Pol Espargaro lost half of his eventual deficit to victory on the opening lap of his Repsol Honda MotoGP race debut in Qatar.

Starting from twelfth place, the Spaniard finished the first lap 3.0s from race leader Francesco Bagnaia after tangling with Joan Mir.

Espargaro continued to concede ground to the Ducati rider until lap 7 of 22, by which time he was 5.2s behind. The tide then turned and Espargaro had closed to within 3.3s by lap 14.

But when eventual race winner Maverick Vinales (Yamaha) overtook Bagnaia, the pace increased to a level Espargaro couldn't quite match and the #44 ultimately finished +5.990s - and just a few metres behind brother Aleix (Aprilia) - in eighth place.

"Eighth is not where I would like to finish, but today I had two problems," Pol explained. "The first one was the start. Starting from twelfth is difficult, definitely. The second is that I did not have enough knowledge with the front using a full tank on the first laps and I lost quite a lot to the top guys."

The Honda is renowned for its braking ability, which the RCV riders rely on to make up time. But get too greedy on the brakes and you'll a fall. It's a tightrope that's even harder to walk with a full tank.

"I was gaining in the brakes. This is something I really like, I really enjoy. But at the same time, the problem is when you have this strong point, you brake more and more… you go to the limit and crash.

"Also the front becomes more critical when the tank is full. Then everything becomes super difficult and especially the beginning of the race it’s so easy to make a mistake and go wide. Then if you are already on the limit in the front because you need to brake, it’s so easy to crash.

"So I was really paying attention and I was really slow at the beginning because you don’t want to make a mistake and also I didn’t know a lot about the front with the full tank.

"From now on, I think my knowledge is increasing, is much better. I’m set to do a better beginning of the race. This is what I was missing today, just to be performing better the first six laps of the race. If I would do that and start in a better position, my race would be much easier and for sure I will end up the race in a higher position.

"Already on the second lap I was three seconds behind and at the end of the race I arrived 5.9 seconds. So I lost 2.9s to Maverick in 20 laps. This is nothing because I’ve been overtaking. recovering time, getting stuck behind some riders.

"It’s a super-interesting result. Even if I was very bad at the beginning, we arrive at 5.9. So I’m angry with the result because it’s eighth. It’s not nice. But we finished, took points and now we are set for the second one which I’m sure is going to be better.

"I learned a massive amount in the race and. I’m proud with the job we have done, but if we want to get our target - which is to be fighting for the title - next race we cannot be in eighth place. We need to be a little bit higher.

"I know this is difficult, but after the knowledge we get today, we just need a better time attack on Saturday. Then if I can do that, I think we can do a good job. I'm going to go for it."

Pol lost out on snatching seventh place from his brother by just 0.056s.

"When I arrived to Aleix the tyres were really damaged. I tried on the straight and if it would be a little bit longer to the finish, I would have done it. But I arrived 50 milliseconds too late!"

Team manager Alberto Puig said: "The first race of Pol Espargaró with our machine is a positive. It’s true that during the practice sessions he struggled at various points, he had some crashes, we didn’t find the way for him. But in the race, he made a clear step.

“We saw how Pol started and then the incident with Mir, it put him back quite a bit, but this can happen in racing. Then we started seeing how, lap-by-lap, Pol was catching, and catching.

"It was very exciting, and I think in two or three more laps he would have been able to get into the group ahead.

"He finished six second from the leaders and when you take away the three seconds lost from the first lap, it’s even more positive.

"We are very happy with his performance. He was able to understand the bike during the race and afterwards he gave us useful information."

Team-mate Stefan Bradl, replacing the injured Marc Marquez, finished eleventh.

 

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