After the Portuguese Grand Prix, Marc Márquez and Pol Espargaró reviewed the start of their new adventure together on the Repsol Honda Team. Although they have known each other since they were children, this past weekend was their first time sharing a garage in the World Championship.
How was your first GP as teammates, after knowing one other for so many years?
Marc: “It may not have been the best Grand Prix in terms of results, nor the results we would have liked to debut with as teammates, but in my case I think it was very positive. Honestly, I was not paying much attention to my teammate, as I had enough work to be done on my side of the box, but it was good. We exchanged opinions, and hopefully in the future we can both continue to improve.
Pol: “As Marc said, we would have liked to have placed higher and to have had a much more complete weekend. Luck was not on our side, but you have to be positive. More favourable races are coming up for both of us and I think we can place much higher in them.”
You have been rivals for a long time. What is good about being teammates?
Marc: “The good thing about sharing a garage with Pol is that we have known each other since we were children, competing in promotion cup competitions. He was always the one who won, because he was older, and from there our rivalry grew. We learned from each other in 125cc and Moto2. Being able to share a team means that we can learn things from each other; having a strong teammate helps you to raise your game and helps you to push a little more each day to be the top rider in the garage, the highest placed Honda rider and the man to beat with that bike.”
What are your thoughts on the Portuguese GP?
Pol: “It was a difficult weekend, because it is not an easy track. It is one of the most difficult of the season. Arriving at a circuit with those characteristics without being 100% adapted to the bike, in my case, made things quite difficult for me. I had a crash on Saturday before qualifying that put me quite a way back on the starting grid, and then we had a mechanical problem during the race. We weren’t so lucky this weekend, even though things are improving. I can see where the limits are and the potential of this bike. With Marc's return, we are all more positive -as he is the one who has been riding this bike the longest and has the most experience on it.”
Marc: “In my case, it was a weekend full of emotions, and above all one of experiences that I had not had yet had in my sporting career. I enjoyed it; I suffered but I also had a good time. When the race finished, I had a feeling of relief and liberation at having been able to work with the team for the whole weekend.”
What do you think about the upcoming Spanish GP at Jerez?
Marc: “My fitness is my limitation, but it will be a slightly easier circuit, at least to start with, because at Portimao my crew didn't have references and I had never ridden there with this bike. At Jerez, we do have references. We have raced there for many years and this will help us at the beginning, but logically going fast, that last step, will be down to whether my arm has improved a lot or not. It also depends on us trying to adapt the bike a little to my riding style, as over this last year things have been changing -although it may not seem like it.”
Pol: “For us it will be a starting point, because I think that, up until Jerez, all the circuits have not been favourable for us. Qatar is historically a hard circuit for Honda and Portimao is one of the toughest -if not the toughest- of the season, so Jerez is like starting on 'friendly' terrain for everyone. In addition, Stefan Bradl and the test team have ridden many laps there and have gathered a lot of data during preseason.”
What were the first feelings you had on Friday when you went out on the track after 9 months away?
“I had work to do everywhere. Honestly, I knew how to ride the bike, but it was very fast and I was braking heavily with the carbon brakes. The work was a little overwhelming, but the tension came more when I stopped in the pits. I had tension built up from the previous days, of knowing that I was going to get back on a bike and be able to ride laps at the beginning of FP1.”
How do you rate your performance at your first GP of the season?
“On a sporting level, it was much better than I could have expected. One thing is what you want to do, and logically I want to win races and fight for victories, but another is to be realistic and I knew what my fitness would be like. I didn’t go there 100% fit and I am still not 100% fit, but it is progress. It was the step that I had to make in my recovery: To get on a MotoGP bike again. We started from sixth on the grid, and in the race – holding back a lot - I was able to finish seventh, 13 seconds behind the winner. It was a very positive weekend in terms of our speed.”
How did you feel physically? What was it like on Sunday after the race and on Monday?
“Physically I have already recovered. On a mental level, I am thinking about Jerez and how to improve and how to get more points, but in terms of fitness I now have 2 or 3 days of rest and recovery. I have to be careful, at least for this next month, and then there will be time during the season to start pushing a little more on the fitness side.”
What will your training sessions during the week be like during these first few races?
“I’m a rider who likes to train at home, especially doing a lot of work with bikes, because it is the way that I improve. Motorcycle racing needs training on a motorcycle, but right now I can't do that. We will just go from race to race, and when I’m at home have three days of recovery. Then I will have three days of fairly gentle gym work and try to keep in shape, but without looking to put on more weight than necessary, since the doctors have recommended that the effort I use with my arm has to be increased step by step.”
Do you think it is positive for you to have Marc back?
“Yes. I think it is positive for everyone, from a technical side, because of the improvement he makes to the bike. In the end, there is no one better to develop a bike than the rider who has been on it the longest, who knows a little about its history, who knows its weak and strong points and can enhance and improve them. Marc is the one who has carried out practically the entire process in recent years at Honda, and he is going to solve the problems we have with much more ease and fluidity than I could, with the little experience I have. It is evident that the pressure will be a little greater because he is going to set limits that are more difficult to reach, but in the end that is what we riders want: to ride at the limit in order to improve.”
How do you think you have improved compared to the first two GPs in Qatar?
“Above all, in my confidence. It seems a bit contradictory, because crashes give you distrust at first, producing an uncomfortable feeling of a disconnection with your bike. But when looked at from a slightly more distant perspective, these crashes show you the limits of the bike. Every time I pick up the pace, I am more and more competitive over a single lap. That is despite the fact that, as I said, I am still not able to complete a full lap without making mistakes, although I feel that we have the speed.”
Physically, do you feel that you are at the level of what it takes to ride the Honda?
“Without a doubt. I prepared thoroughly for this project. I have come in from a factory where the bike was quite difficult to ride, and I also had to be fit to handle it. I prepared myself thoroughly and I think that maybe I did a little more than what I needed.”
How do you see the Repsol Honda Team after these 3 races?
“In terms of results, we hadn’t set a limit for ourselves. As for the team, I knew practically everyone here, and that already made me feel at home. I knew who they were, I had talked to many of them, and that gave me a certain peace of mind when I started, especially at the tests. I knew the treatment I was going to receive.”
Have you already coincided with Marc on track, riding behind him?
“No, I haven't had the chance yet. We did start very close to each other in qualifying, but it was too far between us. We have ridden very little together and I hope that we get the chance to soon, fighting against one another in a race. That is what my dream would be.”
The next round will be at Jerez, a very special circuit for all Spanish riders.
“For me it is the beginning of what the ‘real’ season is. We come from Qatar, then Portimao, two difficult circuits: One because of its layout and the other because of the characteristics that aren’t perfect for the Honda. In addition, we come to Jerez at a time in which I already have experience and I know the bike and the team. It is a track where the test team rider, Stefan Bradl, has been putting in a lot of laps. That will make our work much easier if we have problems, as we will know which paths to choose without wasting time -which is essential on race weekends. Without a doubt, we will miss the support of the fans and the full grandstands. That is a very negative point for us, because when the fans are there it’s like having somebody extra on the bike. We will miss that.”