MotoGP

Espargaro to Honda? Where would the other MotoGP 2021 pieces slot in?

If Pol Espargaro does exit KTM in favour of a move to Honda, it could have huge implications for the remainder of the 2021 MotoGP grid

If we thought Jack Miller’s promotion to the Ducati factory team would prove to be the most seismic move of the 2021 MotoGP season, then Honda looks increasingly close to trumping it as it makes a spectacular bid to secure the services of Pol Espargaro.

Moreover, if it does indeed go ahead, it could have a significant ripple effect on the remainder of the MotoGP grid.

It’s been an open secret that Espargaro has been on Honda’s radar for some time. The Spaniard’s stock has risen in recent seasons on the back of a quietly impressive turn with KTM which has seen him mature as the leader of what has been an arduous development process for the RC16.

While the KTM remains a step behind its main rivals, Espargaro has been an excellent figurehead for the brand as it finds its feet in MotoGP by proving quick, consistent and patient to drive the team forward where others – Johann Zarco namely – have failed.

Moreover, with the RC16 arguably the most similar to the RC213V in ethos – in short, it needs an aggressive grip to get the most from it – many believe Espargaro is one of the few with a riding style that would suit the notoriously tricky Honda.

Now it seems his reward is coming with as Honda seizes the opportunity of the latest contract cycle to get its man, even though it won’t come without some sacrifices.

What will happen to Alex Marquez?

Espargaro’s signing will come at the expense of an incredibly unfortunate Alex Marquez, who stands to be shoved out of the factory team without even turning a competitive racing wheel.

The 2019 Moto2 World Championship was signed on a rushed one-year deal when Jorge Lorenzo announced his retirement at the end of last season and it has been a steep learning curve for the youngster, brother of six-time MotoGP World Champion Marc.

Even with his sibling in his corner, Alex hasn’t had much time to get to grips with MotoGP power and it hasn’t helped the 2020-spec RC213V has been a handful among even the most experienced riders. It doesn’t help he was largely pinned towards the bottom of the timesheets in pre-season testing.

Normally he would have had the chance to show his mettle in racing conditions during the first-half of the year before Honda needed to make a choice, but with that luxury taken away Honda is left with a decision based on instinct and it seems the chance to get a rider like Espargaro in its grasp is too good an opportunity to miss.

What Marc Marquez – tied into a four-year deal from 2021 - would make of this turn of events remains to be seen, however…

Alex Marquez to replace Cal Crutchlow at LCR?

That’s not to say Honda will let Alex fall away from its fold though, with a swap over to the satellite LCR team surely the most logical turn of events. That would put either Cal Crutchlow or Takaaki Nakagami under pressure for their rides.

LCR Honda’s Lucio Cecchinello has already spoken of his desire to retain both riders, but he could have his hand forced by Honda if it wants to place Marquez somewhere else.

Of the two, Crutchlow – who originally expressed an interest in retiring this year – seems most under threat. The experienced rider has been openly critical of the RC213V’s more Marquez-focused set up, though has been notably more complimentary about Honda recently.

Though Crutchlow is Honda’s priority versus Nakagami as shown by their disparate machinery (the Japanese rides a year-old Honda), his team-mate’s Idemitsu side of the garage is more favoured by big bosses, while the rider has shown a marked step forward over the last twelve months and was impressive during pre-season testing. 

Who will replace Pol Espargaro at KTM?

Perhaps the most interesting development from any Espargaro move to Honda would be the far reaching knock-on effect it would have on the remainder of the rider market.

His exit would leave a huge hole for KTM to fill. The Spaniard has been a talisman for the marque since it entered MotoGP and his role took on greater significance when Zarco’s flop forced it to commit to three youngsters – Brad Binder, Iker Lecuona and Miguel Oliveira – to ride alongside him.

As such, KTM has been scouting hard for potential replacements with Andrea Dovizioso seemingly top of its list.

Though he was understood to be close to a deal with Ducati, Espargaro’s exit is likely to make KTM make a big final pitch to lure the experienced Italian over to Austria. It doesn’t hurt that Dovizioso is privately backed by Red Bull, while it is known he has had some crossed words with certain members of the Ducati management in recent years.

Failing that, Crutchlow – whose career has traced Dovizioso’s – could become front and centre of its efforts if he becomes available.

Jorge Lorenzo to make shock return with Ducati?

If Dovizioso does indeed leave for KTM, it would leave Ducati with another seat to fill in its factory team. 

This would suggest Danilo Petrucci could receive a lifeline having been rather controversially dropped in favour of Miller, but the man himself says he is destined to sever ties with the marque and is seemingly eyeing up a move to Aprilia (or KTM…).

Indeed, Petrucci’s own manager Alberto Vagani believes Ducati is considering making an offer to Lorenzo – the rider who kicked off the whole merry go-round in November 2019 – for a shock return in 2021.

The Spaniard competed with Ducati for two seasons, overcoming a difficult run of form to take three victories before he switched to Repsol Honda.

Suffice to say, while most seats on the 2021 MotoGP grid seem settled now, there are still plenty of surprises still to come…
 

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