After 4 solid years at KTM, Pol Espargaro leaves the project to join Honda in 2021 and 2022.
Pol Espargaro is a KTM OG, he has been with the KTM MotoGP project since day one and has been one of the major reasons for their success, of course, this was amplified by the input of Dani Pedrosa which helped to turn a good bike into an outstanding bike; the bike we see today is a polar opposite to the bike rolled out at the Valencia 2016 post-season test which was described as Espargaro as being incredibly hard to ride, feeling like it was going to ‘fall apart’ down the straights.
KTM’s MotoGP debut, Valencia 2016
The bike we saw in 2016 was a bike which resembled the Honda in many ways, a sign of things to come for Espargaro who was used to riding the Yamaha MotoGP M1 in the Tech3 squad. At the time when Pol was riding the Yamaha, there was not too much thought into if the bike suited his riding style or not, he appeared to be a mid-pack rider despite being the 2013 Moto2 World Champion and people just took his performances as him not being fast in MotoGP, yet when he switched to KTM he was able to take solid results once the bike was up to scratch, a bike which is not similar to the Yamaha in the slightest.
The Yamaha likes to be ridden slowly and softly which is why Jorge Lorenzo was so good on the bike, he was a dream to watch with his effortlessly smooth riding style, hitting the same piece of tarmac lap after lap – the KTM is not like this, the bike is a bull to ride which is ironic given its sponsor. It likes to be ridden hard and beaten into submission which is something Johann Zarco could not do and struggled on the bike big time, whereas for Pol Espargaro this was what he wanted, he is not suited to the smooth Yamaha but instead a bike which allows him to abuse it and brake harder and later, firing it into corners which is exactly why Honda is a great fit for the Moto2 champion.
The Monster Energy Tech3 days
In an interview in the start of the season, Espargaro noted that his style would suit the Honda very well – this is amplified by the fact that the Honda is horrific to ride for any rider who likes to be smooth (Jorge Lorenzo), we have seen countless times Marc Marquez with his rear wheel sideways, the bike sliding effortlessly as he draws a black line from the snaking Michelin tyre as he forces the bike to stop where he asks it to before pulling a ‘handbrake turn,’ effectively stopping the bike mid-corner and pivoting so he can point and shoot the bike in the direction he wants it to go, cornering in a ‘V’ shape instead of the more common ‘U’ shape. This ruthless style has worked for Marquez and has seen Honda build a motorcycle around this style which Takaaki Nakagami has been able to adapt to and be incredibly fast on it in the 2020 season.
Now, given the KTM’s specific riding requirements as mentioned earlier, put into practice by Brad Binder who is riding the RC16 like a Moto2 bike, there is no reason why Espargaro cannot translate his RC16 skills over to the RC213V, using Marc Marquez’s telemetry and data to work out the best way to replicate the style and adapt accordingly into a way which suits him best on the new Japanese machine.
2020 was an exceptional season for Espargaro taking P5 overall in the standings, tying on points with Andrea Dovizioso in fourth place, we saw Espargaro take 5 podiums overall; he very nearly had a race win in Austria before Jack Miller, who was also going for his first Ducati win, had something to say about it. We also saw KTM riders take three wins including Brad Binder’s impressive win in Brno which leaves Espargaro feeling that his work in KTM is done, moving over to the Honda project where he feels he can continue to improve and fight for race wins and even titles on a title-winning package.
Podium Pol the day after taking pole position
“We finished fifth in the world championship with the same points as fourth, we were very close to the top three and I am proud of the KTM project,” said Espargaro. “The bike is performing well with all the riders; it is very important for all the riders to be strong on the same package,” noting the performance of the other KTM riders and not just one rider, unlike Honda which has only seen one rider consistently fight for a title since 2013.
Regarding Honda, Espargaro has no expectations on what can happen in the future and feels that he should take his Honda journey step-by-step, the difference between KTM and Honda is that there was no pressure in KTM whereas Honda is a different ballgame, they know they have a championship-winning bike and will be expecting any rider who dons the legendary Repsol colours to perform, this means that Espargaro will need to be able to adapt and be fast fairly quickly, but as mentioned the similarities of the motorcycle play into his hands massively.
Speaking on 2021 Espargaro said, “We will go through 6 days of testing in Malaysia and Honda, following these tests I will evaluate my position in the pit box and what I can achieve in 2021, I have no expectations but I will continue as I have these last 4 years and work, work and work harder.
If I have done it in KTM, I have the opportunity to do the same in Honda, I will try super super hard.”
His worth ethic is absolutely undeniable and with Marc Marquez has his teammate and Stefan Bradl putting in some incredible work behind the scenes, Honda could be the place we see Espargaro shoot for the moon and reach the stars.
Featured images – www.motogp.com