The Spaniard formed part of KTM’s original MotoGP rider line-up, alongside Bradley Smith, in 2017 and went on to take notable highlights such as the RC16’s first podium (Valencia 2018) and pole position (Styria 2020).

Although he missed out on the honour of a race win, Espargaro and the orange bike climbed the standings from 17th, to 14th, 11th and finally 5th, in 2020, which remains the highest ranking for a KTM rider. But the offer of a ‘dream’ Repsol Honda ride had proved impossible to resist for 2021.

Unfortunately for Espargaro, his arrival as Marc Marquez’s team-mate coincided with some of HRC’s worst years in its grand prix history.

Jack Miller & Brad Binder's 2023 MotoGP KTM is here! | MotoGP 2023

After five podiums in his final KTM season, Espargaro took just two rostrums in two punishing years at Honda, as he slipped back to 12th and then 16th in the standings.

But having left KTM on good terms, a fired-up Espargaro has signed to return to the RC16 via the Tech3 team, with which he made his MotoGP debut (on Yamaha machinery) in 2014.

“Pol was so enthusiastic to come back and maybe realised [he] made some mistake in the past choice!” said Red Bull KTM team manager Francesco Guidotti.

Espargaro’s return is mutually beneficial, with KTM acknowledging the need for riders with experience of other machines to raise the RC16 into a title contender.

Only Brad Binder remains from last year’s four-strong line-up, with Espargaro joining ex-Ducati race winner Jack Miller in bringing knowledge of other factory teams and machines.

“Both of them, Jack and Pol, are important for their experience,” Guidotti confirmed. “They will bring experience - good and bad - from different brands and it's what we were looking for.”

KTM also hope that the pair can help shine a light on exactly what the RC16 is lacking in terms of a single fast lap, Binder and former team-mate Miguel Oliveira being just 14th and 17th in last year’s ‘Best Qualifier’ award.

“Another aspect that is important is that both of them are really, really fast in the qualifying lap, in the single lap,” Guidotti said. “It’s what we missed last year somehow.

“That’s not only a rider fault, maybe also our bike was not able to give them all the support they need to do a special lap. Because we are talking about a very special lap - in qualifying and in FP3, to get direct access to Q2.

“So we are trying to understand better our bike in every way possible because we know, especially with the Sprint race, qualifying will be even more important [this year].”

“A Sprint race will be only 10-12-13 laps, so there will be no time to recover from a bad start to get a good result.

“We've seen last year already, once we had the chance to start from the first 2-3 rows, we had top tens constantly and also podiums. But when you start from the 4th, 5th, 6th row then you really have no chance to fight for the top five.

“It will be super important to be there every race and every sprint race to be in the position we want at the end of the year.”

Zarco-style development role for Pol

One of Espargaro’s biggest frustrations at Honda was the lack of new parts during the season, which ceased entirely once it became clear he would not remain for 2023.

Although the 31-year-old is not at the official Red Bull team, Guidotti confirmed that Espargaro (reunited with his former KTM crew chief Paul Trevathan) will play a significant development, similar to that of Pramac’s Johann Zarco at Ducati.

Ducati has often use its main satellite team to refine the latest technical developments, including the holeshot and ride height device, before giving them to the Official team.

“Yes, it's a part of the job, especially because he asked for it,” Guidotti said of Espargaro’s development role. “I mean, he was complaining last year that he started [the season] with the bike and finished with the same bike and he was used to having new parts every race [at KTM].”

As its project has matured, KTM has switched away from rapid-fire updates to more targeting developments.

“It will not be like three years ago, but yeah, it's part of Pol’s job to test more,” Guidotti added. “Augusto [Fernandez] not really because we need to give him the time to understand MotoGP before testing parts, but with Pol we really count on his experience and his approach to the race to speed up the development of the bike.”