Despite riding alongside MotoGP champions Valentino Rossi and Fabio Quartararo at Yamaha, Aleix Espargaro was just as hard to beat, according to Maverick Vinales.

Espargaro announced his plans to retire at the end of the 2024 season, bringing an end to his eight-year stint with Aprilia.

In that time Espargaro has become the face of Aprilia’s MotoGP project, and Vinales feels as though replacing the Spaniard will be difficult.

Asked about Espargaro’s announcement, Vinales said: “I didn’t expect it to be honest. I expected him to continue.

“In Aprilia we are both commanding and obviously he is a very important part of my journey when I go to the track and check the data and to understand the bikes better.

“But if that’s what he decided it is because he feels it. I just want to say that it has been a pleasure to be his team-mate.

“He is one of the toughest teammates I have had, and I have had some really big names on my side.

“It was tough to beat him and I wish him the best in his new life, but we still have a long season together.

“I think he has to be very motivated to achieve many more victories. If he is fast it helps me a lot.”

For Vinales, the prospect of replacing Espargaro and therefore leading the project is something he could be in line for.

However, Vinales is still without a contract for next season and he admitted he doesn’t know what the plan is.

“Basically, I don’t know. I don’t know how it will look like when he leaves because I still don’t have a contract,” said Vinales. 

“For sure, he will leave a very difficult place because the last seven years he has been developing Aprilia and had the factory on his shoulders.

“That is a big weight to deal with. For sure, he will leave a place that is very difficult to replace.”