved over the last three years. If they’d told me I’d win races and fight for the title with Aprilia?! This is more than enough for me!”

Espargaró says his life will get better when he leaves the Valencia paddock with his family in November. He’s probably right but his transition from pro racer to full-time family man might not be as easy as he hopes.

Motorcycle racers may not like to talk about it but they are adrenaline addicts – living their lives by mainlining the greatest drug known to mankind.

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How do you come down from a high like that? How do you kick that habit?

Some retired racers really do struggle with Cold Turkey – life suddenly seems grey and empty. The kick that’s been getting them out of bed for the past decade or two is gone. So what’s the point?

Somehow you need to navigate your way through these choppy waters and rocky outcrops. Some ex-racers do that by getting as far away from racing as they can, like reformed drug addicts leaving town to get away from their druggy friends. Ands then they return once they feel they’ve fully kicked the habit.

Others immerse themselves in different areas of the sport, so they still get their thrills, but they get them vicariously: technician, rider manager, rider coach, or TV commentator.

No doubt Espargaró will exorcise his racing demons by piling up the miles on his bicycles, doing some test riding for Aprilia (or someone else) and perhaps a wild-card MotoGP entry or two. All of this is a racer’s parachute from that high.

Whatever Espargaró does, I wish him the best. He’s a diamond of a rider and a person and I wouldn’t say that about every rider with whom I’ve worked.