Pol Espargaro

Pol Espargaro Interview: “With hard work, blood and sweat, I can develop the Honda”

Whatever your impressions of Pol Espargaro, you can’t doubt his courage. It’s now over a year since the rider from Granollers, Catalonia chose to sign for Repsol Honda, leaving KTM’s factory team, which he helped build from the ground up. The seat has been something of a poisoned chalice in recent times. There, Dani Pedrosa’s racing career sizzled out in disappointment. Jorge Lorenzo’s sole year in orange turned into a personal ordeal. And Alex Márquez was informed he would be leaving the squad at the end of his first season before he had even raced. It turns out being team-mate to this generation’s greatest talent is no walk in the park.

Yet Espargaro jumped at the chance to measure himself against Marc Márquez He had long harboured that goal, telling me in 2019 without hesitation he’d choose racing his old Moto2 nemesis on the same bike over any other rider in history. While he was more than a match for his countryman in the junior categories – Pol narrowly lost out to Marc in fiery championship battles in 125s in 2010 and Moto2 in 2012 – their fortunes in the premier class diverged. As Márquez racked up records and titles at a dizzying race, Espargaro forged his reputation aiding KTM’s rise from class rookies to multiple race winners.

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Barcelona MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The Art Of Towing, Honda's Deep Difficulty, And A War Of Attrition

Saturday at Montmelo made several things crystal clear in MotoGP. We saw one rider emerge as the clear favorite for the win on Sunday. We saw just how critical tire choice and tire management is going to be at Barcelona. And we saw just how much pressure riders are under, whether it be seeking a tow to get through to Q2, celebrating a quick time in FP3 like a victory, or crashing out twice in an attempt to save a seat for next year.

Above all, we saw just how fast Fabio Quartararo is in Barcelona. The fact that the Frenchman was the only rider to get into the 1'39s in FP4 was not that much of a surprise; the Monster Energy Yamaha rider has been quick all weekend after all. What was a little more surprising is that nobody else managed it, Maverick Viñales getting closest, but still over four tenths behind his teammate.

What should be more worrying is the fact the vast majority of Quartararo's laps in FP4 were 1'39s: 8 of his 12 flying laps were 1'39s. His 9th fastest lap was quick enough to have secured fourth place, his 1'40.278 faster than Johann Zarco's best lap of 1'40.286. Quartararo's 10th fastest lap was a 1'40.290, just 0.004 slower than Zarco's best time.

In a different league

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Le Mans MotoGP Subscriber Notes: How To Win A Flag-To-Flag Race

It was inevitable really. The weather over the first two days of the Le Mans Grand Prix had been chaotic, so why would Sunday be any different? The skies were predictably unpredictable, the weather managing to provide different conditions for all three Grand Prix classes, in itself quite an achievement. We kicked the day off with a wet Moto3 race, the rain stopping early on to allow the Moto2 race to be dry. And to round things off, MotoGP started dry, then the drops of rain that started falling on lap 3 turned into a downpour on lap 4, triggering the first flag-to-flag race in MotoGP since Brno in 2017.

Chaos was unleashed, and a new Prince of Chaos crowned, the former prince brutally dethroned, betrayed by the conditions, and by the lack of strength in his right arm. Such is chaos, and such is the way of a flag-to-flag race. It was fascinating and terrifying to watch, and like all flag-to-flag races, immediately raised a host of questions over rules and safety. And reminded us once again that leads are meaningless early in the race. It's about the full 27 laps.

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Jerez MotoGP Saturday Round Up: The First Big Crash, The Safety Conundrum, And Finding A Way To Stop Fabio

Saturday was a tough day at the office for the Grand Prix paddock. Conditions were treacherous precisely because they were so deceptive. The sun was shining, and if you measured the asphalt temperature in the sun, it looked pretty good. But there was a cold wind blowing across the track which would cool tires and catch you unawares.

Which is precisely what it did, riders crashing in droves in all three classes on Saturday. There were 27 fallers on Saturday, more than any other Saturday at Jerez in the past five years. And with 41 crashes, we have already surpassed the total of 40 over three days at last year's Andalusia round, or Jerez 2, at the circuit. And only one crash behind the grand total at the Spanish round the week before.

Why are so many riders crashing? "It’s true that today the asphalt is quite hot. It’s quite okay, but the wind is quite cool," Joan Mir said on Saturday afternoon. "So probably these are not the best conditions. Normally the cool wind cools the tires a bit, and then the track is not really, really hot. So it means that maybe for the medium tires it’s a bit on the limit."

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Crunching The Numbers: How Likely Is Marc Marquez To Win The 2021 MotoGP Title?

Can Marc Márquez win the championship this year? Has he left his return too late to catch up? How fast will he be on his return to MotoGP at Portimão? The answer to all of these burning questions is "we don't know", but that doesn't stop us from asking them. And from trying to make our best guess at what might have happened by the end of the year.

The best place to start to answer these questions is the past. We don't know how Marc Márquez will perform in the future, but we do know what he has done in the past. And by examining his past results, we can extrapolate in the hope of getting a glimpse of the future.

You also need something to compare Márquez' performance against. So I have taken the points scored by Marc Márquez in every season he has competed in MotoGP – 2013-2019, as crashing out of one race in 2020 is not particularly instructive – and calculated the average points per race, and what that would work out to if he were to score that average over the 17 races which (provisionally, at least) remain of the 2021 season. Points have been averaged for each of his seven seasons in MotoGP, as well as over his entire career.

Comparisons

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Saturday Round Up: Keeping Illustrious Company, Confusion In Qatar, And Whether The End Of An Era Is In Sight

"I'm so glad to hear that a lot of the riders are confused! Because I am too, I really am." Franco Morbidelli, like just about everyone in the MotoGP paddock in Qatar, has spent so long trying to get his head around the Losail International Circuit and the tricks it can play, with grip, with wind, with track temperatures, and so much more, that he is utterly lost. "I don't know what's going on. Something is going on, and I hope that whatever is going on, it will go away as soon as possible, because it is tricky to work like this."

"Consistency has been difficult this weekend because the track is different every time we exit the pits," Jack Miller agreed. "There's only one more day left here in Qatar and I'll try and make it a good one and get out of here in one piece." After nearly a month in the Gulf state, on and off, and ten days riding around the same track, everyone is very, very over being in Qatar.

First there's the weird schedule, which means the riders hit the track in the late afternoon and finish in the middle of the evening. By the time they are done, it is well past midnight before they can hit the sack. Then there's the track. The grip is too inconsistent, the conditions are too changeable, the window for race conditions is too narrow. If engineering is about changing one variable at a time, Qatar is like twisting every knob at random and hoping for the best. An idle hope in almost every case.

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Friday Round Up: Changing Conditions, Reusing Tires, And Why Morbidelli's Engine Issue May Be Fine

Plus ça change... if you put the top four from FP2 of Qatar 1 from a week ago next to the top four of FP2 from today, what difference would you see? The same four names, with only the names of Johann Zarco and Fabio Quartararo swapped around, the Yamaha rider now fourth instead of third, as he was last week, the lone M1 amid an army of Ducatis.

Even the times are virtually identical: the time difference between Pecco Bagnaia's second place last week and this is just 0.036. The time difference between the third-place times is 0.038. And the difference between the fourth-place times was 0.003, a mere three thousandths of a second.

Only Jack Miller really improved his time. In fact, Miller set a blistering lap, improving his time from last week by nearly a quarter of a second. That was faster than he had been in qualifying last week, though he still would have started from fifth on the grid.

The factory Ducati rider was satisfied with his days work. As well he might be: he set his fast lap after having a huge moment in Turn 15 on his previous run, when he was thrown out of the seat and forced to come straight back in again. He was not phased, banging out his quickest lap on his first flying lap out of the pits.

Different conditions

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Qatar 2 MotoGP Preview: How To Win At Qatar On A Ducati, And Why Tires Do And Don't Make The Difference

One week later, MotoGP is back at the same race track, with the same riders, and likely racing in pretty much the same conditions. Does this mean we are going to see exactly the same result in the Doha Grand Prix as we did for the Qatar Grand Prix?

That will depend. And it will perhaps depend on how well the MotoGP riders learn the lessons of last week, as well as the lessons of the past. If Maverick Viñales maintains the form he showed last Sunday, he will be very difficult to beat.

Difficult, but not impossible. Sure, Viñales' pace was astounding: he beat Jorge Lorenzo's race lap record from 2016 by three tenths of a second, and the race was the second fastest in history, just two tenths slower than Lorenzo's race win from 2016. And it could have been even faster than the 2016 race if Viñales hadn't backed off during the last three laps, his pace dropping from mid 1'55s to low 1'56s. Viñales' advantage over second-place finisher Johann Zarco dropped from 1.7 seconds on lap 20 to just over 1 second at the end of the race.

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