Announced as a Repsol Honda MotoGP rider in July last year, Pol Espargaro has had a long time to imagine what his first laps on an RC213V would be like.

But the lengthy wait also extended the debate surrounding his decision to switch from KTM and the Spaniard admitted he felt 'super stressed' to deliver during his Honda debut at the Qatar test.

"I’m super honest and the first thing was I was super stressed," Espargaro said of his opening lap on a Repsol Honda. "I was waiting a lot of time for that moment and a lot of people were talking about that moment, good or bad.

"It’s normal that people do not trust when things change. Sometimes you need to trust even if you don’t know if it’s going to be OK or bad. The pressure of all the media or people that are not trusting me switching to this team, it’s affecting all of us when we are working or when I’m riding.

"It’s like you are forced to have a performance straight away. The first day you need to perform. Otherwise, you have done a mistake changing teams, or the crew that have taken the decision to bring me to Repsol Honda.

"This pressure, comes also when you are riding. The first laps, the pressure was high. I was riding and needing to ride to the limit and needing to perform the best in my life. So, I was just trying to understand everything as best as I could, but it was quite stressful."

Fortunately for Espargaro it all turned out well. A 17th (+1.2s) on day one being followed by an improvement of 1.2s and 12th place (+0.7s) on day two, when he was the second-best Honda rider after Stefan Bradl. The #44 is also yet to fall.

"Today I was fast and my rhythm was good, even if it’s just the second day of riding. I’ve been seven-tenths off the first and three-tenths off the top five. This is something very, very positive," he said.

So how close had Espargaro's perception of riding the Honda been to reality?

"One thing I was hoping from seeing videos and comparing the Honda when I was behind it, was the bike needs to be ridden physically. Something that you can actually see on TV but until you try the bike, you don’t know," he said.

"This is something I was hoping to see, the bike needed to be ridden by this kind of riding style. It was something I was worried about. Finally, it works. My riding style fits.

"But otherwise, I’ve had very neutral expectations of what I’d find. I just know from seeing Marc that nothing comes easy. You need to force to get it and it’s coming."

And forcing a bike is exactly how Espargaro likes to ride.

"This is the kind of bike that the more you push, the more you get," he confirmed. "The better physically you are, the faster you are at the end of the race. It’s quite a lot about physical condition and how you push the bike to make the corners and how you push the bike to make the lap time.

"The good thing is if you put a lot of effort, you get the reward, the result you want. In the past, with other manufacturers [Tech3 Yamaha, KTM], it was opposite. The more effort you were putting, less the lap time was coming. This made me nervous. It didn’t fit with me at first when I needed to ride fast.

"But this bike is what I need to be fast and today has been a good day for us.

"For sure I need to get adapted to this bike because everything is new: the power delivery is what I’m trying to understand, along with the electronics.

"For me the most difficult is not the physical part of the bike, it’s more what you cannot see or touch, the power delivery. In every bike it’s different and Honda have this kind of acceleration, which is amazing.

"But even if it’s amazing, I need to get used to it and I need to take the best of these electronics. At the moment I’m not doing it. I feel like I’m overriding with the electronics because it’s so good, I’m just relying on the electronics.

"I need myself to do different things on the bike and today I was learning quite a lot, especially on the race pace.

"This was one big step compared to yesterday. Yesterday I struggled to make 2m 5s highs and today my rhythm was in 2m 5 lows. So it shows you how much from one day to another the head and brain is working and everything is coming much easier, the fast lap time as well."

Despite a competitive lap time, Espargaro knows he has plenty more to learn about the limits of the Honda. It's also a stressful process but, while nobody wants to crash, the fact he stayed on two-wheels throughout both days shows his margin for improvement 'is high'.

"As I said before, adapting to electronics is difficult but also changing maps when you are stressed on the bike - because now I’m riding quite stressed because I don’t know the limits," he said.

"I did the lap time - today I was seven tenths from the first - but I don’t know if the bike is going to launch me if I enter 3, 4 or 5kph faster in the corners. That’s so stressful.

"At the moment I didn’t crash which shows the margin is high."

Bradl meanwhile proved his day one pace was no flash in the pan, again leading he timesheets on his way to fifth overall 0.270s from Fabio Quartararo.

"Well we have had another positive day on the bike and I am pleased with what we have done," said the German, whose test rider status mean he has been in action during private outing at Jerez and the Qatar Shakedown, prior to the Official test.

"We were able to improve almost immediately, and our pace kept up with the guys at the top, it shows that both the bike and I are working well here. This is allowing us to get a lot of work done for Honda and so far we have had three very productive days.

"I was not chasing a fast lap so much and the times are very tight. Now I will enjoy a short rest before coming back for the final three days of testing here."

LCR riders Alex Marquez and Takaaki Nakagami, also riding the 2021-spec Honda, were just behind Espargaro in 13th and 14th respectively, both suffering falls.

The final pre-season test takes place in Qatar from Wednesday to Friday.

 

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