Espargaro: Suzuki feels like a family
Aleix Espargaro told MCN that he feels like he's the best rider in the world when he's surrounded by people that trust him and respect him. He has that in spades at Suzuki and he is riding superbly and with the team having produced a competitive bike they have constantly redefined what is expected of the GSXR-R.
The Spaniard has taken a pole position and front row starts but the limitations of the bike mean that over the course of a 45 minute race he hasn't been able to do better than finish seventh at the Argentine and Spanish Grand Prix.
"I feel that we are making progress in my feeling on the bike," said Espargaro. "Every weekend I feel better and we are trying different things and it feels more like my bike. But in the race we are still one step behind to fight for the top six, but I think this is a lot related with the power. We have good top speed but out of slow corners we are losing time."
That deficit is costing the team dearly and having brought a new engine to the Catalan GP it was glaringly obvious how difficult things are. Espargaro started on pole but on the long run to the first corner he was engulfed by the pack and pushed into the midfield. Vinales suffered exactly the same fate. With more acceleration the riders would have hopes of competing at the sharp end.
Last week's Misano test allowed the team to experiment with new setup options to try and improve their performance in medium speed corners which was a struggle at the German Grand Prix. Making those steps and finding improvements is part of the learning process but as far as the dynamics within the team is concerned Espargaro admitted to being surprised by how easily he has adjusted to being in a factory team. While there is more pressure and greater demands within the squad Espargaro feels that there is a tight knit group working together.
"Inside the team it's different to what I expected. I wasn't expecting it to feel like a family because there's so many people working. But with Tom and my crew I feel so good."
When they started to work together there were questions as to whether Espargaro and O'Kane would be compatible with one another. However, opposites attract and the proof of the pudding is in how the pair have worked together. There aren't two more contrasting personalities working together in the MotoGP paddock than Aleix Espargaro and Tom O'Kane. They have however formed a strong working relationship from the outset with Espargaro saying, "Tom and me, we are like day and night, completely different. He’s relaxed, quiet. I’m nervous,"
When they first met at Aragon Espargaro said that it felt like a first date and that he had no idea of what to expect. There was no certainty of taking home the girl or getting a slap in the face for trying! Initially Espargaro felt that O'Kane was too quiet to get the best from him however he quickly changed his view and saw how much he has been able to improve since working together.
O'Kane has said that his rider has grown into the role of leading a factory squad and constantly impressed him. When asked for one word to assess Espargaro he responds, 'under-rated.' The Irishman has worked with Suzuki through various Grand Prix projects, as well as working with Kenny Roberts factory Yamaha squad at the start of his career. He offered his insight into how the project came together and the team was moulded by Davide Brivio.
"I worked with Suzuki the last time that they were in MotoGP and I was really excited to join this project from the beginning," said O'Kane. "The crew that Davide assembled is really strong and we all work well together but I was I was a bit apprehensive initially because I hadn't worked with most of the guys but we've all fitted in well.
"Aleix is a really good guy, how could anyone not like him! Early in his career he was jumping from one bike to another and never settled but now he's showing how good he is. He's raised everyone's expectations for this year and Maverick is getting quicker and quicker. Now we’re looking at making that next step."