One could seriously argue that the 2023 British Grand Prix was Aprilia’s best day in MotoGP to date. An incredible pass in the last lap for the victory of his talismanic leader Aleix Espargaro. His factory teammate Maverick Vinales supports him in the front group, RNF driver Raul Fernandez’s first top-10 finish in the premier class and another comeback for the highlight role of Miguel Oliveira.
And perhaps that was the most promising element of all for Aprilia: the first real sign of the promise Oliveira’s move to its ranks had inspired in pre-season testing. In his very first test on an Aprilia RS-GP last year, Oliveira was fourth on the timesheets, sandwiched between his new Aprilia factory mates and just a tenth of a second behind Vinales.
Given that Gresini’s Enea Bastianini had just put together a real title challenge in MotoGP with last year’s machine, it wasn’t impossible at that point to envision a future where Oliveira would do the same with the old Aprilia, especially overall five wins his time with KTM. But through no fault of his own, it was a season of injury-related setbacks for the Portuguese in 2023. At his home race in Portimao, he suffered leg contusions after Marc Márquez locked his brakes and collided with him.
Two laps later he came back in a draining race at Austin with a top five finish but missed two more after being involved in a three bike crash at Jerez involving himself, Fabio Quartararo and Marco Bezzecchi. It was an accident that fractured the humerus in his shoulder and a burden he has had to carry until now, having retired from the Assen TT because the pain was too great to deal with.
Silverstone was the first lap since the opener that Oliveira was almost back to 100% and it showed. It was an excellent ride even before it started to rain. He had moved up to fifth from 16th on the grid and was ahead of the second group, which included Johann Zarco and Luca Marini, but was four seconds off the leaders.
Then he showed incredible speed to close the gap. Between laps 14 and 18, Oliveira was 0.5s, 1.2s, 1.3s, 0.4s and 0.6s per lap faster than race and championship leader Pecco Bagnaia, advancing with two laps to go and just one second from victory to third place.
When asked if his mentality changed when it rained – conditions in which he often starred (or even won) – Oliveira replied: “It’s a strange situation because you have to keep pushing to keep the getting the tires up to temperature.”
“If you’re too careful it’s worse, so it’s hard to see the limit. I took more risks and was lucky not to fall.”
He left everything open and was rewarded with a chance to win.
but how does it continue?
As much as it has been a telling result for Oliveira’s 2023 season so far, the man himself has shown signs of frustration at riding last year’s Aprilia.
“We have the 2022 bike and we know it’s the bike we have to work with,” he said. “I think we’re just going to get as much juice out of the pack as we can.”
And he clearly would like something more than that.
When asked if he thought the Aprilia factory could deliver better specs, Oliveira replied, “Let’s see. I think it’s possible. It is possible that a few more things will be added.
“I don’t expect things to come to actually change much about my bike because they’re quite different bikes. Let’s see what updates I can have and if they really bring anything meaningful.”
For Oliveira, it’s a crossroads that has become an integral part of his cycling career. Flashes of brilliance, but he never reaches his full potential, even from his time in the less powerful classes. In his last Moto3 year, 2015, he was 88 points behind title rival Danny Kent after the Briton dominated the German GP ahead of the summer break. Oliveira showed incredible form in the second half of the season, scoring 140 of the last 150 points, but Kent held on to win the title by six.
Oliveira would beat Kent as a teammate if they moved up to Moto2 with Leopard and secure a top spot with Ajo in the KTM setup.
He won the last three races in a row in 2017 but finished third in the overall standings by a wide margin behind Franco Morbidelli and famous goalkeeper Thomas Lüthi. Thanks to an excellent promotion campaign the following year, he was only nine points behind the eventual champion Bagnaia, who is now arguably the best driver in the world.
His teammate at the time, Brad Binder, has overtaken him since entering the top flight. The South African produced strong, consistent results, finishing in the top six of the Championship twice and justifying his status as KTM’s MotoGP number one hope, despite having just two top Grand Prix wins compared to Oliveira’s five.
It paints the picture of Miguel as a talent with remarkable potential who can beat anyone on two wheels on his day but fails to catch the eye of the sport’s big players because he doesn’t do it often enough.
False insights and inconsistencies ultimately marred the career of Portugal’s most famous budding dentist. And while his Silverstone return was his most impressive Aprilia ride yet, it’s hard to imagine it would take more to excel at a work now pushing for the biggest prize of them all.