While older brother Aleix grabbed the headlines at the top of the timesheets, MotoGP rookie Pol Espargaro also pulled off an exceptional opening night performance in Qatar – claiming fifth place despite a freshly broken collarbone.
Afterwards the reigning Moto2 world champion admitted that, with his recently plated collarbone was naturally causing him some issues, just getting more experience of the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 machine was his main target.
“It’s not 100% but I’m happy because I can ride the bike and that was our target,” said Espargaro, who broke his left collarbone on the final day of pre-season testing at the same Losail circuit earlier this month.
“We did some good laps and I had some pain, but not much. You can see on the results for sure that who tested here is in front of the factory riders. It’s normal that we’re in front at the moment although it is true the track is not in the best condition like the test.
“But tomorrow I am sure that the factory riders will push and will be on top. Anybody who thinks it won’t change is completely wrong.”
Having suffered the injury only 11 days ago Espargaro was glad to have come through his return to action unscathed. He did admit that there were some issues contending with the wind on some sections of the track, but overall his feeling on the bike was quite good.
“The main target for us was to ride and to recover the confidence. It was not a crash in the middle of the corner or braking, so it was easy to recover confidence,” said Espargaro, who fell in testing after a downshift mistake caused him to run off track.
“There is one part at Turn 10 or 11, the fast left, and there is a lot of wind and you are outside of the bike trying to and pick it up and go fast. The wind gives a bit of resistance and it gives you a little bit of pain but not bad.”
During the Thursday session Espargaro clocked a massive 346 km/h (215mph) on the home straight, the highest top speed of the night. “It certainly feels different than Moto2!” he smiled. “In Moto2 we need a little more power but here we have too much power!”
While factory Yamaha rider, Jorge Lorenzo, was critical of the new Bridgestone tyres Espargaro contended that getting more experience with the tyres will be key and that during the test he had no issues with the rubber.
“I think they have to wait a little bit. Here the main problem is not the tyre because at the test it worked well. They don’t have good confidence because the track is not in the best condition, but I’m sure tomorrow they will feel a big change and then feel that it’s not a tyre problem here.”
Espargaro’s team-mate Bradley Smith was third quickest.