With victory having eluded them for the first time since 2004, Repsol Honda will be hoping the return of star man Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro results in a more successful MotoGP campaign than the last.

Marc Marquez missed the majority of the 2020 season after suffering a broken arm at the opening round in Jerez, and while brother Alex Marquez showed promise as the year went on, it was a disappointing year for the Honda team overall.

It was certainly contrasting fortunes for Pol Espargaro and KTM who enjoyed their most successful season to date in the premier class. Espargaro was a consistent podium challenger and finished fifth in the series standings, his best championship finish since winning the Moto2 title in 2013.

This season will see Marquez and Espargaro as teammates, but not for the first time as the two have a long history of racing together. At the team’s recent launch of the new Honda RC213V, the pair spoke about their history racing against one-another with Marquez saying: "When I was 11 years old it was the first time that we were teammates in the RACC Impala with a Honda bike.

"We shared the team, then we passed to another team together to RACC CajaMadrid that was also with Honda. He was in the Spanish Championship and I was in the Catalan Championship and yeah, since that year he followed his way and I followed my way with different teams, same racetracks, nearly the same results but different teams."

Marquez had a lot of positive words to say about his new teammate and how good Espargaro is: "Pol is a great rider, I battled against him in 125, since I was eight years old, we have raced together.

"Normally he was older than me and normally he beat me in the smallest categories but then when we arrived in the World Championship, we had a great battle in 2010, we also had a great battle in the Moto2 championship in 2012."

"This year past, 2020, he did an amazing season with KTM and his level was good, so I think that he has the talent that he needs, he’s coming from a great factory with great results and he’s arriving in the best team and needs to be on the podium in every race and to fight there in the top five, top three."

The two joined circuit racing at the same time after growing up around dirt riding, memories Espargaro remembers fondly: "The first time I saw Marc was in the very, very, very young categories with the Conti. It was the first time I think he was jumping on the road bike.

"It was more or less the first time I was jumping too but I was a little bit older, so I had a little bit more experience than him. But we were very, very, very small and I really remember that they were great moments where you are just enjoying it." 

The pair’s biggest moments together came in 2010 and also 2012 where they battled for the Moto2 championship:"And then I have enjoyed with Marc some great, great battles, especially in Moto2. One in Estoril where I lost the battle, I finished second, but I really enjoyed that one." said Espargaro.

Heading into the news season it remains to be seen what physical condition Marquez is in as he continues his recovery, which will see him miss next month’s official Qatar test.

And while unlikely that the eight-time champion will be back to his best anytime soon, Espargaro believes Marquez is still the one to beat.

"Well 100% if Marc gets a good start in Qatar, he’s going to be the one to beat. He’s the number one even if he hasn’t been racing last year. Sure, he’s going to be a tough guy to beat and the fastest guy on the grid. He’s been like that for a lot of years in the past and is a reference for me and for the whole MotoGP category."

With the two having enjoyed individual success, along with experience working as teammates, it was easy to see why Honda wanted to sign Espargaro.

Repsol Honda team manager, Alberto Puig said: "We hope that he can bring results to the team, this is the reason, the target, when you get a rider. It’s true that he has experience in the past, good experience, he’s not a kid and his target will also be to fight with all the riders and also against Marc because this is like a reference point let’s say.

"We hope that he can understand our bike soon and we expect and hope for a big level of competition inside the team because this is what really makes a team stay alive."