KTM has made a big leap up the timesheets in MotoGP this season, already celebrating its first race wins and dry podiums during the five rounds so far.

But speaking during the recent Styrian Grand Prix weekend - before KTM went on to take its second victory of the season with Miguel Oliveira - factory star Pol Espargaro said the full extent of the RC16's progress would not be completely clear until the return of Marc Marquez.

Honda's reigning champion, who won 12 of the 19 races last season, has been sidelined since breaking his arm at the Jerez season opener.

"I don’t want to be negative – I am positive always – but the best guy on the grid is not here," Espargaro explained. "I would like to compare against the best. He is not here and I don’t know what he would do, because Nakagami is quite fast [on a 2019 Honda]. Marc normally is quite faster than him. I don’t know…

"We [KTM] are very good, this is true. Are we as good as it seems? This is my question and I don’t know. I would like to go to more races and see. In Jerez we were not as good as in the Czech Republic and here [in Austria]. So I just want to keep a little bit calm and keep the feet on the ground."

But Espargaro, who will move to Repsol Honda alongside Marquez next season, might not get another chance to go up against the eight-time world champion on an RC16.

Marquez's return from injury has now been postponed by a further 'two-three months', meaning if the #93 races again this season it might only be for the final rounds at best.

Meanwhile, Espargaro emphasised there was no single breakthrough in terms of transforming the RC16 into a frontrunning machine this season.

"We have not made a full new bike [this year]," said Espargaro, who went on to take his first dry KTM podium with third place after a final turn showdown in the restarted Styrian race.

"The chassis was there, so some updates on the engine, the electronics were a bit better and, for sure, the [new spec rear] tyres caused trouble for some factories and for us it was much better. So it came together in small pieces and not like ‘wow, what a [new] bike’.

"Actually, I didn’t feel like we changed so many things to be as good as we are. I still cannot really believe that we are so fast!"

Another oddity for Espargaro is that the KTM excelled on the hard-front tyre at the Red Bull Ring, while Honda riders opted for the medium.

"Why are we using the hard front so good [compared to] someone like Honda, who always used to use harder compounds than us, and last year we couldn’t even think about using it?" Espargaro said.

"This year we changed completely and we are using the hard front. I was using the medium front and struggling massively. Then I switched to the hard and straight away - boom! - it was better. It is pretty strange and we don’t know why."

Along with KTM, Suzuki has also been impressing at multiple tracks this season, albeit with only one podium so far.

"They have speed, traction and turning. Their bike seemed very good already from the Qatar test, but they couldn’t show the full performance yet," Espargaro said.

Suzuki and Honda are yet to win a race this season, with the five victories so far being divided; two for KTM (Binder and Oliveira), two for Yamaha (Quartararo) and one for Ducati (Dovizioso).



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