While much of the media attention at Qatar was focused on his brother Aleix, Pol Espargaro made a quietly impressive debut in the premier class. The 22-year-old Spaniard posted competitive times all weekend, but was forced to pull out of the race with a technical problem. Before the weekend started, MotoMatter.com's Scott Jones sat down with the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha rider to talk to him about how he viewed the season. The conversation ranged over Espargaro's broken collarbone, injured at the test just 10 days before the weekend started, adapting to a MotoGP machine after years in Moto2, and racing against his brother Aleix. A fascinating conversation with a rising star.
Q: First of all, let's talk about the collarbone. How does it feel?
Pol Espargaro: The collarbone feels better. Sure doesn't feel perfect, but for sure I have to be happy, because ten days ago I had the collarbone fixed, the pain is not big. So for sure I have to be happy because we are good.
Q: Pushing on the handlebars, it's OK?
PE: I don't know, I really don't know. I didn't test it, but I think it will be a small problem when the bike makes a nervous movement. Then I'm sure I will feel a little bit of pain. But well at the moment I'm an optimist, I'm positive, and I don't think it will be a problem.
Q: When you get on the bike and you're riding, even if it hurts a little bit, does the pain go away, or is it always in your mind?
PE: If the pain is only a little bit, you will not feel it. When you ride the bike, you are so focused on your world, inside your world, you don't feel anything, you are just thinking about next corner, next corner, and the rider in front. For sure I am sure that I will feel, if I have small pain, I will not feel it. I hope.
Q: Now that you have some experience with a MotoGP bike compared to Moto2, what do you feel in general about the bigger class?
PE: It's a difficult class. It's a difficult class. But I have to be so grateful to Yamaha, because they give to me an amazing bike. So for sure I have to say thanks, because if you don't have a good bike, it's difficult to make a good result. For sure, the full official riders are so fast, are amazing, but the bike, too, makes a little bit of the difference to the others. So for sure we have a good bike, we have a good team, I have everything to be on top and to fight with them, but still I need experience. This category needs experience, need to understand the traction control, needs to understand the anti-wheelie and all the electronics systems, and so it takes time, but for sure I have to be so happy because I am on a good team.
Q: So one thing I've always wanted to ask. Other athletes, golfers, tennis players, baseball players, is they can practice as much as they want to get better. MotoGP riders are limited to the official tests, so there's only so much practice you can put in. For a rookie, that's even a greater challenge. So if you could test as much as you want, would you do much more testing, or would you do about the same?
PE: It's important to understand the bike as fast as possible, because for sure the test is important, and it's so important to understand. But once you reach a certain level, you need the races. You need one race, not to just race, but to understand. When you are racing, you are fighting with other riders and you are learning a lot, a lot more than on a normal day, a normal practice. Because in a normal practice, maybe you find some riders somewhere on the track, but it's not the same. You see the rider, you see the style, you see the good line. So actually we need to test, but I think we need more to race and make some races to understand the bike 100%.
Q: Another thing that's really special about you is your relationship with your brother, Aleix. And in the past, you'd watch him while he was riding, and he would watch you. But now you're on the track together how is that going to affect your relationship with him?
PE: I hope not at all! I hope it won't affect it much, because we are a little bit more than brothers, we are friends. So we have an amazing relationship. Actually, outside here, we are more or less always together, we share more or less the same friends, and we share a lot of things together. We go to the gym together. Aleix is an important person for me, not in the MotoGP world, but in the real world. He's a big brother, he teaches me a lot of things. For sure I hope that it will not change much with the fights we will have this year, because I'm sure we will have some fights, because he's in a good moment with a good bike, riding so fast, and we have to ride fast. So if we do all things right, we will be fighting together.
Q: So do you want to beat him more than the other people because he's your brother? Or are a little bit more careful around him?
PE: I think what changes is the respect. With other riders, you have a different relationship, you have respect for the other riders, but it's different. When you overtake a rider, you are not thinking about if that rider will go straight on or something like that. But with your brother, you don't want to think about it, but you do think about it. You are thinking if you overtake him, you overtake him in a good place, to don't disturb him much. But it will be difficult.
Q: And also, if he passes you, you're going to hear about it after the races...
PE: [Laughs] Yeah, I think that's a bigger problem! Because I'm always with Aleix at home, so it would be terrible!
Q: Did he give you any particularly good advice about moving up to MotoGP, since he's been here as top CRT rider?
PE: Yes, he taught me a little bit, before starting in Valencia, he told me, be careful with the carbon disks, because it's so aggressive, much more than Moto2. The traction control, don't try to win a lot of time on the exit of the corner, because it's not the key. Because you have a lot of power, so you will have the traction control activated a lot of the time. So he taught me a little bit before I started, and I listened to him a lot, but now I think he won't want to teach me anything more, because we are more or less together now! [Laughs]