'I'd sign superfast!' - Pol Espargaro 'feeling great' but 'lot to learn'

Losing more track time from an already brief MotoGP pre-season schedule was the last thing new Repsol Honda rider Pol Espargaro wanted, but 'would sign up superfast' to be where he is after just four days.
Pol Espargaro Qatar MotoGP Test, 7 March 2021
Pol Espargaro Qatar MotoGP Test, 7 March 2021
© Gold and Goose Photography

Pol Espargaro will go into his first race weekend as a Repsol Honda rider with just four days of MotoGP pre-season testing under his belt on the RC213V.

MotoGP lost the entire Sepang test due to Covid restrictions, while the fifth and final day in Qatar was effectively erased by strong winds that coated the circuit in sand and dust.

While the sandstorm was frustrating, it didn’t cloud an otherwise positive debut.

Espargaro admits he went into testing unsure how he would adapt to the Honda, a machine that – along with only Aprilia - failed to win a race last season (after injury for Marc Marquez) and on which the likes of Jorge Lorenzo had struggled.

But with hindsight, Espargaro would 'sign up superfast' to finish testing as the top Honda rider, tenth on the timesheets (+0.7s), with only one fall and 'feeling great' on the bike.

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"Before coming here, it was difficult to think of an ideal result," Espargaro said. "Because you were seeing on one hand Marc Marquez beating us by far, then other riders struggling by far [on the Honda].

"So it was difficult to know in which position I would be. Close to Marc's side, or the other riders' side?

"If someone came to me before test and told us how we would finish, with the feelings we have to start the season after just four days of testing, I would sign up for it superfast!

"Honda, Ramon my chief mechanic, all the guys, they all felt the same, happy and surprised at how the adaptation went. So feeling great, but saying that, still a lot to learn. [Four days] was not enough."

Among the work lost on the final day had been a race simulation.

"We had plans for today like a proper race distance, starting with a new tyre," he said. "Yesterday we did a small long run, like 10 laps, with a used tyre to be a bit more critical in the front and learn how to be fast with it. That was in 1'54 mid to lows.

"Then in the afternoon we were planning to do exactly the same with a used tyre, go to a full race simulation to 21 laps, but we had some problems, and also the tyre didn't feel very good, because I was struggling with 5 laps on the tyre.

"So to be in 1'54.9, 1'55 very low with a very used tyre, going, pushing, cooling down, and then pushing again, it's not too bad.

"That's why we wanted to start today with completely new tyres, a full tank and go for it. Also to do a fast lap, because I felt faster than I did, but I couldn't make it. There were a couple of things to test as well.

"So for sure I'm frustrated because just four days of testing on a bike like Honda before the first race is for sure not enough. But it is what it is. It's the same for everyone, and also for the rookies."

Espargaro also had sympathy for his former manufacturer KTM, which is exiting Concession rules and therefore able to introduce a revised engine design this season, but must now make a decision based on just four days of running, which ended without an RC16 rider in the top 15

Aprilia, remaining under Concessions, is able to change its engine design during this season.

"[The difficulty of so little testing] is the same for everyone, even for some other manufacturers who were trying different engines, for example, and they could not improve, so they still have doubts because in a little bit over a week they need to fix all the problems and put the stickers on [to seal the] engines. And this is something very, very critical," Espargaro said.

The most critical aspect for the #44 to understand is the front of the RCV, a key area in terms of making the lap time.

"I need more laps. I can tell you that I know where the limit is, but it's sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on the tyre, I still need to try different compounds in different race tracks to know which compounds are good for me, which casing is good for me," he said.

"It's so complex the situation of the front, for all the Honda riders. It's super tricky. So it's a matter of time and experience, and at the moment I think I have more or less the situation under control with the front in Qatar. That doesn't mean I won't crash in the race weekend three times, that can happen.

"But at the moment I feel more or less like I control the situation. Let's see how the track is next weekend, which tyres are working, and from that point on we will start to work."

LCR's Takaaki Nakagami was the next fastest Honda rider, in twelfth on the timesheets.

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