Pol Espargaro says he is “sad” to lose Bradley Smith as a teammate in MotoGP next season, describing his relationship with the British rider as being “like a marriage”.

KTM recently confirmed that Smith is to be replaced in its works line-up for the 2019 season by Tech 3 rising star Johann Zarco, who will partner Espargaro at the Austrian marque for the next two years.

It spells an end to a five-season tenure as teammates for Espargaro and Smith, who both joined KTM for its maiden MotoGP season in 2017 after spending three years together at Tech 3.

The pair also won the Suzuka 8 Hours together for Yamaha in 2015.

Asked for his thoughts on Zarco joining KTM, Espargaro said he had mixed feelings about the move – as he believes the Frenchman will help drive forward the team but will miss working alongside Smith.

“There are two sides,” said Espargaro. “The first side is I am super-happy because Johann is a very good guy, he is a fast guy, he is [highly-rated] in the paddock right now.

“I’m looking forward to share the team with him because I have still contact with Tech 3 and they told me that he is a very good guy, for sure our relationship is not going to be bad.

“On the other side I am sad because I spent together with Brad five years, and this is like a marriage. I have seen Bradley in that five years more [often] than my family.

“Sometimes this is bad if you have a bad relationship with your teammate, but in our case we are more than teammates and we have a good relationship. Bradley is a good guy and it is sad for me to split.

“Elite sport is sometimes like this, it is hard. It is not nice and it is what it is.”

Zarco tipped to make instant impact

Espargaro said he expects Zarco to get up to speed quickly on the RC16 next season, and that even if his new teammate proves quicker he will able to claim some credit for the 27-year-old’s success owing to his role developing the bike alongside Smith and test rider Mika Kallio.

“For sure KTM is much different than Yamaha, but Johann is a super-fast rider and I am super-clear that when he is going to jump [on the bike] in Valencia for the first time he is going to be fast,” Espargaro said.

“Even if he jumps on the bike and he does a good result and maybe wins races and does podiums, I will take it maybe as mine, because I have developed the bike.” 

He added: “I don’t know what is Zarco is going to do or how Zarco is going to adapt to the bike but I repeat it, he is a very good rider and [I am] completely sure show that he is going to do well.

“He is not going to take so much time to be faster on the bike. The bike maybe now is tricky to ride but I’m 100 percent sure that at the end of this year the bike is going be much easier to ride.”

Additional reporting by Lena Buffa