Eight months after being announced as joining Repsol Honda, Pol Espargaro finally makes his HRC race debut in this weekend's 2021 Qatar MotoGP season-opener.

There had been plenty of speculation about how the former Tech3 Yamaha and factory KTM rider would handle the RCV, especially after Jorge Lorenzo's 2019 difficulties and last year's winless Honda campaign following injury for Marc Marquez.

But aside from just one fall, the five days of pre-season testing at Losail were overwhelming positive for Espargaro, who got steadily stronger on the machine.

The Spaniard eventually finished as the top Honda rider in tenth place, over a single flying-lap, but looked more like a top-six candidate in terms of average pace.

“The first race is finally here, I am really excited to get back on the Honda. We had a good test and I am looking forward to the first race weekend," said Espargaro.

"There are some things we still need to learn and understand about the bike and it will be an intense opening weekend, but I am excited.

"Racing the Repsol Honda is something most people dream of and I can’t wait to do it.

"I am not setting a target for the race other than do the best that we can. Let’s put on a good show for all the fans that are at home, it’s time to go racing!”

Espargaro's previous Qatar best is seventh position, for Tech3 Yamaha, in 2016.

With Repsol Honda's six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez forced to miss the opening pair of back-to-back races to gain further strength in his arm, test rider Stefan Bradl will again be alongside Espargaro at Losail.

The German, who replaced Marquez for most of last season as well as the pre-season Qatar tests, will be racing at the desert track for the first time since 2016, with Aprilia.

“First of all I want to say thank you to HRC and wish Marc all the best on his continued recovery. We had a good test and I have been riding well after a busy 2020 and a good start to 2021," said Bradl.

"Hopefully we can have another strong weekend and gather some good information for Honda.

"It will be great to race in Qatar again, it has been a while since I have raced there but certainly the two tests have me up to speed with the track so I don’t think this will be a disadvantage to us. Let’s start the season.”

Bradl, who has completed more MotoGP laps than any other rider in 2021, was 13th fastest at the final test.