In the fifth part of our season review of 2014, we turn to the Espargaro brothers. Both Pol and Aleix had excellent seasons, impressing many with their speed. If you would like to read the four previous parts of our season review, they are here: Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso, and Pol Espargaro.
7th – 126 points – Aleix Espargaro
After being the best CRT rider two years running, all Aleix Espargaro wanted was to get a chance to test himself against the best riders on the world on equal machinery.
In 2014, he came very close to doing just that. Riding the Forward Yamaha – basically a 2012 Yamaha YZR-M1 with bodywork, triple clamps, linkage, and other peripheral parts built by FTR – in the Open class put the elder Espargaro brother on a bike which was fast enough to scare factory Yamaha rider Jorge Lorenzo into demanding that Yamaha seriously consider switching to the Open class.
As the season progressed, it would become apparent that there were still serious performance differences between the Forward Yamaha and the factory bikes. Yet Aleix Espargaro still ended the year having impressed a lot of people, and earning himself a factory ride for 2015.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. Espargaro generated a lot of excitement during preseason testing, consistently elbowing his way into the top five, and topping the Qatar test when the factory riders were absent.
The pressure of that success may have got to him, however: after dominating free practice, Espargaro cracked during qualifying suffering a big crash and ending up ninth on the grid. He redeemed himself somewhat during the race, finishing in fourth, some eleven seconds behind the winner.
His finishing position had been helped by the crashfest ahead of him, with Jorge Lorenzo, Alvaro Bautista, Stefan Bradl and Bradley Smith all taking themselves out and handing Espargaro a position.
That result at Qatar would prove prophetic. Aleix Espargaro demonstrated time and time again that he was capable of posting a fast lap during qualifying, benefiting from the extra soft tire which the Open bikes could use.
During the race, the Open bikes were at more of a disadvantage, the spec electronics making it harder to get the tires to last until the end of the race. While Espargaro consistently qualified on the second row of the grid, only rarely did he manage to convert that into a top six finish during the race.
He ended the season with a pole and a podium, though he had help from the weather with both. At Assen, Espargaro timed his pole run perfectly, getting out early and pushing hard just before the rain came.
At Aragon, the Forward Yamaha man judged the weather right and held off a late charge from Cal Crutchlow to grab second in the flag-to-flag race.
The remainder of Espargaro’s season was marked by a lack of consistency, and a tendency to make errors. There was also a healthy dose of bad luck, being taken out twice by Stefan Bradl, at Indianapolis and Phillip Island, while he was a victim of Alvaro Bautista at Sepang.
But he also proved that he was fast when he wanted to be, and fearless in dogfights, and possessed the real will to win. Perhaps one way to judge Aleix Espargaro is to measure him against his teammate, and by that standard, Espargaro the Elder excelled.
While Aleix was nearly always in Q2 for qualifying and battling for top 10 spots in the race, teammate Colin Edwards was struggling to score points, as was Alex De Angelis, who replaced the Texan after Indianapolis.
Espargaro was consistently a second or more faster than whoever was on the second bike. That fact makes you suspect that Espargaro’s results say far more about him than about the machine he was riding.
Will 2015 finally be Aleix Espargaro’s chance to measure himself with the best? Though he is on a factory bike at last, the Suzuki obviously still needs a lot of work doing to it before it is truly on the same level as the Yamaha and the Honda.
Maybe we won’t see what Espargaro is truly capable of in 2015. 2016, on the other hand…
Photos: © 2014 Tony Goldsmith / TGF Photos – All Rights Reserved
This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.